There is flattery, there is shameless flattery, and there are conversations with Arianna Huffington. She'll talk to old men about their libido, beautiful women about their intelligence, the unemployed about their talent and the wealthy about their artistic depth. In her hands, a compliment is the social equivalent of a Tomahawk missile, launched in stealth at a heavily researched target and perilously difficult to defend against.Continue reading...
As recently as five years ago, this ability — plus a native braininess and a healthy dose of opportunism — had earned her a regular seat at soirées in the Washington–New York City–Los Angeles triad, as well as a modest media profile. She was once referred to as "the most upwardly mobile Greek since Icarus."
Today Icarus is in her shade. In February the Huffington Post, the website she started in 2005 with Ken Lerer and viral-marketing guru Jonah Peretti, became the 15th most popular news site, just below the Washington Post's and above the BBC's. It garnered 8.9 million unique users that month, according to Nielsen — more than double what it attracted a year ago. It gets a million-plus comments from readers a month. A business newswire recently valued the site at more than $90 million. Only one independently held online-content company (Nick Denton's Gawker properties) is worth more.
HuffPo, as it's known, has reached this level of prominence with 55 paid staffers, including Huffington. Twenty-eight of them are editorial, compared with more than 1,000 at the New York Times. Open the site on any given day and you will be greeted with copy from the Associated Press, contributions from unpaid writers, stories whose legwork was done by other news outlets and a smattering of entries from the site's five reporters. In terms of traditional newspaper content, that's about the level of a solid small-town daily.
But some people believe this model may fundamentally change the news business. When the Seattle Post-Intelligencer became the first large daily newspaper to stop printing and move entirely to the Web, on March 18, the new site was structured uncannily like HuffPo, its original content reduced and jostling for space with guest blogs, wire stories and links to other news sites.
The success of her site has allowed Huffington, 58, to reinvent herself again, from Bush-bashing pundit to media mogul and digital pioneer. But as the enterprise grows, even a pedigreed networker like Huffington may find that it's hard to keep friends in the media when she's killing their business.
All the residents of Huffington's large romantic stone house in Brentwood, Calif., are female: Huffington, her sister Agapi and her two daughters Christina, 19, and Isabella, 17. The walls of the living room are adorned with paintings by Françoise Gilot, one of Picasso's lovers, and Kimberly Brooks, the wife of actor Albert Brooks. Isabella's room is covered with photographs by Annie Leibovitz. Most members of the house staff are women — Huffington even uses her housekeeper as chauffeur when necessary. "My mom's not good at driving," Isabella says. The matriarch is a deft hostess; there's always something to eat and, in the way of female gathering places, lots of conversation.
The Huffington Post was hatched at a party here not long after the 2004 presidential election. Former AOL executive Lerer, who professes to hate parties and to barely have known Huffington at the time, had already launched an anti-NRA site. He saw the need for a counterpoint to Matt Drudge's popular right-leaning website. "For about half an hour it was called the Huffington-Lerer Report," says Lerer. "But I'm shy." He and Huffington raised a million dollars, and Lerer brought in Peretti, his buddy from the anti-NRA website. The Huffington Post was to have three basic functions: blog, news aggregator with an attitude and place for premoderated comments.