“You’re in the big show now,” said
Huffington gently shook her head, widened her eyes and replied, “It’s all a little too much, isn’t it?”
With Huffington, you could say, it’s always been a little too much. The native of
She came with ambition, smarts, charm, letters of introduction and an
unfailing sense of whom to cultivate for maximum success.
The best-selling polemicist, biographer and pundit,
whose friends told her she was too old to start an Internet venture
when she launched the Huffington Post six years ago, has now conquered
a corner of cyberspace.
After several unprofitable years, Huffington’s
website — combining news from traditional journalism sources, unpaid
blog posts, fluffy photo galleries and a smattering of original stories
— says it turned a profit last year, and expects revenue to double to
With about 25 million monthly visitors, the
Huffington Post is one of the Web’s most popular news sites. But how
much that will help
Huffington said she persuaded co-founder
“I really convinced them that this was not the best price — because we could have gotten more — but the best home,” she said.
The mostly cash deal, finalized on Super Bowl Sunday, puts Huffington in charge of all editorial content for
which includes Politics Daily, TechCrunch, FanHouse, PopEater and Patch
— a network of about 800 hyperlocal news sites — as well as MapQuest
and Moviefone. Her challenge will be to inject some cachet into a faded
Internet brand. She begins, in some sense, by just being herself.
At the Columbia dinner, Huffington was among equals
in the top echelon of old media players. Her tablemates included Wall
Street Journal Managing Editor
the other day, saying she couldn’t understand why anyone would call an
iPad news app “The Daily,” as Murdoch has done. “The whole point of the
Internet is that it’s not daily,” she said; it’s “immediacy.”)
chief executive of the nonprofit investigative venture ProPublica,
introduced Huffington. He praised her “penetrating wit,” noting that
“she appeared on … ‘Family Guy’ and witheringly destroyed Brian the
At 60, Huffington will have a real boss for the
first time. It is unclear what portion of the sale price she will
receive, or what her annual salary will be. She would not comment on
reports that put her take at about
Huffington will be judged on her ability to make
content “magical,” which will then make its advertising “magical,”
Armstrong said, adding that “consumers are smart and know when they see
Huffington Post recently has been producing more original content. And
But journalistic hearts were chilled this month when a leaked memo, “
was published by Business Insider. It emphasized search engine
optimization and profitability, not journalism or the public interest,
“I thought the leaked memo was horrifying,” Huffington friend and DailyCaller.com blogger
be coddled and well paid because they have some mystical intuition
ordinary citizens lack. But the memo made
Armstrong was unfazed. The press may have reacted
strongly to the memo, he said, but “Internet-based companies were
saying, ‘This is how we do business every day.’ “
Nor does one high-profile Huffington Post editor seem worried.
“I push back very strongly against the idea that this place is a content farm,” said executive business editor
In typical fashion, Huffington has been on the go since the deal was announced. She and Armstrong left the
She appeared last Friday on “Real Time with
where she spoofed her merged roles. Maher pretended to call Moviefone,
and Huffington’s heavily accented voice said, “Hello dahling, you’ve
reached Moviefone. Now playing: ‘The Kids Are All Right.’ But the kids
are not all right. They are suffocating under a mountain of debt,
accumulated mostly during the Bush administration.”
She told Maher, one of her original bloggers, that his audience would be much bigger now.
“What about back pay?” he joked, getting at the bitterness felt by some of HuffPo’s unpaid bloggers.
Huffington ignored him, but at the Columbia dinner
she offered a spirited defense: Her employees, she said, “are the
people expected to meet deadlines, turn up every day, even over the
weekend when something like the
The site’s 9,000 bloggers, she continued, “have no
obligations. … You send a blog today, for which we are very grateful
because that’s how we get great content, but if you don’t send another
blog for another two years, nobody’s going to bother you.”
Huffington sat for an interview last week in her
cozy SoHo office, decorated with seven colorful paintings that look
like fine embroidery. They were made by her younger daughter, Isabella,
She has said that her 1997 divorce from
she launched a divorce section on the Huffington Post last year. Though
her ex, a former congressman turned film producer, supported
their relationship is cordial. He has occasionally blogged on her site
and threw her a 60th birthday party.
Huffington, too, was a child of divorce. When she was 16, she moved with her mother and sister from
A ubiquitous media presence, she is an author whose work spans biographies (
memoir (“On Becoming Fearless”) and politics (“Right is Wrong,” “Third
World America”). She left the Columbia dinner early to fly to
Huffington and Armstrong bristle at the suggestion
that users and advertisers might be turned off by her site’s liberal
roots. They call it a “red herring.”
“We welcome voices from across the spectrum,” Huffington said. “When
But the site was conceived as a liberal response to the conservative Drudge Report. Huffington and Lerer founded it in
In 2008, Portfolio media reporter
appeal to advertisers. If that continued, he wrote, “maybe, someday,
HuffPo will be a
Her old friend
the conservative Internet entrepreneur, who worked for her as she
developed the site, said he left because he was turned off by its lefty
orientation. But for two mostly glorious years, he said, he worked in
of two clergymen, one of whom has caught the other cheating at cards.
Kaus said he thought Huffington, a onetime
Republican and now a registered Democrat, was never as left-wing as
many believed her to be.
“If you listen to her closely over the years, I
think it’s been clear she’s not any kind of socialist,” Kaus said. “She
wants a market economy but just wants to punish the bad actors and
scammers and polluters.”
As a boss, Huffington has both inspired and
tormented her employees. Watching her in action, Breitbart said, was a
lesson in developing a thick skin.
“I don’t really see it as thick skin,” Huffington
said. “I see it as being permeable. I mean, if you look at children,
the way they deal with things they don’t like, they might cry and be
really upset, but five minutes later, it’s like it never happened.
That’s what I aspire to.”
Even employees who felt overworked came away with
something positive. “For all the heartache … it was a completely
invaluable experience. I would do it again,” said a former employee who
nonetheless spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering
And of course, there were the sweaters. Her employees get an expensive one each Christmas, handpicked by Huffington.
Armstrong recalled that when
did its due diligence, “someone said, ‘There is a giant budget in here
for “miscellaneous;” what is that?’ I said, ‘It’s the sweaters.’ “
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