For-profit

Huffington Post (HuffPost)

Website:

www.huffingtonpost.com/

Formation:

May 9, 2005

Founders:

Arianna Huffington

Andrew Breitbart

Kenneth Lerer

Jonah Peretti

Editor-in-Chief:

Lydia Polgreen

(formerly Arianna Huffington)

HuffPost (until 2017, The Huffington Post[1]) is a left-leaning news aggregation website[2] founded in, 2005 by Arianna Huffington, Kenneth Lerer, Jonah Peretti, and the late Andrew Breitbart.[3] The website capitalized on an army of left-of center unpaid bloggers, and early adoption of search-engine optimization techniques, and the rise of social media to become one of the most trafficked websites on the Internet.[4]

The organization, which was purchased by AOL in 2011[5] and led by Arianna Huffington until 2016, [6] has come under fire for a number of ethically questionable practices. HuffPost has been accused of republishing other journalists’ work,[7] over-relying on unpaid contributors,[8] suppressing legitimate journalism,[9] fostering a lack of diversity among upper staff,[10] and maintaining a toxic work environment.[11]

HuffPost caters to a “very liberal constituency” and “has morphed from a left-leaning site with a modest conservative presence to a pugnaciously liberal operation in which the banner headlines and majority of bloggers holler about the latest outrage.”[12]

The website, which was created as the antithesis of the Drudge Report,[13] separates itself from some traditional news organizations by openly taking liberal stances on current political debates[14] such as the war in Iraq,[15] climate change,[16] and gay marriage.[17] During the 2016 presidential campaign, HuffPost included a note attacking the Republican candidate at the end of each article about Donald Trump.[18]

Organizational Overview

Arianna Huffington, Kenneth Lerer, Jonah Peretti, and Andrew Breitbart founded The Huffington Post on May 9, 2005.[19] The site was originally started “in implicit opposition to President George W. Bush and aligned with the progressive movement”[20] and operated by “pulling together liberal-leaning news reports, and as an alternative to conservative news aggregators.”[21]

Huffington Post was able to gain success because it “mastered search-engine optimization and was quick to understand and pounce on the rise of social media,” specifically thousands of “left-of-center perspective” unpaid bloggers.[22]

The website was purchased by AOL in 2011 for $315 million, at 6.3 times Huffington Post’s projected revenue for 2011.[23] The purchase made Huffington Post a part “one of the biggest media companies in the world.”[24]

In 2016, Arianna Huffington stepped down as the head of Huffington Post amid worries over her decision-making and focus on side ventures.[25] In March of 2017, the website renamed itself HuffPost.[26]

As of August 2016, the Huffington Post was the 156th most-visited website with approximately 75 million unique visitors per month. [27]

Organizational Criticisms

Created as a left-leaning alternative to the Drudge Report, HuffPost “routinely repackaged stories and borrowed liberally from other news outlets, sparking tensions among traditional media but also creating a traffic-chasing model that has persisted and expanded today.” According to Arianna Huffington, this so-called “link economy” represents “a golden age for consumers.”[28]

However, left-wing comedian John Oliver had a different opinion, labeling the HuffPost “Arianna Huffington’s Blockquote Junction And Book Excerpt Clearinghouse” and said that the website was often just repackaging the work of newspapers.[29]

Toxic Atmosphere

While Arianna Huffington was in charge of the Huffington Post, the company “sported a notoriously toxic atmosphere.”[30]

According to those who worked closely with Huffington, she was “perpetually on the lookout for signs of disloyalty, to a degree that bespeaks paranoia or, at the very least, pettiness.”[31] These individuals said, “Employees cycle in and out of her favor, hailed as the site’s savior one moment, ignored the next.” Staff who worked closely with her, reportedly called the “A-Team” for Arianna, typically endure 12 months “before calling it quits or asking to be transferred.”[32]

 

Poorly Managed Operation

After AOL purchased Huffington Post in 2011, Arianna Huffington was named the head of the Huffington Post Media Group, an entity that would control AOL’s empire of content. [33] Huffington promptly fired the freelancers and went on an ivy league (mainly Yale) hiring spree, which was criticized as rushed and that filled AOL’s sites with “fledglings” and as a result “Page views plunged, irking corporate sponsors.”[34] Huffington’s relationship with AOL soured and she stopped going to AOL executive meetings.[35]

In April 2012, less than a year after AOL bought the Huffington Post, AOL “quietly moved every AOL site except the Huffington Post out of Huffington’s portfolio,” effectively ending her reign as the “AOL content czar.”[36]

Labor Issues

Throughout its history the Huffington Post has depended on free labor from fellows, interns, and bloggers.[37] News articles are paid, while blogs are unpaid.[38] Los Angeles Times writer Tim Rutten described Huffington Post as “a galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates.”[39]

After the website was bought by AOL for $315 million in 2011 many of its unpaid bloggers who felt the Huffington Post blog-empire was built “on the backs of thousands of citizen journalists”[40] filed a lawsuit seeking $105 million in damages. The lawsuit alleged that thousands of writers and other contributors were wrongly denied any compensation for the value they created for the Huffington Post. According to the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, Arianna Huffington was like a “slave owner on a plantation of bloggers.”[41]

Separately the 26,000 member Newspaper Guild, a labor union affiliated with the Communications Workers of America that represents journalists, called for a strike against Huffington Post.[42] New York writer Chris Rovzar pointed out the hypocrisy of Arianna Huffington’s left-wing criticism of pro-business labor and employment policies while at the same time making millions off of free labor.[43]

Additionally, Huffington “was accused of covering up an instance of sexual harassment in her inner management circle.”[44]

Diversity Hypocrisy

In 2016 the Huffington Post was criticized for posting a photo “meant to show workplace diversity”[45] “featuring a meeting brimming with white women that failed to include any people of color or men.[46]

As of early 2017, HuffPost has never released a diversity report,[47] despite having a whole section of their website dedicated to increasing and expanding diversity.[48]

Content Issues

Reliance on Native Advertising

HuffPost does not rely on subscriptions for revenue,[49] but rather depends entirely on native advertising whereby the website “offers to make its advertisers custom quizzes, listicles, slide shows, videos, infographics, feature articles and blog posts,” with “prices start[ing] at $130,000 for three pieces of content.”[50]

In 2017, Nieman Labs found that in one week, Huffington Post generated 1,665 pieces of distributed content, two-thirds of which was “in native formats” and that native Facebook posts represented 98 percent of Huffington Post’s total Facebook posts.[51] For comparison, Nieman Labs found that the 16 percent of the New York Times’ posts were native.

Liberal Positioning

Howard Kurtz wrote that HuffPost caters to a “very liberal constituency” and “has morphed from a left-leaning site with a modest conservative presence to a pugnaciously liberal operation in which the banner headlines and majority of bloggers holler about the latest outrage.”[52]

In 2016 Huffington Post Editor-in-Chief Lydia Polgreen pronounced, “The DNA of The Huffington Post is fundamentally progressive.”[53] Meanwhile, HuffPost CEO Jared Grusd described the site as “‘the world’s premier progressive media platform,’ and urged staff members to sharpen their voice.”[54]

Huffington Post has openly taken sides in political debates that they were expected to cover, separating itself from traditional legacy news organizations, which generally accept that news divisions should not explicitly advocate for political causes.[55] According to founder Arianna Huffington, HuffPost sees its “role more as doing everything we can to ferret out the truth” and the website stakes out “a position akin to a policy position” on issues using this logic.[56]

For example, in 2012, the Huffington Post disallowed its science senior editor to even raise the question of whether NASA was pushing “unsettled science” concerning global warming. According to Nieman Labs reporting, “within the editorial confines of Huffington Post, issues like climate change and evolution are settled” and Huffington Post added an editor’s note that “removed the question because Huffington Post is not agnostic on the matter.”[57]

In 2013, The Huffington Post made its support of gay marriage official, the website openly voiced its support for recognizing gay marriage, and changed its social media avatar to a rainbow in solidarity with the gay marriage movement.[58]

From January 2016[59] through November 2016,[60] the Huffington Post included an editor’s note on the bottom of all articles relating to Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump attacking him. The note read: “Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.”[61] The Huffington Post has published radical articles, which have gone as far as to “call for the prosecution and execution of the president [Donald Trump].”[62]

Journalistic Suppression

The Huffington Post has been criticized for a number of incidents in which the website’s reporting was impacted by corporate ad revenues or the target’s personal relationship to Arianna Huffington.[63]

Huffington for instance intervened on behalf of CNN correspondent Fareed Zakaria when HuffPost re-published a story about Zakaria’s plagiarism scandal and pushed for a lengthy 10-day unpaid suspension for the employees who re-published the story. [64]

Similarly, after Huffington delivered a speech at a Walmart function, a Huffington Post former editor said, “it was a constant struggle to do Walmart stories there.”[65] Moreover, according to a Huffington Post former insider, after Walmart threatened to pull advertising from the site, they ran “an unbelievably fawning interview with a Walmart executive in the business section.”[66]

Arianna Huffington, a member of the board of directors of ridesharing service Uber, killed a story pitch that was critical of the company.[67] Meanwhile, Huffington Post journalists followed an unwritten policy of not publishing [then-Uber CEO Travis] Kalanick’s tweets, which were often newsworthy and provocative.” [68]

In another instance, the Huffington Post suspended three journalists after Arianna Huffington went “on the war path” over a piece that was critical of Lululemon’s financial contributions to the Dalai Lama Center.[69] The decision to suspend the journalists was described “as if ‘a nuclear bomb’ had been detonated” in the newsroom.[70]

People

Jared Grusd is HuffPost’s Chief Executive Officer. Before becoming the CEO of the Huffington Post in 2015 Grusd was the Head of Corporate Development and General Counsel of Spotify, and the Chief Strategy and Business Development Officer of AOL until 2011.[71]

Lydia Polgreen is HuffPost Editor-in-Chief. Before being named editor-in chief of the Huffington Post in 2016, replacing Arianna Huffington, Polgreen was the “New York Times associate masthead editor and editorial director of NYT Global.”[72]

References

  1. Calderone, Michael. “The Huffington Post Is Now HuffPost.” The Huffington Post. April 25, 2017. Accessed October 25, 2017. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/huffington-post-huffpost-lydia-polgreen_us_58fce1cae4b00fa7de1522ee
  2. Wilson, Bill. “Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington to step down.” BBC. August 2016. Accessed October 20, 2017. http://www.bbc.com/news/business-37047416
  3. “How Andrew Breitbart Helped Launch Huffington Post.” Buzzfeed. March 2012. Accessed October 20, 2017. https://www.buzzfeed.com/buzzfeedpolitics/how-andrew-breitbart-helped-launch-huffington-post?utm_term=.yu1k5R2XO#.fvMmJgjb2
  4. Shapiro, Michael. “Six degrees of aggregation.” Columbia Journalism Review. May/June 2012. Accessed October 20, 2017. http://archives.cjr.org/cover_story/six_degrees_of_aggregation.php
  5. Calderone, Michael. “Lydia Polgreen Named Editor-In-Chief Of The Huffington Post.” Huffington Post. December 2016. Accessed October 20, 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/lydia-polgreen-huffington-post_us_5846ef54e4b0fe5ab693122b
  6. Harwell, Drew. “Why Arianna Huffington is leaving the Huffington Post.” The Washington Post. August 11, 2016. Accessed October 23, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/business/wp/2016/08/11/why-arianna-huffington-is-leaving-the-huffington-post/?utm_term=.6180b67f1d6d
  7. Harwell, Drew. “Why Arianna Huffington is leaving the Huffington Post.” The Washington Post. August 11, 2016. Accessed October 23, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/business/wp/2016/08/11/why-arianna-huffington-is-leaving-the-huffington-post/?utm_term=.6180b67f1d6d
  8. Silver, Nate. “The Economics of Blogging and The Huffington Post.” FiveThirtyEight Blog, New York Times. February 2011. Accessed October 20, 2017. https://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/12/the-economics-of-blogging-and-the-huffington-post/
  9. Cohan, William. “HOW ARIANNA HUFFINGTON LOST HER NEWSROOM.” Vanity Fair. September 2016. Accessed October 20, 2017. https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/09/how-arianna-huffington-lost-her-newsroom
  10. Ellefson, Lindsey. “People Are Really Piling on the Editors at HuffPo Who Released This Tweet…” Mediaite. May 2016. Accessed October 20, 2017. https://www.mediaite.com/online/people-are-really-piling-on-the-editors-at-huffpo-who-released-this-tweet/
  11. Rodriguez, Salvador. “Arianna Huffington’s Past Makes It Hard to Believe She Can ‘Hold Uber’s Feet to the Fire’.” Inc. February 2017. Accessed October 20, 2017. https://www.inc.com/salvador-rodriguez/uber-arianna-huffington.html
  12. Kurtz, Howard. “A Blog That Made It Big.” Washington Post. 2007. Accessed October 20, 2017. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/08/AR2007070801213_2.html
  13. Harwell, Drew. “Why Arianna Huffington is leaving the Huffington Post.” The Washington Post. August 11, 2016. Accessed October 23, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/business/wp/2016/08/11/why-arianna-huffington-is-leaving-the-huffington-post/?utm_term=.6180b67f1d6d
  14. Byers, Dylan. “Should news outlets declare allegiances?” Politico. June 2015. Accessed October 20, 2017. http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2015/06/should-news-outlets-declare-allegiances-209576
  15. Kurtz, Howard. “A Blog That Made It Big.” Washington Post. 2007. Accessed October 20, 2017. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/08/AR2007070801213_2.html
  16. Ellis, Justin. “Why the Huffington Post doesn’t equivocate on issues like global warming.” NiemanLab. April 2012. Accessed October 20, 2017. http://www.niemanlab.org/2012/04/why-the-huffington-post-doesnt-equivocate-on-issues-like-global-warming/
  17. Byers, Dylan. “Should news outlets declare allegiances?” Politico. June 2015. Accessed October 20, 2017. http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2015/06/should-news-outlets-declare-allegiances-209576
  18. Gold, Hadas. “The Huffington Post ending editor’s note that called Donald Trump ‘racist’.” Politico. November 2016. Accessed October 2017. http://www.politico.com/blogs/on-media/2016/11/the-huffington-post-ending-its-editors-note-about-donald-trump-231044
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  20. “How Andrew Breitbart Helped Launch Huffington Post.” Buzzfeed. March 2012. Accessed October 20, 2017. https://www.buzzfeed.com/buzzfeedpolitics/how-andrew-breitbart-helped-launch-huffington-post?utm_term=.yu1k5R2XO#.fvMmJgjb2
  21. Wilson, Bill. “Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington to step down.” BBC. August 2016. Accessed October 20, 2017. http://www.bbc.com/news/business-37047416
  22. Shapiro, Michael. “Six degrees of aggregation.” Columbia Journalism Review. May/June 2012. Accessed October 20, 2017. http://archives.cjr.org/cover_story/six_degrees_of_aggregation.php
  23. Calderone, Michael. “Lydia Polgreen Named Editor-In-Chief Of The Huffington Post.” Huffington Post. December 2016. Accessed October 20, 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/lydia-polgreen-huffington-post_us_5846ef54e4b0fe5ab693122b
  24. Madrigal, Alexis. The Note Huffington Sent to Her Bloggers About the AOL Acquisition.” The Atlantic. February 2011. Accessed October 20, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/02/the-note-huffington-sent-to-her-bloggers-about-the-aol-acquisition/70854/
  25. Harwell, Drew. “Why Arianna Huffington is leaving the Huffington Post.” The Washington Post. August 11, 2016. Accessed October 23, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/business/wp/2016/08/11/why-arianna-huffington-is-leaving-the-huffington-post/?utm_term=.6180b67f1d6d
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  28. Harwell, Drew. “Why Arianna Huffington is leaving the Huffington Post.” The Washington Post. August 11, 2016. Accessed October 23, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/business/wp/2016/08/11/why-arianna-huffington-is-leaving-the-huffington-post/?utm_term=.6180b67f1d6d
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  33. Segal, David. “Arianna Huffington’s Improbable, Insatiable Content Machine.” New York Times. June 2015. Accessed October 20, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/05/magazine/arianna-huffingtons-improbable-insatiable-content-machine.html
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  71. Spangler, Todd. “Huffington Post Names Ex-Spotify Exec Jared Grusd CEO.” Variety. August 2015. Accessed October 20, 2017. http://variety.com/2015/digital/exec-shuffle-people-news/huffington-post-names-ex-spotify-exec-jared-grusd-ceo-1201558290/
  72. Calderone, Michael. “Lydia Polgreen Named Editor-In-Chief Of The Huffington Post.” Huffington Post. December 2016. Accessed October 20, 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/lydia-polgreen-huffington-post_us_5846ef54e4b0fe5ab693122b

Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Arianna Huffington
    Founder, former Editor-in-Chief
  2. Hilary Rosen
    Former Political Director
  3. Talia Lavin
    Former Editorial Fellow
  4. Roberto Lovato
    Contributor
  5. Josh Silver
    Contributor
  6. Norman Lear
    Writer/Contributor
  7. DeRay Mckesson
    Contributor
  8. Laurie David
    Contributor
  9. Nick Penniman
    Co-Founder
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