HuffPo wants to be a newspaper

In just a little over two years, The Huffington Post has gone from being a side project for founder Arianna Huffington — whom many saw as an intellectual dilettante playing around on the Internet — to a new-media powerhouse whose Web traffic is larger than that of many traditional media competitors, and even threatens to topple (or has already toppled, depending on who you listen to) the legendary Drudge Report for largest media destination site, with close to 4 million unique visitors a month.

So what’s next up the Huffington Post’s sleeve? Local journalism, apparently. The site announced last week that it plans to hire editors in major centres, beginning with Chicago, who will pull together coverage from various news sources, including wire services and local bloggers and websites. Ms. Huffington says that she hopes to expand the project to dozens of other major cities, and that she sees the local sites becoming the equivalent of a newspaper — something that many troubled local newspaper chains will no doubt see as yet another nail in their coffins.

Ms. Huffington has also made it clear, however, that just reporting (or aggregating) the facts isn’t enough for her site, which has made its name based in large part on the opinionated commentary of its bloggers — including some well-known names, such as actor John Cusack and comedian/actor Harry Shearer — as well as on the “citizen journalism” it has engaged in through the Off The Bus campaign coverage project, including some controversial reporting on Barack Obama and Bill Clinton by blogger/journalist Mayhill Fowler (which I wrote about here).

At the recent Personal Democracy Forum conference in New York, Ms. Huffington said that one of the reasons why new media like her site has become more popular is that old media has failed readers, due in part to its commitment to a false kind of objectivity. “This is one the major problems of old media,” she said. “The illusion of presenting two sides of a story instead of just ferreting out the truth.” Whether that kind of approach — which some see as a potentially dangerous or at least unwelcome development for journalism — extends to the Huffington Post’s local “newspaper” project remains to be seen.

HuffPost drafts a big hitter as CEO

From the New York Times comes word that Huffington Post, which started as a rag-tag collection of blogs and has become a new-media superstar, is hiring away the general manager of CBSNews.com, Betsy Morgan, and making her the new CEO of the Post. This is a big coup for Arianna Huffington and her team, and it’s probably no coincidence that it comes just before a U.S. election, one that the HuffPost and Jay Rosen’s NewAssignment.net have teamed up to cover.

It will be interesting to see where this new hire takes the site (Mike Arrington says that he smells an IPO). In any case, congrats to Arianna and the entire HuffPost team — which includes the lovely and talented (and Canadian) Rachel Sklar of Eat The Press — for creating something extraordinary.

Huffington sees blend of old and new

Arianna Huffington, whose Huffington Post is working on a “citizen media” venture with NewAssignment.net (which I wrote about in an earlier post), has an interesting perspective on the future of newspapers in a recent post. She describes how she and her friends are Web junkies, but still like to read a printed paper — although they print out different versions of papers from around the world, using NewspaperDirect.com.

Then she describes what she sees as the future:

“Those papers that wake up in time will become a journalistic hybrid combining the best aspects of traditional print newspapers with the best of what the Web brings to the table.”

“Chomping down on a story and refusing to let go is what bloggers do best. And while the vast majority of material that ends up being blogged about still originates with a mainstream news source, more and more stories are being broken by online news sources.”

“So stop writing teary-eyed eulogies for newspapers. The only thing dead is the either/or nature of the musty print vs online debate. The hybrid future is kicking down the door. It’s time to let it in and fully embrace it.”

Hat tip to Roy Greenslade of the Guardian for spotting that one — he has his own take on it here. For whatever it’s worth, I think Arianna nails it pretty well.

In other Huffington news, Rachel Sklar of Eat The Press has a great overview of a panel she was on at the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ conference, along with Katherine Graham of the Washington Post and Barry Diller of IAC. Thanks to Rob Hyndman for that link.