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

I actually say to them that if I was launching the Huffington Post today there would be no website because it’s all social. And I think one of the reasons why we succeeded at remaining at the forefront of this business is because we changed our strategy. So three years ago, because I woke up after eight hours sleep feeling completely recharged, I could see the iceberg that was about to hit the Titanic. And the iceberg was that people were not going to be coming to the Huffington Post directly in the large numbers they were coming to the Huffington Post directly. We had — our operation was being driven very much around our Splashes.

We launched the idea of the Splash early on in the life of the Huffington Post, which was again very radical and controversial at the time because the idea was that you needed to put as many stories as possible at the top, kind of above the fall, to drive traffic to them. And we said, no. We are going to announce what we consider is the most important story of the moment. We may change it ten times in the course of the day, but it created a sense of drama. It made people keep wanting to come back to see what’s the big story now. And we hired editors who really knew how to create amazing headlines that were a little playful and not conventional. One of my favorites was when Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested. Our headline was OMG, IMF.

And so the point, though, was as things changed, we decided to stop prioritizing our other front pages. We still prioritize the front page because we’re still getting enough traffic to it. But we stop prioritizing the splashes of what by then we had 70 sections at the Huffington Post covering everything from, colleges to wellness, to business. And editors would spend a lot of time creating beautiful splashes which would be seen by fewer and fewer people. So we made different teams that instead worked on how to make content be social and be viral.

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But here is another thing we discovered. Normally we think of content going viral as being cats on skateboards or cute animals. And we discovered that the content that goes most viral is content around solutions. Things that people want to share.

Interviewer: Positive stories.

Arianna Huffington: Yes. And so we have now focused our coverage in three main areas. The first is obviously news and politics, where we take our own — I would consider our job to take stands. We don’t consider our jobs simply to blindly kind of just write what’s happening, because we feel you can get that anywhere now. Why come to the Huffington Post if you just want to know who won the Wisconsin race? First of all, you’d have gotten it from your Twitter feed. So for us, I mean, just one of the most controversial thing we did that everyday that passes, I consider one of our best decisions, was covering at the beginning Donald Trump in the entertainment section. And then on the day that he announced that his proposal to ban 1.6 billion Muslims from this country to start covering him under a clear and present danger who then editor’s note appended Underneath each story were his name appears that says, we would like to remind our readers that Donald Trump regularly advocates balance at his lies, and is a birth, which people forget. People forget that he still believes Obama was not born in this country, wants to ban at 1.6 billion Muslims, a serial liar, misogynist and xenophobe.

Interviewer: Quite subtle.

Arianna Huffington: It’s very subtle. So basically we have no opinion on Donald Trump.

Interviewer: Yeah, yeah.

Arianna Huffington: And really, I think the key here was that in a way, you think how can you cover both in entertainment, then under clear and present danger, think king Kim Jong Un, you know, somebody who is both a buffoon and a danger. The two things are not contradictory, and the two of them really exemplify that fact. So that’s one bucket.

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The other bucket is solutions and we have a dedicated section called What’s Working, we brought in a great journalist from The Guardian Jo Confino to run it. And in every area whether it’s business, the environment, workplaces, we focus on what is working. What are the solutions that are working and this is the content that goes more viral than anything, it’s absolutely amazing.

And the third market is Wellness.

Interviewer: Just on that point again, a lot of the — even through your Facebook feed and so forth, comes again from your preconceived tendencies. So when certain articles pop up, for example, someone searches on the immigration crisis, would it not be a case of having a one sided story, but then on the other, something like and by the way, here are the great immigrants that built America like Steve Jobs was Syrian? and so forth and having them side by side such that it’s almost put in front of every reader, regardless of what they search for.

Arianna Huffington: Well, absolutely we would be covering the basics of the story. This is not kind of an alternative to that. But so often media cover the crisis, the problem, without also covering the fact that there are solutions to most problems that are actually happening somewhere. But they are just not scaled enough. So, I know you do a lot of work here. But how do you scale something good? So we feel that by putting the spotlight on why this is working, we can help them scale. We talk about copycat crimes, how about copycat solutions?

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