New Delhi: Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group, launched the Indian edition of The Huffington Post, the company’s premier news aggregator and blog, in New Delhi on Monday, in collaboration with Times Internet Ltd, the digital arm of the Times group. Founded by the inimitable Arianna Huffington in 2005 and sold to AOL Inc. in a $315 million deal in 2011, The Huffington Post already makes money from its editions in the US, the UK, Canada and France. The Greece edition was launched two weeks ago and an Arabic edition is on the cards. All advertising for the first year of the India edition has been pre-sold to GroupM for an undisclosed amount. The hands-on editor-in-chief spoke on the news site’s India plans, how its local editions are “rooted in tradition" (something that should win friends for Huffington Post India in the new India), and how digital news can make money. Edited excerpts:

In your message to introduce Huffington Post India, you said the country needs to find answers to its challenges in ancient traditions. Do you actually believe in that?

India is my absolute favourite country in the world. And I could totally imagine myself living here. I have been drawn to India’s traditions for a very long time. Ever since I was 17 years old when I came here, I have been practising meditation and yoga, but much more since my collapse from exhaustion and burnout seven years ago.

But as the Belgian philosopher (Editor’s note: Pascal Chabot, and this seems to be one of Huffington’s enduring themes) said, burnout is civilization’s disease and India has the answers. As India faces the pressures of modernization with the move from rural areas to urban areas and the collapse of a lot of traditional support structures, Indians themselves have to rediscover traditions they may have rejected or dismissed and discover them in a new way. You know, meditation was not invented in California and yoga is not an aerobic exercise. Our editions are rooted in tradition and we want to do a lot of that on Huffington Post India as well as do the traditional coverage of politics, news business and entertainment.

Why did a strong brand like Huffington Post need a partner in India?

This is our model. With the exception of the UK and Canada where we did it alone, (in) every other country we want a partner. We feel that we can launch on day one and be truly rooted in the culture. We don’t want to helicopter in and do Huff Post India. By having an established partner like The Times of India, we are able to access the best journalists we would otherwise not know. We are using their offices and their sales force. It is a true partnership. We are training their journalists in our CMS (content management system) and editorial DNA. In every country, it has proven absolutely indispensable to have a local partner.

What will your business model be?

Advertising-supported, and as you probably heard; our year’s advertising inventory is already pre-sold to (WPP’s media buying agency) GroupM. It is very good to start a business where you sell the inventory on day one. The revenue is taken care of. (India is the second market where Huff Post has sold in advance its inventory to a media agency. Japanese agency Dentsu Inc. bought its first year’s inventory in Japan and later renewed it for another year.)

AOL bought out Huffington Post in 2011. How has the growth been ever since?

It has been four years and it’s been a great partnership. When AOL bought Huff Post, we had 25 million unique visitors, we now have 119 million. We were in one country, the US. Now we are in 17. When AOL bought Huff Post, we had no video. We now have an entire streaming network, Huff Post Live. It is two years old with 100 million video streams on a monthly basis and 27 million unique visitors.

Is digital journalism profitable?

Absolutely. There are two things that are happening that are very good for us. More and more people are consuming news digitally. And with 4G coming to India next year, and broadband expansion being a big priority of the Modi government, it is going to accelerate.

Also, advertisers or brands which are slow (to adopt digital media) are realizing that more and more people are not just consuming news but also participating themselves through their own stories online. So, digital spending cannot be an afterthought. It has to be at the forefront of their agenda.

What kind of journalism will Huff Post do in India?

Same as everywhere. Journalism that can win a Pulitzer. In-depth, investigative reporting will continue to be important for us. We won the Pulitzer for a 10-part series that took our military correspondent nine months to write. It also had all the multimedia elements. All the areas we cover relentlessly across the world, we are going to cover here as well, including violence against women, gay rights...

It is interesting to see that a lot of the old beliefs of journalism are being stood on their heads. Like the term: “If it bleeds, it leads." Put bad news, mayhem on the front page and traffic will follow. Now we are seeing that in fact, people like to share good news as a lot of traffic comes from sharing and social. I want to share examples of human ingenuity, compassion and creativity. And that is what has been at the heart of what Huff has been doing from the beginning.

Will social media kill newspapers and user-generated content kill television?

No. (There’s) no proof that’s the case. What Huffington Post proved as a model is that quality investigative journalism can co-exist with the platform. We have proven, demonstrably, the hybrid model. But there have to be certain constraints. You cannot be free-for-all on the platform. People have to be invited to blog or they can submit blogs and editors have to approve them; otherwise, you lose quality and also run the risk of the site being overrun by trolls. That’s why, even in the comments, which you have in millions on the Huffington Post, we do not allow anonymity. People have to comment with their identity. Maintaining a civil discourse on the site is a big priority for us.

How does Huff Post make money while most news sites are struggling?

Advertising is working for us, partly, because we have been the leader in inventing a new kind of advertising...like not depending on the banner ads.

We were the first site to invent native advertising. We also have been leader in social impact advertising with brands buying an entire year’s sponsored section around the cause—whether it is Johnson & Johnson sponsoring maternal health or Goldman Sachs supporting female entrepreneurs around the world. Or Chipotle (Mexican food chain) for thought around healthy food.

But isn’t that a case of conflict of interest?

No, there is a complete Chinese wall between editorial and business. There is something called Partner Studio which produces the content for the brands that advertise on Huff Post. It is not produced by our own journalists. That obviously won’t work. Our business section will cover Goldman Sachs negatively sometimes. There is no conflict at all. It’s about innovative and scale...that is appealing to advertisers. They can reach a 100 million people.

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