The founder of the Huffington Post says the future of the media is engaging with readers, something that traditional media are taking up as quickly as new media outlets.
Arianna Huffington, who began the Huffington Post as an online blog in 2005 and parlayed it into one of the world’s most-visited news sites, is seen as a trendsetter in the media landscape. She was a guest speaker at a Women of Influence event in Toronto on Wednesday.
"I think the biggest shift we’re seeing is moving from presentation to participation. The old days of the media gods were telling us how the world is are over and now it’s all about engagement," she said in an interview with CBC’s The Lang & O’Leary Exchange.
"So for us at the Huffington Post, we see the future as a kind of hybrid where journalism is combined with a platform that provides distribution for tens of thousands, millions of voices with something interesting to say," she said.
'The thing that I know for sure is that engagement is going to be at the heart of everything. If we come up with a model that does not include the reader or the viewer, it’s not going to work' — Arianna Huffington
The Huffington Post is an aggregator, pulling blogs, twitter feeds, Facebook links and other content from all over the world. Its business model – in which it takes content without paying – has been criticized by many writers, especially when Huffington sold her publication to AOL for $315 million US. She remains president and editor-in-chief.
Huffington dismisses criticism of her approach.
"We don’t take content. We link back the content, so it actually helps the content creators because it brings more traffic to what they find, which is what they monetize," she said.
The traditional media business model has been failing in the past decade, with newspapers losing readers and ad revenue. Hundreds of jobs at Canadian newspapers have been eliminated and some publications shut down.
But the internet versions of these publications do not yet provide a return that covers the cost of reporting and editing. Beginning earlier this year, publications such as the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star put up paywalls for those who want to access their content.
Huffington admits the future of media is unclear and there may be no one path to success, only a need for constant innovation to adapt to new technology.
"There are going to be many business models; there are going to be many distribution models. I think we are still at the infancy," she said.
"The thing that I know for sure is that engagement is going to be at the heart of everything. If we come up with a model that does not include the reader or the viewer, it’s not going to work."
Traditional media, including the New York Times and CBC, are already onside with reader engagement, encouraging commenting and user-generated content, she said.
She said the Huffington Post is moving to discourage anonymous comments, as trolls have become too skilled at getting around its moderation system.
"We are moving to not allowing anonymous comments at Huffington Post unless there is a verified identity that you have and there is reason for it – they need to protect themselves by being anonymous, but backstage we know who they are," she said.