Wake up, folks, Huffington is no Backfence


If you are a newspaper editor or publisher, and you haven’t worried about Outside.in, YourStreet, Topix, or BackFence (deceased), it’s finally time to worry.

Like Craig Newmark before her, Huffington Post creator Arianna Huffington plans to steal our lunch. In her case, she’s announced she is going to launch at least a dozen local sites, starting with Chicago this summer.

You could ask a stadium full of people if they had ever heard of YourStreet, Topix, BackFence or Outside.in, and you might hear a faint voice or two from the bleachers. You could FILL dozens of stadiums with people who have not only heard about the Huffington Post but have also been there. Like three to eight million people a month, depending on which measurement you believe.

Now Huffington says she’s coming after our most precious asset: our local readers.

(Listen to her comments during a Guardian seminar by clicking on the image below. She discusses her local play starting at minute 25:45 through 29:30. She returns to local at 35:37 through 36:08.)

It’s scary, or it damn well should be. Unlike Craig’s List, she’s telling us in advance that she’s coming, how and when (not where yet, but I wouldn’t wait to find out!).

With her clout and visibility, she may succeed at the aggregation game where others have failed or are struggling. She plans to grab YOUR content and the best local bloggers and citizen journalists — something we should have done long ago. (It’s not too late, but it’s ALMOST too late.)

And she won’t be blowing large amounts of investor money, either. One editor. One reporter. That’s it.

But add all the current and future local bloggers who will be attracted by the opportunity to have the address of: “HuffingtonPost/my name,” and she’ll have critical mass in one hell of a hurry. And those people will be buzzing about HuffPost’s local site rather than your newspaper and its website.

You’ve watched customers walk away from your newspaper’s classifieds to Craig’s List. Do you really think people will go to your paper first and then to her site when they can get it all at her site?

So, beat her to the punch. Now. Start lining up local bloggers today! Claim the turf before she does. After all, you’re local. You can take much better care of these local folks than she can. You still have more clout and much better brand recognition than she does. For now.

My experience at the Los Angeles Times, when I would ask local bloggers about appearing in the LA Times, would indicate that even for the Internet savvy folks, the old-fashioned media still has some magic. They were thrilled at the possibility.

But bringing high-quality local bloggers into your website isn’t enough. To really seal the deal, to really cement the relationship and both reward the blogger and attract more people to your site, you MUST publish their blogs (or excerpts) in your newspaper.

Your print product is a HUGE advantage you have over Arianna. She has no external promotional vehicle; you have what amounts to tens or even hundreds of thousands of daily promotional fliers for your bloggers and your website. Just do it.

Arianna is coming and if you’re not ready, she could join Craig on your enemies list, if you’ve still in the newspaper industry by then.

Here are some of the most chilling comments from her interview with Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger:

“We’re an aspiring newspaper. We’re a newspaper in the sense that we are covering all news…we’re not just a political blog, the way we began just covering politics, we’re covering everything. When I say ‘aspiring,’ I mean we keep adding to that. We’re expanding. In the next three months, we’re launching a books vertical then international and sports and we’re also launching local.

Starting with Chicago, it’s going to be just one page which is going to look like the Huffington Post but it will be all about Chicago: Chicago news, Chicago bloggers, Chicago food, Chicago crime, everything

Once we work out the kinks, we’ll have the template which we want to roll out, staring with a dozen other cities …

(Guardian editor Rusbridger asked what she meant by “covering”): By ‘covering,’ I mean three things: 1) aggregating news from all sorts of sources; 2) we now have a reporting team …

We’re about to do the third round of financing and a lot of the money we’re raising is going to go toward expanding our reporting team as well as to launch local and all the other things we’re planning …

Where is all this going? We’re going to have an editor. That’s how we start. It’s news aggregation and bloggers. We’re reaching out to many people in Chicago. We’re going to be blogging about what’s happening in Chicago. it’s a combination of those two elements: social community and blogging.

(And it will be) supplemented by our citizen journalism project …


10 responses to “Wake up, folks, Huffington is no Backfence

  1. I think you’re already seeing some newspaper websites adapt to the hyperlocal model. NJ.com has a few hyperlocal sites:




    Signs indicate that they aren’t stopping there. Other places will likely be added. Also, they tend to be a mix between beat reporters, local citizens and community activists, which means that the quality of the writing tends to be more focused than the usual motley group of paranoid bloggers who write things like “omgzors! bUsH is signing away our sovereignty to the NAFTA highway!” or “Obama wants to turn America into a radical muslim sect.”

    However, these blogs usually don’t get printed, as far as I know. And Huffington certainly has more “street cred” among bloggers. She’s not the establishment, which gives her a little bit of an advantage.

  2. Pingback: Arianna Huffington Schedules World Media Domination Appointment | Peach Pundit

  3. I’m sorry, but “HuffingtonPost/my name,” has NO APPEAL for me. At all.

  4. Some very good points, John! But I’ve heard some interesting things from some bloggers, and there just may be a group that’s going to stay independent. In some regions, HuffPo’s a lightning rod and is not perceived in a positive light–unlike Craigslist, which is seen as neutral and just providing a service. So, whether or not bloggers sign up for HufPo may have to do with their particular political beliefs and if they’re into the brand.

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  7. Does she actually plan on paying people for content? Last I heard, her serfs work for free.

  8. Kevin:

    You’re right. She doesn’t pay any of the bloggers who appear on her site, and has no plans to pay them. For some (most?) of her bloggers, the exposure on one of the most popular sites on the Internet is enough, but I wonder how long that will last.

    There is bound to come a day when those bloggers will wonder why she should make money off of their intellectual property and not share any of that cash.

    When I ran BostonNOW, we told our bloggers upfront that we would not pay them initially, as we were not making money yet and hadn’t proven the model. But I was already meeting with the National Writers Guild to discuss working together to create blogger contracts as well as methods and amounts of payment, especially for those bloggers we excerpted in the paper (as that reflected a judgment on our part of their value).

    I’ll wager that when Arianna launches her local sites, she’ll be able to pull in a large share of the local bloggers without paying them for two reasons: 1) Fame, just like the bloggers on her national site, and 2) The local metro daily won’t publish them, leaving them no choice but Huffington for mass exposure.

    We’ll find out very soon in Chicago…

  9. Perfect combination with the newspapers and a local blogger to get the news about chicago from newpaper and upload it to the blog. Nice approach..!

  10. yes I agree with Sam pierce thanks for sharing the blog.

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