HuffPo wants to be a newspaper

In just a little over two years, The Huffington Post has gone from being a side project for founder Arianna Huffington — whom many saw as an intellectual dilettante playing around on the Internet — to a new-media powerhouse whose Web traffic is larger than that of many traditional media competitors, and even threatens to topple (or has already toppled, depending on who you listen to) the legendary Drudge Report for largest media destination site, with close to 4 million unique visitors a month.

So what’s next up the Huffington Post’s sleeve? Local journalism, apparently. The site announced last week that it plans to hire editors in major centres, beginning with Chicago, who will pull together coverage from various news sources, including wire services and local bloggers and websites. Ms. Huffington says that she hopes to expand the project to dozens of other major cities, and that she sees the local sites becoming the equivalent of a newspaper — something that many troubled local newspaper chains will no doubt see as yet another nail in their coffins.

Ms. Huffington has also made it clear, however, that just reporting (or aggregating) the facts isn’t enough for her site, which has made its name based in large part on the opinionated commentary of its bloggers — including some well-known names, such as actor John Cusack and comedian/actor Harry Shearer — as well as on the “citizen journalism” it has engaged in through the Off The Bus campaign coverage project, including some controversial reporting on Barack Obama and Bill Clinton by blogger/journalist Mayhill Fowler (which I wrote about here).

At the recent Personal Democracy Forum conference in New York, Ms. Huffington said that one of the reasons why new media like her site has become more popular is that old media has failed readers, due in part to its commitment to a false kind of objectivity. “This is one the major problems of old media,” she said. “The illusion of presenting two sides of a story instead of just ferreting out the truth.” Whether that kind of approach — which some see as a potentially dangerous or at least unwelcome development for journalism — extends to the Huffington Post’s local “newspaper” project remains to be seen.

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