Is the site preparing itself for life after the November election?
In a March New Yorker article meticulously detailing the depressing decline of the newspaper industry, Eric Alterman gave a nod to what he considered the newspaper of tomorrow. Skipping over choices like Slate and Salon, the journalist chose to spotlight a website that is still labeled a blog in Technorati’s Top 100: The Huffington Post.
“Almost by accident, however, the owners of the Huffington Post had discovered a formula that capitalized on the problems confronting newspapers in the Internet era, and they are convinced that they are ready to reinvent the American newspaper,” Alterman wrote.
The fact that he had targeted a publication that paid the majority of its writers with nothing but “exposure” raised a number of eyebrows; after all, a laid-off journalist won’t find much comfort with the knowledge that he has been replaced by someone willing to work for free. At least when jobs get outsourced to India, somebody is still managing to get paid a few bucks an hour.
A few media critics also noted that The Huffington Post is most widely known as a political website. Within the last year it has managed to break two of the biggest campaign stories of the season — Obama’s “bitter” comments and Bill Clinton’s outraged remarks about a journalist — and recent reports have shown that its traffic has outpaced the once-unequaled Drudge Report, a site that is supposedly read religiously by every beltway journalist.
But within the last few months we’ve seen some signs that Arianna Huffington is aggressively trying to expand above and beyond politics, announcing her plan to create a new hyperlocal news site for the Chicago metro area. And this week, the publication saw the launch of a new “Style” section similar to the style tabs you’ll find in most major dailies.
The section will be edited by Anya Strzemien, a former Life Magazine editor who signed on to The Huffington Post in April 2007. I spoke to Strzemien on the phone today, and she confirmed that the new launch is an attempt to widen the publication’s coverage.
“I think politics will always be a focus of Huffington Post,” she said. “But yeah, we’re certainly trying to branch out to other areas as any newspaper would.”
The idea for the Style section came about two months ago — she said it wasn’t difficult to get Arianna to give it the green light — and Strzemien has been developing and networking with a list of contributors since then. I asked her what kind of content she planned on running.
“I think the idea is to be very bloggy, it’s going to be very opinionated,” she replied. “I don’t think the media needs yet another how-to-communicate-better-with-your-spouse story.”
Over the past few days since the launch, the section has run a story about McCain wearing $520 black leather Ferragamo loafers and a piece by George Stephanopoulos’s wife, Alexandra Wentworth, about style in Washington circles.
I asked what kind of publications she was trying to emulate or compete against.
“I definitely don’t want to think of us as competing with other publications,” Strzemien said. “But I think the style outlets that I respect a lot are Jezebel and the New York Times style section.”
Near the end of the interview I commented that I couldn’t help but notice that many of the stories the style section had run so far happened to be focused on politics. Was it possible that the section still managed to fit into the site’s overall political theme?
“I think it’ll be a mix,” she said. “Some of the stories will have a political angle, but not even 50% of them will. But yes, we’ll certainly be paying attention to what people wear during the election.”