On a cold and wet Thursday, a small group of publishing students packed into the SoHo office of The Huffington Post to learn about one of the most heavily trafficked websites on the internet. Personally, I was excited to visit the office as the site has achieved what I think is the “holy grail” of websites: it not only survives, but thrives primarily through advertising revenue.After being treated to pizza and sodas, we were introduced to Jai Singh, managing editor of The Huffington Post. He first gave us some background on the site: it was founded in 2005, and its co-founder and Editor-In-Chief is Arianna Huffington. The site receives roughly 30 million unique visitors per month, and last month they surpassed WashingtonPost.com in uniques ; The Huffington Post also had 2 million comments posted. Their main office in SoHo has roughly 35 people in their editorial department, with about 75 people total on staff. Elsewhere, they have a D.C. branch staffed with ten people who report on various parts of the government; a California branch has five staffers.
The Huffington Post’s focus, Singh told us, is on “journalism done differently:” while original news reporting is part of their content, opinion, curated material and smart aggregation are the major components. The HuffPo, as it is called, also provides a platform for bloggers of all kinds, including politicians, celebrities, and authors. The editors operate under the concept of “P.A.C.T.”, which stands for professionals, amateurs, community (or crowdsourcing), and technology— all of which are essential components of the site.
When asked how front page headlines are chosen, Singh told us the editors serve up different versions to see which receive the most clicks. They also change headlines three to five times during the day. We learned that many comments are moderated at the discretion of editors, and that blog posts are moderated by the Blog section editors. While all bloggers are invited to submit posts, the editors choose what will be posted. Clearly, high profile bloggers may be granted more freedom and access to The Huffington Post’s content uploader.
Recently, The Huffington Post launched a nonprofit initiative, the Huffington Post Investigative Fund, to finance investigative reporting that will look into important untold stories often ignored as other newsrooms contract or close. The goal: instead of what Singh calls the “autopsy” reports done after a major story has broken, The HuffPo hopes to conduct “biopsies” that will call out stories before they become major issues that negatively affect the public. The Investigative Fund is an open source project, and all news outlets will be given access to the reports at the same time as The Huffington Post.
Another exciting initiative is a new book section focused on giving authors a platform they can use to interact with The Huffington Post community. The site will not be reviewing books, but will partner with The New York Review of Books to provide reviews and will also link out to other review sites.
Inevitably, the question of free vs. paid content came up, and Singh said that The Huffington Post was not going behind a pay wall any time soon. Their growth and expansion plans include the launching of local city sites, with Chicago and New York among the first. We were also told a Sports section would be launched soon.
Following our discussion with Singh, we were introduced to a number of the section editors, many of whom had come to the Huffington Post with journalism degrees. For the most part, there is one editor per section, though entertainment has two. I left the offices of The Huffington Post feeling positively, as I had seen firsthand how the future of how publishing may look.
by Amanda Ng