Yet there was still enduring criticism of the way HuffPost went about its work, especially from those whose stories were aggregated on HuffPost; over time, those pieces appeared at ever greater length on the site, diminishing the likelihood that readers would follow a link back to the source. Google News was, in comparison, a generous aggregator; it was essentially a headline and first-graph operation. Archrival Drudge consisted entirely of links back to the source. HuffPost, on the other hand, was far greedier about holding onto its readers. While it never stopped supplying links, it made them just a little harder to find. It seemed the sharing was to be one-sided.

No wonder there was gloating in media accounts of the 2010 demise of HuffPost’s self-congratulatory, yearlong foray into investigative reporting—one that Arianna had proclaimed was launched to “save” that honored, expensive, journalistic form. The Investigative Fund’s executive editor, Larry Roberts, whom HuffPost had snagged from The Washington Post, left after less than a year, and HuffPost’s attempts to have the enterprise incorporated as a nonprofit ran into a legal thicket, given that HuffPost itself was a decidedly for-profit venture that, as Gawker took great pleasure in pointing out, was the chief beneficiary of the dispatches the unit produced. The Investigative Unit, along with its funding, ended up being absorbed by its partner, the Center for Public Integrity.

And yet, despite the occasional misstep, the story of Huffington Post began to assume a relentless familiarity: month after month, year after year, the metrics moved in only one enviable, and northerly, direction. More and more verticals appeared—Style, Technology, Green, Sports, College, Books. HuffPost readers, comScore reported in 2008, were younger than those of Politico and Drudge. And when, in the fall of 2009, HuffPost’s 10 million monthly unique visits hurtled it past The Washington Post’s traffic, Hippeau took note, in an interview with paidContent.com.

“We are now,” he said, “in the big leagues.”


Exclusive CJR interview: Arianna Huffington on what makes a good “gatherer.”

5. Voracious


A week shy of the first anniversary of their February 2011 union, Arianna Huffington and Tim Armstrong arrived at an already crowded television studio at AOL’s lower Manhattan offices for yet another display of their capacity to command attention.

The ostensible reason was the formal announcement of the latest in a series of ventures undertaken by the Huffington Post Media Group, now a property of Armstrong’s AOL: 12 hours a day, five days a week of live video streaming. The press corps nibbled on lamb crostini with rosemary aioli while several staff Huffington had poached from the Times joined her in working the room.

The gathering was called to order. Armstrong spoke first. He recalled the first time he had met Huffington, in November of 2010, and how that led, many months later, to halftime at the 2011 Super Bowl, when AOL announced that it had agreed to pay $315 million in what was widely regarded as a desperate move to salvage its declining fortunes by buying Huffington Post and handing control of its editorial operation to Huffington herself. “We believe that content is king,” he said. “We also believe that brand is king.”

With that he yielded the floor to Arianna Huffington.

Huffington Post, she said, had evolved from “a fast-moving train to a supersonic jet.” One hundred and seventy journalists had been hired since the purchase—even as AOL laid off close to 2,500 people and shut down its own journalistic ventures, among them Politics Daily.* Even now, she continued, 20 reporters and six editors were at work on what promised to be a 75-part series on the hard times facing the middle class, a potentially dispiriting portrait that would mercifully be offset by HuffPost’s “Good News” vertical—“Man recovers wallet after 35 years!”

The video rolled. An actor playing a host brought a reporter from the On Celebrity vertical into a discussion about divorce, while ads rolled across the bottom of the screen and make-believe viewers were invited to join in the discussion via Skype. “We’re not creating a new brand,” said Roy Sekoff, now the project’s director. “We’re just doing what Huffington Post already does.”

Michael Shapiro is a contributing editor to CJR and teaches at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism. His most recent book is Bottom of the Ninth: Branch Rickey, Casey Stengel, and the Daring Scheme to Save Baseball From Itself.