The Huffington Post yesterday unveiled its new Canadian homepage and founder Arianna Huffington was on a whirlwind media tour in Toronto, talking up the company’s first international edition and why the HuffPo approach will work in Canada.
Featured Canadian bloggers include environmental activist David Suzuki, Green Party leader Elizabeth May and Victoria-raised, Oscar-nominated actress Meg Tilly.
When asked who she saw as HuffPo Canada’s primary competition, Huffington said the traditional model doesn’t apply to web publishing since readers move between multiple news sources online, as opposed to just reading the one paper that lands on their doorstep. ” Sometimes brands focus too much on who the competition is and not enough on how they can do things better. For me, that’s the game,” she said, fresh off delivering a keynote presentation at the Mesh web conference. “We’ll link to [other media] sites and drive traffic to your site, then that can be monetized. We’re basically a good thing.”
Just don’t tell that to Aol. HuffPo was acquired by web conglomerate in February for a reported US$315 million. As print ad revenues continue to drop, the fight among online media for portions of Canadian marketers’ reported $3 billion in ad budgets is getting scrappier. Something Aol Canada head Graham Moysey certainly aware of. “The bottom line is, it’s a lot of money and there are 26 million Canadians online so that’s a compelling piece of pie to go after,” he said. “We’re a business and obviously our business is about aggregating audiences around incredible content and monetizing that through advertising.”
The closest Huffington came to acknowledging the competition was when she was asked about Post Media Network’s decision to test out a metered paywall. “Any day someone puts up pay walls, that’s a good day for The Huffington Post,” she said.
The new site did see a few hiccups on its first day, including some readers actually complaining about the Canadian content. One commenter wrote, “ARGH!!!! I don’t come to this site for Canadian news!! I have enough sources for that. If I can’t get the American edition, than I’m not going to be visiting much anymore.”
The site quickly made it possible for readers to toggle between the U.S. and Canadian editions. Huffington said that kind of agility is key to the company’s continued success. “We have edit and tech working together,” she said. “Our [chief technology officer] sits in the middle of the newsroom. We believe that’s the way to do things. The great glory of being online is that you’re constantly iterating.”
New media scholar, commentator and journalist Jeff Jarvis said earlier this week (at an event hosted by another Aol-owned property, TechCrunch) that transparency is the new objectivity for journalists. Given the wide-swath of interests represented by HuffPo bloggers and contributors, Huffington agreed. “We often think of objectivity as presenting two sides to every story but I think that hasn’t served us well because it’s made us act as though the truth is always in the middle,” she said. “That doesn’t always honour the ultimate principle of journalism which for me is trying to uncover the truth.”
But the lines are apparently still a bit cloudy. While Huffington said that the site hosts sponsored blog posts, the Canadian edition is already faced with some criticism over a post about a new product from e-reader Kobo that didn’t acknowledge the chair of Kobo’s board, Indigo founder and CEO Heather Reisman, is HuffPo Canada’s editor-at-large.