Writing About The Huffington Post is Difficult

Daniel Lyons writes for Newsweek this week about Arianna Huffington, who has recently turned 60 and moved to New York City from Beverly Hills to be closer to her business and her daughters, who are in college at Yale. Mr. Lyons opens with a portrait of Ms. Huffington in her offices on Prince Street: “Minions rush in and out, bringing chocolates, messages, and a BlackBerry, with her ex-husband, former Republican congressman Michael Huffington, on the line.” This part is fun. Then things get confusing.

Mr. Lyons tacks from profiling Ms. Huffington to trying to find something to say about the world of online advertising, where “dollars turn into dimes. Or nickels. Or even pennies.” The Huffington Post brings in just over $1 per reader per year, according to Mr. Lyons. It’s not a lot when you think about cable television, but it’s great for a group of blog channels. Furthermore, HuffPo readers are posting lots of comments, something Ms. Huffington and CEO Eric Hippeau haven’t monetized completely. Mr. Lyons suggests that if The New York Times can make $50 million off of online advertising in a quarter, and the Huffington Post has nearly as much traffic as The Times, then HuffPo will grow in the same way. This seems facile. The Huffington Post only recently began emphasizing profit, and it has a totally different value proposition than The Times. How exactly will The Huffington Post grow profits in the coming years? This is a piece we would like to read.

Mr. Lyons also seems interested in the size of Huffington Post’s staff. He mentions the size of the staff at three different points but doesn’t do much beyond report the numbers: The company has “178 employees,” 88 of which are “editorial employees,” and then there are “20 people who do nothing but weed out the nasties [nasty comments].” Do any of these numbers include the interns? If so, the term employee is inaccurate. If not, 88 editorial staffers seems like a lot given the way Mr. Lyons describes their work:

While some HuffPo reporters do the old-fashioned work of going out and interviewing people, the job for a lot of HuffPo editorial staffers involves sitting at long tables in a big room in New York grabbing sexy stuff from other Web sites—photos of Leonardo DiCaprio shirtless, a video of a baseball player getting hit in the groin. Editors watch Google to see which search terms are hot at any moment, then craft stories that will show up in response to those searches.

Mr. Lyons’ kicker underscores his indecision about everything he has learned while looking into the company. Turning audience into profit is easier said then done but, he writes, “Huffington, for her part, seems totally unconcerned. She’s becoming a new-media baron, a modern-day Citizen Kane. And she’s loving every minute of it. Who can blame her?”

Writing About The Huffington Post is Difficult