Transcript: Arianna Huffington on We Are Drowning in Data and Starved for Wisdom

Arianna Huffington: No, I have — I would rather have five-hour root canal. There are very few things that I can categorically say but I would never run for office is one of them which I’m sure Christina my daughter will be happy to hear. She was very opposed to my running in the first place. I would never run, first of all because I feel I can contribute more with what I’m doing. And secondly, because politics at the moment is completely poisoned and I think that’s one of the problems that really — we got to the point where anybody who can do anything else is not going to enter political life anymore. So we would definitely need to change the system so that we can bring in better people to run but I am definitely not going to be one of them. Maybe you, if you decide to –

Interviewer: Well, you’ll certainly do without me bumbling along and making a mess of things. Okay, so let’s talk about the platform from which you’re currently able to shape the view, the Huffington Post. So you established this back in the day, it was a revolutionary online platform, mix of original content, aggregation and blogging. Yet you were at the time neither part of the media establishment nor a common man that the bloggers represented nor a tech person. So how did the idea come about and how did you get it off the ground initially?

Arianna Huffington: So the idea really came about because I could see that the conversation was moving online. And I wanted to sort of elevate the online conversation, because as you said, at the time bloggers were perceived as people who couldn’t get a job, in their pajamas, in their parent’s basement. And I want to demonstrate that, in fact, it could be different. And so from the beginning, my aspiration for Huff was, remember we started with five people out of my home in Los Angeles, but —

Interviewer: In the basement, in their pajamas.

Arianna Huffington: No, not in the basement, a rather nice office but still, a tiny operation. But the goal was to ultimately become both a journalistic enterprise of the kind that we did become, we now have 850 reporters, editors, engineers in 15 countries, we won a Pulitzer. So, to become a really substantive journalistic enterprise, but to also be a platform. And that was just as important from the beginning. And on day one, I had an amazing roster of bloggers. I had emailed everybody I knew and had said if there is anything on your mind that you want to write about it, please write about it on the Huffington Post. And we’re going to make it super easy for you. I know all of you could be writing for The New York Times, because I invited people like Larry David and Ellen DeGeneres and, this is how long ago it was, so many of them are dead now, Walter Cronkite.

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And basically, we had this amazing first day when a lot of these people, everyone I just mentioned, was on the first day of the Huffington Post blogging. So suddenly, blogging was elevated into something which you could do, even though you could actually write an op-ed that would be accepted in the Financial Times or The New York Times. And the reason why they would do that is because it was so much easier. They would just write something and we would post it and they wouldn’t be edited and they wouldn’t go back and forth, asking them to make it shorter or longer or whatever. And, in fact, we created a little concierge service where people in LA could literally dictate. They could call us from the phone, from their cars and we would take dictation and then send it back to them to make any edits. And I think Larry David, everything he wrote, he would dictate from the set. Ari Emanuel, who I remember, called me from the golf course, and say I have this idea about Mel Gibson, it’s terrible that Hollywood isn’t going against him. Remember when he made his anti-semitic comments and Hollywood was giving him a pass? And, literally, Ari called me on a Sunday, I took dictation, and I sent it back to him, he made a couple of changes, we posted it and it changed the climate in Hollywood. Suddenly, Disney announced we’re not going to be doing his next movie, etc., etc.

So people began to see the power of blogging and the power of just expressing an opinion, having it up immediately. We had, from the beginning, our comments were pre-moderated, because I wanted to keep a civil environment and avoid ad hominem attacks. Because I felt like I was inviting these people to come to my home and express their views, and I owed it to them that nobody was going to suddenly start trashing them. And we had very little money, we started the Huffington Post with $2 million, which I collected from my friends, and my partner, Kenny Lerer, collected. Actually, my first investors were Laurie and Larry David and when they got divorced they split the Huffington Post investment. And so I remember paying my daughter’s $5 each to moderate comments, they were in their early teens. And basically we used everything we could to create from the beginning a civil environment in which these people would want to return. And probably the breakthrough moment was when — who was the identity of Deep Throat was revealed. Do you remember that?

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And Nora Ephron was in high demand; everybody wanted her to tell her story. What did she know, when did she know it, because at the time she was — because she had been married to Carl Bernstein. And so she calls me up and says, you know what, I don’t want to go to CNN and get on a makeup and I don’t want to have to bother with a New York Times op-ed, I’m sending you my blog. So the fact that Nora Ephron chose this new platform to write something, which was then everywhere, made people realize that if it was something that was newsworthy, they could write in the Huffington Post, and then it would be everywhere anyway. CNN and the New York Times and everybody would be compelled to link to it, because that was the only way to get the story.

So that was when we really kind of arrived in a way, in terms of people coming to us to write, and that has remained kind of a big passion of mine. Recruiting people, interesting voices, in fact, I want to invite all of you to write on the Huffington Post, and I always make it super easy by giving you my email address so you can email it to me directly. Now, we give people we trust passwords, so you can post directly, and then our editors, front page and social, and we translate the best, so my email address is arianna@huffingtonpost.com. That’s one of the good things when you found a company you get a good email address. So we are now up to 100,000 bloggers and our goal is get to a million. We’re creating a lot of new technology that will make it easier to post and to navigate the site, etc.