Arianna Huffington in Conversation with Tim O'Reilly
Arianna Huffington is an author and nationally syndicated columnist in the United States. She is the founder of The Huffington Post, an online news/commentary website and aggregated blog.
Tim: How did you get where you are? People look and think you’re at the center of the new media world.
Arianna: The secret is you must have passion. I fell in love with the web when I realized that people without a platform could have one on the web. I love the obsessive/compulsive nature of the web. Even if you don’t own a printing press or the history of a hundred years in business you can reach an audience. We wanted to do three things: we wanted to have an attitude, we wanted to provide a platform for other bloggers (we now have over 2,000), and we wanted to have a community which is central to what we do.
From day 1 we made sure the comments on the blog were pre-moderated. There is no substitute for pre-moderation. We now have 30 humans who pre-moderate around the clock all year.
Tim: Do the moderators actually participate in discussions?
Arianna: For now all they do is delete ad-hominem, violent attacks.
Tim: Describe your process. I remember a movie about Watergate where there was a huge debate as to whether the news should be front page or not. Do you guys have staff meetings where you debate what news goes front page?
Arianna: We’ve got an editorial team. We’ve got a guy who decides the splash headline. We still believe Iraq is the biggest disaster in the history of US Policy. Even when mainstream isn’t following it anymore we are because it is such a catastrophe.
Tim: So you’re kind of like Rupert Murdoch, you don’t necessarily want to be impartial but can promote causes.
Arianna: There is a huge difference between us because the news we run is based on facts. When you say you’re giving both sides of the story and one side of the story isn’t based on fact it’s not newsworthy to present it.
Tim: How do you read the current political situation?
Arianna: You know, it’s really interesting. Last week we had this amazing phenomenon of the media being distracted. The selection of Sarah Palin was a little bit like a soap opera. People obsessed over all these small stories around her. Did she really sell her plane on eBay? Then, suddenly, reality set-in and the house is on fire. We’ve woken up and I’m glad about it. I wrote about it and felt that Sarah Palin was a Trojan Horse. I really feel she is a major danger.
Tim: Let’s talk about financial deregulation. This is a house that’s currently burning. What do you think about what brought us here?
Arianna: What brought us here is the illusion that you can have free markets, unregulated bring about public good. Look at the 85 billion we’ve agreed to put into AIG. America is basically telling the people: if you are big enough you are not going to be allowed to fail. But if you’re an ordinary American and your house is foreclosed then you’re on your own. This isn't what America used to be.
Tim: Coming back around to Huffington Post as a new media phenomenon. You’re in New York, not California, what has that brought to you?
Arianna: We love being in New York. It’s been great for us to be infused in the energy of the city. It’s been a great place for us to recruit young, driven editors. We’ve found great people to work in our technology department. The key is to be surrounded by people who constantly want to invent and reinvent. We are constantly creating new technological tools, bringing in new video, all of it is a part of keeping people engaged.
Tim: Why do you think the conservative blogs have failed and progressive blogs are succeeding?
Arianna: Conservatives do so well on talk radio because they're great at being blowhards. It’s because they can talk without being corrected or checked on facts. They don’t have to speak in truth because no one is pushing back. Progressives do well on the internet because on the internet you have the masses checking your facts and ensuring you’re on top of the truth.
Audience Member: I’ve noticed in America we’re engaging the Islamic world. On the other hand our media organizations lacks people who are Muslim American writers.
Arianna: First of all that is something we’d like to get better at. If anyone wants to write on any subject of any creed just shoot me an e-mail. It doesn’t have to be politics. Half of our traffic isn’t politics. It could be on any subject.
Tim: Do you think the internet will bring greater transparency?
Arianna: As you know, radio was a great tool for fascism. I believe the internet is a great tool for democracy. We see the way Obama is using the internet. Without a doubt without the internet Barack Obama would not be the nominee. It’s increasingly become clear that political leaders need the community to be pushing them to do the right thing. People fascinate themselves with polls but they’re awful. At Huffington Post we’ve got this new feature called Pollstrology.
Tim: Could you speak to any of the trends you’re noticing as you bring groups together at the website?
Arianna: There is something I’m noticing which I believe is going to be the next big thing of the internet: there is a huge need and longing to unplug and recharge. Our subhead is unplug and recharge. If all you care about is success and power, sex and money you are still incredibly better off if you unplug and recharge. Find an oasis. We have 2-5 minute breaks.
Tim: What do you do to recharge?
Arianna: I personally do yoga, I hike, I get enough sleep most of the time. If you have any ideas for how to recharge let us know, send them to me.[ Follow the Feed for notes on talks from other web leaders & innovators at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York going on this week. ]