Editors and reporters at The Huffington Post–including Arianna Huffington herself–took time this week to talk blogging and the changing world of news media with a group of student bloggers from Pace University. On a class trip with Prof. Andrew Revkin, The New York Times‘ DotEarth blogger, the group is the first to enroll in Blogging a Better Planet, a new course in Pace’s Media and Communications graduate program.
Even if you don’t follow the Post or are not sure what it is–online newspaper, blog-based news aggregator?–a few minutes navigating the website, realizing it started as a blog in 2005, ought to make you go “Wow!” But it’s not until you enter the HuffPost’s newsroom that the enormity of this news media machine actually dawns on you (my Blackberry photos do little justice).
Free to take pictures and video, we followed Mr. Zeller through wide open hallways, passing two employees on a ping-pong break, and gathered in a meeting room with Executive Editor Tim L. O’Brien, Managing Editor Nico Pitney, and Green Editor Joanna Zelman.
During a conversation about the story of the HuffPost in the context of the evolution of blogs and news media, Mr. Pitney reflected on the intersection of newer and older media: bloggers writing columns based on research and fact-oriented reporting, and traditional journalism adapting to the fast, real-time pace of the Internet.
Mr. O’Brien spoke of the decline of “noise” and “proforma” in news blogging and validated the Post’s combination of aggregated and original content with some impressive numbers: the news site publishes 30-40 articles averaging 800-1,200 words, daily; and 4-5 stories averaging 4-5,000 words, weekly. While he was quick to remind us of the complex technological machine behind the Internet newspaper, he always returned to the HuffPost’s commitment to building community. This progressive socialization would make the HuffPost the Facebook of news and information. For Mr. O’Brien, tapping into the passions of readers and contributors, and inviting discussions about public concerns, is the way to understand and reflect the changing world we are experiencing.
Asked about editorial “quality control,” Joanna Zelman talked about the social responsibility of news media and opportunities for adding content value to “the cute” and popular. She gave the example of a recent trending video about the new arrival of cute Tiger Cubs at the Taronga Zoo, in Sidney, Australia. While the cubs’ video was the big draw–helped by a video-focused headline–the Green Editor seized the chance to bring awareness to the endangered species: the cubs at the Sidney zoo represent nearly 1% of the wild Sumatran Tiger population worldwide. As Mr. Pitney put it, it’s about ” the sugar with the medicine.”
Nico Pitney and Tim O’Brien also discussed editorial and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) considerations behind headlines, types of readership, and the value of pushing a story and sticking with it.
President and Editor-in-Chief, Arianna Huffington–now also a 2011 Glamour Woman of the Year honoree–made a surprise visit, and engaged with the students taking an interest in their blog ventures. We posed for a picture, and we all left with our choice of two of her most recent books (autographed): “Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream” and “On Becoming Fearless…in Love, Work, and Life.”