Arianna Huffington is hailed as queen of Web content, a maven who successfully married old and new media. Now, after facilitating the $315 million sale of huffingtonpost.com to AOL, she is poised to build a new empire.
“She doesn’t apologize for things. She’s paid attention to technology more. She’s paid attention to SEO more,” said Jason Keath, president of social media firm Social Fresh. “As fast as she moves and as fond as she is of staying ahead of the game, having the resources to take more chances will be interesting.”
amNewYork takes a look at how Huffington’s tenacity has led her to this historic merger and where it’ll take her next:
The 60-year-old Greek-born glamazon got her first taste of political fame in the 1990s as a conservative commentator and socialite wife to oil heir and GOP congressman Michael Huffington, who after their divorce announced he was bisexual. She’s been an Emmy-nominated talk show writer, an actress, a radio host, author of 13 books and a California gubernatorial candidate — all the while steadily migrating her political views to left and founding the hotly popular, unabashedly liberal huffingtonpost.com.
Her crown jewel
“She figured out pretty early on from a political standpoint that blogging was the way to go,” said Peter Yared, of Internet analytical firm WebTrends. “The way a blog works is that it has a voice and she gave her site a voice.”
Huffingtonpost.com earned page views with other unconventional tactics, enlisting volunteer contributors and celebrity friends as writers and encouraging video blogging. Despite criticism from mainstream journalists, Huffington also shamelessly championed news “aggregation,” rewriting existing reports and tacking on SEO-friendly headlines.
“It’s not the best journalism, but it gets them the heavy traffic that they need to get the journalism they want,” Keath said. “It in turn allows them to invest in the harder news they need to be as respected as nytimes.com.”
Her stake in journalism’s future
Huffington will serve as content manager of the newly formed Huffington Post Media Group, which seeks to meld her website’s voice and brand power with AOL’s reach as an outdated-but-restructuring Internet giant, while AOL executives focus on monetization.
She now has AOL’s family of sites — from tech venture Engadget and hyper-local news producer Patch, at her disposal — but everyone seems most curious about the political implications of the merger.
Media and political experts agreed AOL would be wise to capitalize on the Huffington Post’s liberal influence. “What AOL is looking at is the success of MSNBC and that there’s a profit to be made in leftist media,” said Democratic consultant Evan Stavisky.
“I expect the Huffington Post brand to remain — as it should — but should hope AOL finds other conservative voices to balance out its content,” said Republican political expert Kevin Patrick, suggesting The Huffington Post Media Group acquire righty blogs such as hotair.com, Redstate and the National Review Online’s “The Corner.”
Such acquisitions seem likely as Huffington has a history of seeking balance at least for the sake of argument. In her GOP days, she was the conservative counterweight to Al Franken’s liberal character in the “Strange Bedfellows” segment of TV show “Politically Incorrect,” and now, she’s the liberal half of “Both Sides Now,” a syndicated radio show co-hosted by GOP pundit Mary Matalin.
Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington
Family: Divorced, with two daughters
Birthplace: Athens, Greece
Now lives in: Los Angeles
Net worth: $115 million, not including the $18 million to $100 million she’s said to personally pocketed from the merger
Hats she wears: President and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group; cohost of “Both Sides Now” radio show with Mary Matalin; voice of Arianna the bear on “The Cleveland Show”
Has been called: “The most upwardly mobile Greek since Icarus”
Did you know? Has acted on “Roseanne” and “How I Met Your Mother”
On the merger: “We’re still traveling toward the same destination ... but we’re now going to get there much, much faster.”
Through the years:
1950: Born Arianna Stassinopoulos in Athens
1972: Graduates with M.A. in economics from Cambridge University in London
1973: “The Female Woman,” the first of 13 books Huffington would author, is published
1970s: Has decade-long relationship with late British journalist Bernard Levin
1980: Moves to New York
1986: Marries oil baron Michael Huffington, who in 1992 becomes a GOP Congressman representing California
1990s: Makes name as conservative commentator, boosting Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole and others
1996: Stars as conservative counterpart to Al Franken in “Strange Bedfellows.” Earns Emmy nomination for her writing on “Politically Incorrect”
1997: Divorces Michael Huffington, who later announces he’s bisexual
1998: Launches first Web foray, resignation.com, calling for President Bill Clinton’s ouster
2000: Hosts “Shadow Conventions” coinciding with the GOP and Democratic conventions and criticizing both parties 2003: Ran as independent candidate in California recall gubernatorial election, which Arnold Schwarzenegger won
2005: Launches huffingtonpost.com with Kenny Lerer and $1 million in seed money
2006: Named to the “Time 100” list of world’s most influential people
2008: “Right is Wrong” is published, one of the most successful of Huffington’s books
Feb. 2011: AOL buys the Huffington Post for $300 million in cash and $15 million in stock with Huffington as president and editor-in-chief of the newly formed Huffington Post Media Group