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Huffington talks convergence, and “monetizeable free”

We wrote Monday about The Washington Post taking a page from The Huffington Post in building blog networks on the content-for-exposure-not-cash model. But the borrowing isn’t all going in one direction. In this conversation with Texas Tribune boss Evan Smith, HuffPo founder Arianna Huffington says she sees a broader narrative of convergence, where “legacy media” (her term) and the startups are moving in similar directions. The Washington Post might be looking to leverage free content, but she’s hired reporters and launched a non-profit investigative unit — decisions that look more traditional than new.

Smith interviewed Huffington in honor of the political site’s fifth anniversary last week. The site recently hit 13 million monthly unique visitors, pushing it ahead of The Washington Post and USA Today and within shouting distance of The New York Times. Here’s what Huffington had to say about changes in media, particularly the difference between mainstream media and bloggers in the last five years:

Well, first of all, I think what’s happening now is more of a convergence. When we launched The Huffington Post, we were worlds apart. There was the legacy media that were very, very skeptical about blogging, or the future of online media. And there were the startups like The Huffington Post. Now The New York Times is doing a lot online. They’re doing a lot of great things online. And we are hiring more and more reporters. And we have launched The Huffington Post Investigative Fund, which is a not-for-profit operation that does many of the long-form, more traditional journalistic investigative pieces. So I think we’re moving toward a hybrid model, where those who recognize we are living in a brave new world — it’s about the link economy, it’s not about paywalls — are going to actually survive and thrive. And those of us who recognize that the traditional tenets of journalism — fairness, accuracy, fact checking — need to prevail and be supplemented by all the new technical tools and the new citizen engagement are also going to survive and thrive.

The Huffington Post has a clear interest in making sure the link economy thrives and paywalls aren’t erected. Aside from its countless bloggers, the biggest draw of her site is the aggregation the site’s editors do on each vertical, which have expanded from a single front page to more than 20.

Smith also quizzed Huffington on keeping HuffPo a free site. She was quick to point out that “the culture of free” is “monetizable free.” The site is expected to become profitable this year.

We are, as I said, paying all our reporters and all our editors. People who want to write, in the same way you would write an op-ed for The New York Times or The Washington Post, do it whenever they want. They are not our employees. They have no obligation to us. We have no expectations. It’s they who want to post, because they want to disseminate what they’re thinking. Whether it’s on politics or food, we have thousands of requests to post, thousands more than we have the opportunity and ability to process — beyond the 6,000 bloggers who have a password and can post whenever they want. And then our editors decide what they’re going to feature on the home section or the other sections…

We pay them in visibility. We pay them in that we provide the infrastructure, the community, the civil environment into which their work appears. The traffic. And then also the fact that many in the media have the site bookmarked means that they’re going to be seen, not just by many people, but many of the people they may want to reach to go on TV, to get a book contract. We love it. We all love it on the site when we get a call from an agent saying “Can you get us in touch with so-and-so blogger?” In many ways, it becomes like an addition platform.

                                   
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Justin Ellis    July 18, 2014
With $3.5 million in grant funding and an eye for collaboration, the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX aim to bring deep investigations to radio and podcasting.
  • Oliver Wiest

    Might not that word in the last sentence be audition rather than addition?

  • Amanda Spake

    Gee, do you think my mortgage company will take “visibility” for its monthly bill instead of dollars?

  • http://www.davidcayjohnston.com David Cay Johnston

    Huffington makes a false comparison here. Major newspapers have long paid their op-ed contributors. Over the years I have been paid between $100 and $500 for op-eds.

  • http://Twitter.com/paulwiggins Paul Wiiggins

    Help me help you. Show me the money. One got all the visibility needed as an undergraduate. And even then news organisations paid cash

  • http://jpstillwater.blogspot.com Jane Stillwater

    It’s really hard to go where the news is if you are a journalist operating on a shoestring budget. Sure, it was cheap to embed in Iraq but if I want to get out there and write about the person on the streets of Baghdad, I must be prepared to shell out major bucks — and mostly only “legacy” news outlets can do that. Or else I could win the lottery….

  • http://www.american-reporter.com Joe Shea

    The big problem with Howard Kurtz’s piece (and his discussion of it on CNN) was his mistaken suggestion that the Huffington Post was “the first real online newspaper” (the word “real” was emphasized in the news ticker on CNN. How short our memories are! The first real online newspaper, which was recognizsed as such in the landmark 1st Amendment case Shea v Reno, was and is The American Reporter, which started before the Cybertimes and Washingtonpost.com and any other online daily with original content = it was online before the Drudge Report, which started three blocks away in Hollywood two weeks later.
    AR continues tro have its own reporters, and it paid out revenue-sharing in its very first month of operation. In 1998, it got the global scoop on the IRA ceasefire that endyures to this day, through its content partnetr Nando.net. Salon and Slate came along a couple of years latrer, after the American Reporter had risked its existence and saved the Internet from government censorship by challenging the Communiocations Decency Act and getting it ruled unconstitutional in Manhattan Federal Court and affirmed in the US Supreme Court. It has poublished daily and continuously since April 10, 1995. The HP’s “firstness” was a poor premise for Kurtz to jump from, and I think he knows it. He doesn’t make many mistakes but that was one.

  • http://www.american-reporter.com Joe Shea

    Please forgive my typos in the previous post. After 15 years online, I can’t see the keyboard anymore!

  • Fleurdamour

    She talks around and around this issue, but it always boils down to the fact that she is riding on the backs of her contributors and other news organizations. Sure, “free” is monetizable if you don’t share the ad revenue you make against content you didn’t pay for in the first place. I especially love the statement about how happy HuffPo is when other organizations call to contact their bloggers. They’re happy to see them get paid, they just don’t want to do it. This woman is the biggest hypocrite. She needs to stop trying to justify hereself.

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