June 18, 2008

Balancing freedom of blogs with editorial responsibility: Arianna Huffington on the rise of the HuffPost

Arianna_huffington Jeff Jarvis and Arianna Huffington are sharing the blogger's wave in front of me now. We're on for "a love affair with the web", as Arianna describes her journey. You may want to read his account of this evening, to get it without the inadmissible errors etc etc. Or try Jemima; she types fast enough to get it all.

Were it not for the web Barak Obama wouldn't have been nominated. He would not, today, have got his 1,000,000th Facebook fan. The web, particularly bloggers, is shaping politics, is shaping our lives more than we sometimes care to appreciate. The Huffington Post, from Arianna Huffington, is part of the movement that has shaped this new force.

Years ago bloggers felt largely ignored, yet bloggers kept with it. Huffington was intrigued with the idea that despite the apparent 'geekiness' of the sport these guys just kept with it. But what she noticed was that the mainstream media suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder: they picked up a story and left it. The blogosphere suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: they picked up a story and couldn't let it go.

The blogosphere is the second chance a story gets: when the New York Times decides a story is dead, the blogosphere can decide that it lives. It really is all about the conversation, giving a platform to people who were too busy to have their own blog, some well known others not.

Aggregating news from the Huffington Post's point of view (i.e. Iraq was the biggest error in American foreign policy, it;s not a good idea to drive your company to the ground and drive your company to the ground with multimillion bond shares.

What used to be left-wing positions are not central 'normal' positions in the United States.

Huffington realised quickly after the birth of the blog, a month in fact, that they took issue with the New York Times. Conventional wisdom was challenged on a daily, and then an hourly basis. As readers of the NYT read the Huff they filed extra pieces of information to the Huffington Post.

Contributors on tap
The Huffington Post has about 2000 contributors who know the password, and they are kept under Ariana's thumb with a 24-hour "correct your errors" rule. Commenters generally find errors within 5 minutes. They mustn't write about conspiracy theories. The rule of "Comment is Free but Facts are Sacred" sticks firm on the other side of the pond, too. Other bloggers have cross-posting rights, when they have a reputable blog already and occasionally want to contribute.

Editorial control is exerted through this decision of who has a password, and, secondly, by who has a "front page" spot and for how long.

Moderated moderation
Pre-moderation of comments on the blogs, post-moderation on the news. Pre-moderation is carried out by 30 work-at-home paid moderators, alongside community-flagging of comments. She is troubled by anonymity, and impressed by people's courage when they stand behind what they're saying and take the consequences. To help out on the crusade to have excellent commenters, she's thinking about having a monthly 'star' commenter become a blogger, where their excellent viewpoint is given a forum, photo-byline and everything.

Launching an ambitious idea
They started off with "delivering opinion" on the web. Fed up, though, with delivering to the choir, she launched in 2007 multiple verticles on other topics, such as 'Green' (last week), living etc, with the original 'politics' on its own page.

Recently, Perez Hilton linked to the site, resulting in a huge surge in traffic from an unusual demographic. 87% never came back. Some went off for a wee while looking at other verticles. But 7% stayed. They went off and found their place in the HuffPoist family. The Huffington Post is, slowly, becoming a newspaper. Soon it will launch verticles that are more familiar to newspaper readers: sports, books... Local, starting in Chicago, is the piece de resistance - a HuffPost-branded page written by and for local communities, with young new writers mentored by hit writers from, for example, the New York Post. There will be no reporters on site, in Chicago. The community and social network will feed the HuffPost monster, managed by just one human aggregator.

Is this muddying a really clean concept? No. These new sites and subsites have been incredible traffic generators. It's not a case of either the one brand or a bunch of verticles or, indeed, of web papers and print papers. Arianna believes that there will be newspapers, even for the youngest people in this audience.

Managing the confusion of roles: the citizen journo
May Hill Fowler, a 61-year-old woman, joined "Off The Bus", a project created with Jay Rosen, which was designed to push citizen journalists to the fore. Thinking there would be young journalists who would strike through, the HuffPost team were surprised - that the hit was this 61-year-old. Recently she caught Bill Clinton in an unsavoury outburst, not letting on that she was a citizen journalist. However, she was an out-and-out Obama supporter, with her tape recorder, the same as many others were out with their own recording gear. Nobody said that x, y or z was off-the-record. This was not a private dinner. This was someone speaking in a public space. She did not, argues Arianna, have the need to declare herself as a "citizen journalist". So, agues Arianna, nobody had the right to complain.

This is the reality of modern-day communications - everyone is a recorder, a reporter, a filmmaker. Worse than any conservative fears about what "these evil machines" are doing to society, is that the former-President of the United States did not think he was having a conversation with a random citizen - he knew he was having a conversation with a blogger.

He just underestimated what that means.

Comments

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The world has become a giant "party line"...which PR people have known for quite a while. EVERYTHING we say can be heard, interpreted, shared and criticized or praised. Bloggers are taking it to a new level...so choose your words and actions carefully! Which...could be interpreted as "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!" :-)

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.

His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.

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