The road ahead for The Huffington Post: Nine months and a merger later, ‘Capital-J Journalism’ is still a work in progress

Tim Armstrong and Arianna Huffington. (Screen shot via AllThingsD.com)
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On March 3, less than a month after AOL agreed to acquire her eponymous website in a $315 million deal, Arianna Huffington was joined by AOL chairman and chief executive Tim Armstrong on a stage at the Times Center on West 41st Street.

It was a little after 5 p.m. when she appeared in an auditorium packed with reporters and industry wonks gathered for the curtain-closing act in a conference hosted by the website paidContent. Dressed in a macramé-like brown sweater and sleek black pants tucked into knee-high black boots, Huffington radiated her signature calm charm and warmth next to the dark-suited executive to her left. She admitted self-deprecatingly to her naïveté during the AOL merger ("I have learned a lot about things I never knew existed"), repeatedly stroking back a swath of strawberry-blond locks that dangled above her right eye. The host, paidContent's Staci D. Kramer, peppered the duo with inquiries about the future of their newly christened conglomerate: The AOL Huffington Post Media Group.

Armstrong had spoken about AOL's shift to a content web portal, a strategy he was brought in to execute. Huffington modified the tone.

"Basically, to use old-fashioned language, what Tim was talking about—creating the best content on the internet, on a global level, on every platform—what this really means is creating great journalism online. In order to do that, we really have to change a lot of things. We have to make the company be driven by editors."

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Huffington's goal here was clear: To continue the brand realignment The Huffington Post had begun before the merger, to go from being perceived as a highly successful but possibly cynical eyeball-catcher to a serious news operation that could be a contender among the great capital-J Journalism institutions in the country and, in fact, the world. It was time for The Huffington Post to go professional.

"It’s like, you cannot create great journalism if editors are not running the show," she said. "In a way it's almost tautological, but it has implications in how the company’s run. And that's really what we've been working on.”

Almost nine months later, the professionalization of The Huffington Post is still very much a work in progress. A mammoth undertaking before the AOL deal was a glimmer in Huffington's eye, the merger only made it bigger. On one hand, the merger provided The Huffington Post with a massive infusion of capital with which to become a respected and highly competitive journalism operation. On the other hand, it created a herculean task: To dismantle and reassemble both organizations into a coherent whole.

A little before 3 p.m. Monday, the 61-year-old Huffington Post president, editor-in-chief and co-founder had been in a meeting with some Italians from a Milan-based media property that her website, now in the process of expanding its global footprint, is negotiating with.

Huffington had treated her Italian friends to lunch and a tour of The Huffington Post's 1,800-square-foot fifth-floor headquarters on 9th Street and Broadway while assessing the potential for a partnership that would export the brand to Italy.

Afterward, Huffington and two of her generals in the battle to professionalize The Huffington Post, Tim O'Brien and Peter Goodman, told Capital that since the merger, they'd hired 200 journalists, created a 10-person desk of news editors, and were publishing between 50 and 60 originally reported, real news items a day, with several large features a week clocking in at more than 3,000 words.

"If we had not merged with AOL, we would not have been able to do anything remotely approaching this scale," Huffington said.

BY THE MIDDLE OF LAST YEAR, THE HUFFINGTON POST was a massive web operation with more than 20 million readers a month, putting it on course to catch up with The New York Times. The company had successfully negotiated $37 million in venture-capital investment to amp up the operation and make it a massive aggregation brand; it was time for the investors to make an "exit," as it's called by dealmakers. Initially, the strategy was to go public, and allow investors to cash in on the tremendous value they'd built in the untrammeled stock market.

“I was very confident in our I.P.O. strategy,” Huffington said.

But while no investor at the site's five-year anniversary would have disputed the value of Huffington Post shares, the brand lacked the professional prestige of the other news organizations it was becoming competitive with. Unpaid bloggers were still thought by many to be its bread-and-butter, after all; and there was no question of comparing the site to major news gathering operations like CNN or The New York Times for authoritativeness.

An I.P.O. would be a very public beauty contest, for which changing that perception was important. During the early days, the site was essentially a catch-all of tabloid-inspired political and entertainment headlines supplemented by blog posts from Huffington's cohort of lefty celebrity pals. Founding editor Roy Sekoff oversaw the latter side of the operation. The news side was the province of Ken Lerer, one of the co-founders of the site, and its chairman until this past February when the AOL deal came through. Despite Lerer's business background, "he was smart about it," according to a former editorial employee who worked under him. He kept a close eye on the site’s headlines, which were written by a handful of "news editors" responsible for the upkeep of the front page. (Back then, the front page was, in fact, the only page.) Their jobs involved scouring the web for big stories and packaging them as such that readers would want to come back for more.

"What we were doing was not journalism," said someone who worked at The Huffington Post when it was still in its infancy. "It was taking original content from other sources and rewriting headlines in a way that would give liberals a justification to be indignant about current events. It was also to find what is generally called 'weird news,' and also entertainment stories, like a Lindsay Lohan nipple slip, which consistently attracted three times more clicks than any political story."

Eventually, The Huffington Post began expanding its team to include paid news bloggers, reporters (primarily based in its Washington D.C. bureau, which opened in 2007) and "vertical editors," who would prove essential to the success of the hyper-topical sub-channels it soon began spawning left and right. (There are now 46 of them.) By the time AOL came calling this past winter, Huffington's once barebones newsroom was starting to look increasingly equipped to support that other, more old-school approach to covering the news.

The ambitious Capital-J Journalism program began in earnest, you might say, last September, when Howard Fineman, a 30-year veteran of Newsweek (and a familiar face on cable news), decided to join the march of defectors fleeing the venerable weekly in the midst of its fire sale to 91-year-old audio tycoon-turned-philanthropist Sidney Harman, who died of cancer in April. Huffington hired Fineman as a senior politics editor, though he has since ascended the masthead to the more strategy-oriented perch of editorial director.

The move seemed rather stunning at the time: New media maven ensnares grey-haired magazine guy to work for website. But it was a good way to raise eyebrows.

"Mr. Fineman’s move from a print medium to online news is a sign that The Huffington Post, which has until now heavily relied on young bloggers, is maturing," The New York Times observed, perhaps a bit condescendingly.

A few days later, Huffington announced that she had poached one of the Times' own, hiring Goodman, then a prominent economics writer at the paper, as its business editor, putting him in charge of all financial and tech coverage.

"We have officially entered Phase II of The Huffington Post," reported The New York Observer, "in which the site will throw around big money to steal talent from traditional outlets."

Phase II was in full swing by December, when O'Brien, the Times' Sunday business editor, was named the site's national editor, a title that soon morphed into executive editor.

"There's nothing more fun than communicating with young, hungry reporters who want to learn the craft and want to aspire to do big, meaty, compelling stories," he told Yahoo's Michael Calderone at the time. "I love that dynamic. It's very much like being a teacher." (A few months later, they hired Calderone, too.)

When O’Brien and Goodman arrived at The Huffington Post about a month apart late last year, the place, for the most part, wasn’t wired for original reporting. Their job was to make it be.

They started hiring beat writers, mostly on the business desk at first, and imbuing them with the sensibilities they’d developed at their esteemed alma maters.

The plan was that O’Brien and Goodman would oversee their writers’ beats from a big-picture standpoint. Goodman would also continue working on his own writing and reporting.

Then AOL came along, with its $2.4 billion in revenue clocked in 2010, with an offer to buy the company for $315 million, and the I.P.O. strategy was tested.

Huffington said it was she who championed the deal.

“We had become profitable, we had a great sales team, we were beyond on track with where we wanted to go,” she said. “Nobody on the board wanted to sell. There was nobody who wanted to cash out. I really had to work to convince the board that this was the best for The Huffington Post. To double down on all of our objectives.”

News of the merger was surprising and swift. Even the top editors were in the dark until a week before the agreement became public on Feb. 7. A month later, the deal was a fait accompli.

As a result, O’Brien and Goodman had to retrench somewhat from their full-time editors’ roles. The change did not go unnoticed.

“Once the AOL deal happened, it soon became clear that they were now media executives,” said a journalist who worked at The Huffington Post at the time. “So you had reporters who were just languishing.”

There were lots of meetings with AOL suits. Lots of strategic planning. Lots of figuring out how AOL culture worked and how to integrate AOL culture with Huffington Post culture.

O’Brien was tasked with integrating Patch, AOL’s nationwide network of hyperlocal community news hubs, as well as staffing up the editorial side of MapQuest, another AOL property. Goodman was handed about a dozen business-related AOL sites, including Daily Finance, AOL Real Estate and AOL Autos, which were among the properties that survived the merger. (It ended up claiming several hundred editorial jobs on the AOL side.)

How were these sites to be structured now that they existed under the AOL Huffington Post Media Group umbrella? Which of the dozens of freelancers contributing to them needed to be cut loose? Which ones deserved to be hired into full-time jobs?

"There was this intense period where we were juggling a lot of additional responsibilities," said Goodman.

"I had promised both Tim and Peter that there was going to be a period where they'd need to devote a lot of their energies to running the migration of the AOL sites and the building of the sites," said Huffington.

MEANWHILE, AS THE INK DRIED ON THE AOL DEAL, THE TALENT KEPT flowing into the newsroom. One by one, reporters arrived following stints at vaunted metropolitan dailies (The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, the Daily News, The Baltimore Sun, The Miami Herald), insider Beltway reads (Roll Call, Politico, The Daily Caller), buzzy upstarts (The Daily, TBD.com) glossy magazines (Reason, Good) and, in the case of some who were hired through a mentorship program for young journalists, the halls of Ivy League universities (Harvard, Yale, Columbia).

Throughout the spring and into summer, it seemed like there was an announcement every week rattling off the latest batch of recruits. The heavy hitters stood out the most. Michael McCauliff, for instance, had been a Washington correspondent for the Daily News, leading the paper's Hillary Clinton coverage during the 2008 primary race. David Wood was one of several AOL hires who survived the axe that fell on the company's Politics Daily site, which was absorbed by The Huffington Post; although the septuagenerian Pulitzer finalist was perhaps more well known for the years he'd spent covering military issues and foreign affairs for Time, Newhouse News Service and The Baltimore Sun. Tom Zeller, meanwhile, got his own press release when Huffington Post added him to its growing collection of New York Times alumni as a senior reporter covering energy and the environment.

The senior editorial team also started falling into place. After Fineman, O'Brien and Goodman had settled in, John Montorio came over from the L.A. Times as culture and entertainment editor. (He was recently promoted to executive features editor.) Maura Egan left her job as a travel editor at T magazine, The New York Times' semi-regular style supplement, to head up The Huffington Post's lifestyle coverage. (Though she left after only five months.) Neil Katz, formerly a Star-Ledger and Daily News journalist with a knack for video, made the jump from executive editor of CBSNews.com to Huffington Post's executive news editor, "to help manage editorial teams across all AOL Huffington Post Media Group destinations, working closely with editors to develop their coverage, including the addition of more video—a key goal of the company," according to a release. Lori Leibovich, who’d been an editor at Salon, Tina Brown’s Talk and various glossy lifestyle titles, was hired as “women’s editor.” And Michael Hogan abandoned his post as executive digital editor of Vanity Fair for a joint title of executive features editor and editor-in-chief of the AOL entertainment sites Moviefone and AOL TV.

But it’s O’Brien and Goodman who are seen as the central characters in The Huffington Post's journalism story.

“It has been great to have Tim and Peter as my partners,” said Huffington.

Between the two of them, O’Brien and Goodman oversee all of the hard news (although the D.C. crew—Ryan Grimm, Sam Stein, Arthur Delaney and others—has been described to Capital by several sources inside the company as a more autonomous bunch, resistant to being brought under the purview of the editors in New York.)

O’Brien’s a history buff who writes historical novels for Random House in his spare time. He worked as a research assistant to longtime Village Voice gumshoe Wayne Barrett in the early '90s while Barrett was writing a book about Donald Trump. (O’Brien’s 2005 sequel landed him in a morass of litigation with the billionaire real estate magnate, in which he ultimately prevailed.) He later arrived at the Times and left for a short detour at Talk in 1999 before returning to the Times after it folded several years later. He was named Sunday business editor in 2006.

Goodman’s career also began in the early '90s, when he was a freelance foreign correspondent in Southeast Asia and later a metro reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, where his beat took him inside the Wasilla City Council meetings responsible for launching a politician named Sarah Palin. By '97 he was at The Washington Post, which sent him back to Asia, as well as Europe, the Middle East and Africa, as an economics correspondent, earning him the stripes necessary to land a job as the Times’ national economics correspondent in 2007.

They have adjacent offices, and one is often seen visiting the other, Goodman with his thick-black glasses, neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper beard and a bald dome that caps his six-foot-three frame. O’Brien is a bit shorter and a bit more stocky, and speaks in a pitch slightly higher than Goodman’s baritone. Numerous staffers described the latter editor as an avuncular boss; “caring and understanding,” said one of them—although others have pegged Goodman as short-tempered and prone to “yelling” and “testy exchanges,” as someone who has worked with him put it.

“I plead guilty to caring passionately about the work that we do, and expecting a lot from my reporters and colleagues,” Goodman said. “Anytime you're in a situation that matters, emotions can enter in.”

O’Brien was described by sources as a solid mentor, a meticulous editor who takes care over copy, as well as being a “door-is-always-open” kind of supervisor; although as with Goodman, several sources described a hot-tempered side.

“Bottom line," said a person who has worked with him. "If you get bruised easily, you’re gonna have a hard time. But if you have a thick skin and want to do really great journalism, then he’s a great person to work for.”

Huffington said: "In the 10 months I’ve worked very closely with him, I have never known him to be anything other than completely professional and engaged in the task at hand. And he does so with warmth and good humor."

On the other hand, the duo's talents as editors and reporters were devoted for some time to strategy and planning rather than editing.

"There was this intense period where we were juggling a lot of additional responsibility," Goodman said. He said it's been phased out now, though, for the most part.

"Most of my day is spent talking to reporters about stories, down to a granular level—what's a good lede, strategies on reporting, editing copy in cases of longer-form enterprise work, and doing my own reported stuff."

Last month Goodman traveled to Denver to report a 4,000-word feature on suburban poverty, he said. "That was not thinkable a few months ago, but that ideally is now the template."

Goodman also recently hired a deputy, Emily Peck, from The Wall Street Journal to oversee some of the AOL sites.

"On a daily basis, we have around 50 to 60 original stories a day landing on our news desk," O'Brien added. "And on any given week, we probably have three or four substantial features in excess of 3,000 words. We have editing and reporting systems in place now where we're gonna be able to do that kind of serious work on a very regular basis and do it in a top drawer fashion. I think we have already done that this year, and we're just going to continue to do more of it going forward."

These days, The Huffington Post still does all that aggregation and amateur blogging, of course, but there’s a lot more substance alongside all of the cheap content: Nuanced features on presidential campaign strategy. Deep dives on contentious environmental issues. A many-thousand-word 10-part human-interest series on wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans that makes you wonder if The Huffington Post might just be Pulitzer material after all.

The vast majority of the original stories are handled by the news desk, a team of 10 line-editor copy-editor hybrids that O'Brien installed immediately following the merger. They're responsible for managing the churn of the news flow while O'Brien, Goodman and the other senior editors get down and dirty with hands-on editing for the more ambitious features.

The next step, said Huffington, is expanding the original reporting across all of the sections, including the 22 new ones (HuffPost Weddings, HuffPost 50, HuffPost High School, Gay Voices, etc.) that have been launched since the merger.

"We now can take all these sites to the next level," she said. "We haven't been hiring at the same rate because we've been assimilating the teams we've brought in. But we are very much actively looking for reporters in all the areas of the site. We're at the stage of beginning the interview process again. We're gonna be announcing more hires soon."

FOR ALL OF THIS WORK, MANY INSIDE THE ORGANIZATION'S rank and file say, the mission still feels polarized to them.

“You can crudely divide the room into the people who are just all about traffic, who look down their noses on original reporting as old-fashioned, who cares,” said a person with knowledge of the newsroom, “and the people who actually get what the mission is: Not to displace the aggregation and traffic-friendly stuff, but to add another layer on top of it.”

“In an ideal world, these things actually speak to one another,” said O’Brien. “Nobody’s role is preeminent. We’re doing it together and we’re attacking it from a bunch of different angles. Some of it will be aggregation and curation, some of it will be reporting. They’re both really highly valued here. They’re two different approaches to the same thing.”

“We don’t see it as two ways of doing things,” Huffington said. “We see it as, whatever we’re doing, whether it is original reporting or curating or doing slideshows or any of the other multimedia things that we do, that we need to observe the same journalistic guidelines. So we don’t see any distinction at all."

Huffington, Goodman and O'Brien have believable conviction on this score. But bringing the staff to that conviction can be a trickier proposition.

On Tuesday, July 12, Nico Pitney, the site’s managing editor, sent an email to newsroom staffers asking them to attend a “special meeting with HuffPost's founding editor Roy Sekoff and some other guests.”

Sekoff was the first to address the standing-room-only crowd (and others who were conferenced in by phone). He guided the assembled staffers through a PowerPoint presentation and delivered what one person in attendance described as his standard “stump speech” about the so-called “Huffington Post DNA.” He told them that successful aggregation means adding value, intelligently contextualizing the reporting of others, packaging things well. Don’t take too much, and ask yourself whether you’ve extracted all the value, he advised. He also called up some of his favorite headlines of late, such as the abbreviated screamer that was splashed across the homepage following the arrest in May of former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn: “OMG IMF.”

Next up was Goodman, who channeled the sort of gospel one would expect from someone who spent “two decades in traditional newspaper journalism,” according to the bio on his personal website: Be thorough. Check your facts. Worry about getting it right, not about getting clicks. And if you have any doubt as to whether you can aggregate a story fairly, no matter how big the story may be, better to leave it to the competitors. The upshot, according to insiders familiar with the meeting, was that traffic is not the most important thing, and that page views should be earned by producing content that is trustworthy and compelling, not merely sensational.

But then Huffington Post’s chief technology officer, Paul Berry, who was running late, and had therefore missed Goodman’s speech, showed up and put in his two cents: Traffic is the most important thing.

He explained that if a story gets a lot of page views that means it’s good: Quality and clicks correlate directly. Goodman listened from the sidelines without interrupting. It was awkward.

"It seemed to sum up this cognitive dissonance that's going on between these two theories on how to do things," an attendee later recalled.

Toward the end of the session, Goodman stepped in to clarify that what Berry really meant was that quality content, aggregated or otherwise, would inspire steady traffic growth over the long haul. Some staffers left the meeting scratching their heads anyway. But by the time it had wrapped, it was already after 6 and they were expected at the Bowery Hotel for a company party. They'd been promised drinks and snacks.

More important perhaps than getting their message out to staff is getting it out to readers.

Traditionally, making a brand work is about setting certain expectations across the board. When it's time for The New York Times to get some advertising from luxury goods and couture advertisers, they launch a slick, stylish magazine like T for the super-rich. The New York Post creates a magazine like Alexa or Page Six Magazine. Huffington is convinced that the brand can stretch wide enough to coherently offer deep, long-form investigative journalism and slideshows and gossip and celebrity news. In fact, it's unapologetically part of her vision for the site.

"If you’re talking about a contribution to humanity," she said, laughing, "I would say definitely David Wood’s series or Arthur Delaney’s stories on the unemployed or our amazing coverage of foreclosures is driving the national conversation in a way our slideshows of adorable kittens and babies [are not]. They definitely provide pleasure to people who click on them, and we’ve always been from the beginning an unashamed mixture of highbrow and lowbrow.”

It's something Tina Brown has said, too. But one never gets the sense that Tina Brown's magazines are for everyone. Can The Huffington Post be the only media outlet that can succeed at being all things to all people?

One minute the Huffington Post's Twitter feed is asking its 1.4 million followers to consider a bipartisan proposition to ban executive bonuses at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; the next it’s tempting them with “The most adorable baby photos you've ever seen.” When The Huffington Post is not “reinventing the art of liveblogging” with “up-to-the-minute” dispatches from Occupy Wall Street, according to Nieman Journalism Lab, it’s apologizing for a regrettable (and arguably offensive) “Who’s Got the Tranny Look” poll, or becoming the butt of jokes for having “gone from being a scrappy little media company to a pandering click factory, employing the worst publishing tactics on the web” (see: fluffpo.tumblr.com). And when The Huffington Post does perform feats of substantial journalism, such as a 6,800-word feature called “Google, Microsoft and the War for the Web” that’s “chock full of good reporting,” as The Columbia Journalism Review’s Greg Marx wrote in September, sometimes it seems at odds with itself.

“What we have … reads like one huge newspaper article that’s crying out for the old Huffington Post’s ‘we-read-it-and-found-the-best-parts-so-you-don’t-have-to’ treatment,” Marx wrote. “Business Insider, where are you when we need you?”

And, of course, there are some goals in the combined company that weren't there before the merger. One example is video. Used comparatively sparingly at the pre-merger Huffington Post, it's a major player in AOL's revenue strategy.

And so there is a highly concerted effort underway to attach “related videos” to the bottom of all “news entries that are not linkouts,” as stated in company parlance. The mandate took effect several months ago in an effort to pump up AOL’s video views. (Prior to the merger, it had acquired a video syndication company called 5min for $65 million.) Editorial hands are reminded of this requirement every day when they receive an email detailing the number of applicable articles on each vertical that did or did not follow the rule.

On Oct. 26, for instance, “33% of Technology non-linkout entries did not have a video (3 out of 9),” while “8% of Politics non-linkout entries did not have a video (3 out of 37);” “41% of Entertainment non-linkout entries did not have a video (5 out of 12);” and “64% of Style non-linkout entries did not have a video (9 out of 14).” Each offending article and its author(s) are listed in bullet points.

"We are actually able now to have an amazing searchable database for videos," said Huffington. "When we first started, our goal was to have 100 percent inclusion of pictures in all stories. Now our goal is to have 100 percent inclusion of video. We're just around 70 percent."

Slideshows are another example. At one point before the merger, writers and editors were told they could take it easy on the highly-clickable features because the site wanted to concentrate on building unique visitors rather than pageviews. Several months ago, the company changed course again.

"As you know there is a push to have slide shows in as many posts as possible when editorially appropriate," Katz, the news editor, wrote in a Sept. 22 email to vertical editors. "You are the first line of defense."

Likewise, “if something is trending, we are encouraged to cover that,” a vertical editor said. The vertical editors are alerted to trending topics by members of the so-called “trends team,” whose jobs are what you’d expect—monitoring search engines for traffic-friendly topics and pitching said topics for coverage. They often jump in and write such posts themselves.

The Huffington Post’s New York newsroom in the AOL building is a quiet place where people tend to come in, put their heads down and get to work.

After the merger, Huffington ordered some remodeling before her team was to move in. The place was more or less gutted—cubicles replaced with long tables lined with Mac desktops to make for a more modern, open-concept layout. They installed 15 flatscreen TVs suspended from the ceiling.

Huffington is a visible presence, and her glass-encased office at the far end of the bullpen allows her to look out at the worker bees.

The combined Huffington Post-AOL editorial staff now numbers 320, up from 170 at the time of the merger in March, giving the operation as much manpower as, say, a major daily newspaper.

But there are certain incongruities that make it a different sort of animal altogether.

Coordination is not always as fundamental here as it is in the well-oiled machines where The Huffington Post’s senior editors cut their teeth.

Some verticals overlap more heavily with the original reporting team than others (politics, media, business, for instance). O'Brien cited the media page as an example of one of the verticals where the aggregation and reporting mix seamlessly.

But one also hears accounts of vertical editors—the people with the intense traffic goals and posting quotas—who feel as if their toes have been stepped on by the other journalists in the place, the ones who spend their days coming up with story ideas and executing them the old-school way.

“When reporters are writing a piece for a certain section, can that section's editor be informed at some point?” Anya Strzemien, the style vertical editor, wrote to O’Brien on April 15 in an email obtained by Capital.

She was referring to a piece published earlier that day about the recent Bill Cunningham documentary. The author was Caroline Dworin, formerly a writer for The New York Times.

“I only found out about this when I saw it on the home page,” Strzemien’s email continued. “I love Bill Cunningham and loved that film about him and Caroline's writing is solid, but this story isn't news. …Going forward, can I just get the heads up when Caroline or any reporter is working on a story for Style? I know they don't report to me, but as the editor of the section I need to weigh in.”

O’Brien hadn't assigned or edited the story, so he was essentially playing traffic cop. But in an emailed reply, he agreed that Strzemien should be looped in going forward, and also said: “Caroline's writing is a wee bit more than solid. And we all know here what's news and what isn't, but thanks for weighing in on that front.”

“It’s sort of like these two completely different worlds,” said a person familiar with the newsroom structure. “Parallel universes.”

There’s also, perhaps, a crucial missing layer between that coterie of more conceptual editors at the top of the masthead and the rapid-turnaround cranks on the news desk, which handles the majority of original content going up on the site.

“There are still plenty of anonymous editors at places like The New Yorker, New York, The Atlantic, and elsewhere who know how to shape and trim raw copy,” C.J.R.’s Marx wrote in his recent item about The Huffington Post.

“The next time Arianna feels like poaching journalistic talent from an establishment outlet, she might forgo name recognition and give one of them a call.”

Huffington would say, again charming and again self-deprecating, that all of it is admittedly a work in progress.

On Oct. 4, she was back on that same stage at the Times Center for yet another conference, this one as part of New York Advertising Week.

To her right were CNN analyst David Frum (introduced as a contributing editor for Huffington Post Canada), and MSNBC morning hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. To her left were Fineman, Lisa Belkin, whom she’d hired away from the Times to write a blog about parenting, and a 23-year-old named Conor White-Sullivan, whose website, Localocracy, had just been acquired by The AOL Huffington Post Media Group.  

The topic was how to "move beyond the tired framing in which all issues are boiled down to simply 'left vs. right.'"

This time, Huffington was the one asking the questions. But as the panel was winding down, she took a moment to share some thoughts of her own.

“It’s so refreshing to hear the co-host of a very popular morning show acknowledge that everything is a work in progress,” she said. “I love that. Because there is such a presumption that whatever we put out there is perfection and cannot be improved on. And I love the fact of all of us acknowledging both in our personal lives and in our professional lives, you know, we are works in progress. Certainly I know with our Huffington Post editors, that’s a central part. Everyday someone will make everything we’re doing better. There’s never a day when we could not have made it better.”

Homepage image via Fortune Live Media.

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