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The Huffington Post, commonly called HuffPost or HuffPo, was the 6th-largest news site in the United States as of April 2011 and attracted 40 million monthly unique visitors in January 2012. The site has seen steady, significant growth since its launch in 2005.
HuffPost was founded by Huffington and Ken Lerer with $10 million of startup funding as a conversational group blog and aggregator. It has often been seen as liberal alternative to the conservative news aggregator The Drudge Report.
While HuffPost began with a more strictly political focus — it has also invited a variety of celebrities and public figures to be guest and semi-regular columnists — the site now includes more than 60 verticals, including sections devoted to such topics as technology, sports, business, environmental issues, college life, food, divorce, and, most recently, science. HuffPost started its local sites with a site for Detroit and began moving into international sites in 2011. As of 2014 it had 10 international sites, including sites in Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Spain, North Africa, the U.K., and Germany, with more than half of its traffic coming from outside the U.S. It also partnered with Honolulu Civil Beat to launch HuffPost Hawaii in 2013. In 2014, it announced it would replace its world section with a new site called the World Post, founded by Huffington and billionaire investor Nicolas Berggruen.
The latter charge, of aggregating content from other news outlets with no compensation, has prompted the fiercest debate. Several critics have made that accusation, including top editors at the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. HuffPost and other aggregators have also been vigorously defended by digital media advocates, as well as by Huffington herself.
HuffPost had about 100 employees at the time it was bought by AOL, a number that had grown to nearly 500 employees by mid-2012. Much of its content comes from thousands of unpaid bloggers, a practice that has repeatedly drawn fire since its founding and particularly after its February 2011 acquisition by AOL. Huffington and others at HuffPost have countered that writing for the popular site gives bloggers a platform they wouldn’t have otherwise.
The site has developed an active community, drawing millions of comments per month (and 250 million total as of May 2013), as well as hundreds of thousands of Facebook fans and millions of Twitter followers. Its Facebook community has been measured as the most active of any publisher’s page, and its content was the most shared of any publisher in 2014. CEO Eric Hippeau has described HuffPost as “one part social network, one part news content site.” As of 2012, it had 13 employees in social and community engagement, plus 30 in comment moderation. In 2013, it introduced Conversations, which allow users to isolate individual comment subthreads and view them on a separate page. HuffPost also ended its longstanding practice of allowing anonymous comments, requiring a Facebook login for users to comments.
In 2009, HuffPost launched HuffPost Social News, a partnership with Facebook that integrates the Facebook Connect API to allow its readers to recommend and share news with friends. The project has helped increase traffic significantly. In 2010, the site launched HuffPost Badges, which rewarded users for engagement within the HuffPost community. It has also launched Twitter editions of several of its section pages. HuffPost was also one of the initial partners of the publisher program of the social reading app Zite. It has also opened its own HuffPost Pollster API to allow developers to use its poll data, and has a HuffPost Labs website for its experimental products.
Despite its significant traffic and growing revenue, HuffPost has lost money for most of its existence. It did not become profitable for the first time until 2009. It was marginally profitable on $30 million in annual revenues when it was bought by AOL in early 2011 and increased its revenues to $40 million by the end of the year. By 2013, it was reported to be losing money again under AOL, and continued to lose money in 2014. In 2014, 15% of HuffPo’s direct ad sales came from native advertising.
The site has also expanded into original news reporting. Huffington hired a political editor in 2006, and in 2007, it launched OffTheBus, a citizen-driven journalism project that covered the 2008 presidential campaign. The site received particular publicity for reporting Barack Obama’s comments about “bitter” voters at a San Francisco fundraiser. After the election ended, HuffPost began employing a White House reporter. Its Washington bureau, which includes former Washington Post reporter (and Nieman Watchdog deputy editor) Dan Froomkin, also includes dedicated Congressional reporters. OffTheBus was relaunched for the 2012 presidential campaign, and HuffPost also collaborated with ProPublica on an investigative project into political ad spending during the campaign.
HuffPost also launched the nonprofit Huffington Post Investigative Fund in 2009. The fund has an annual budget of $2 million and aims to produce stories that can be distributed to other media outlets. It also uses freelance and crowdsourced contributions in its reporting. The site’s reporting projects — both investigative and otherwise — have won it praise, though the Investigative Fund has also drawn criticism for serving the HuffPost more than society.
In 2014, outgoing executive business editor and global editor Peter Goodman wrote a memo arguing that HuffPost’s commitment to in-depth reporting had waned, replaced by a desire for traffic and more measurable productivity.
The site won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for a 10-part series on wounded veterans.
In 2013, the site gave each of its reporters a blog for their beat.
In February 2011, AOL purchased HuffPost for $315 million in cash and stock, furthering AOL CEO Tim Armstrong‘s vision of reshaping the company into a news and content titan. Huffington was named president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group, which includes not only HuffPost, but also all of AOL’s existing editorial properties, including Engadget, TechCrunch, and Patch. In 2012, Huffington’s role was scaled back to oversight only of HuffPost, which by that time included more than 30 other AOL properties.
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