New Kid on the Blog

Does this mean that blogs are ready for prime time ... or does it signal that the fad is in its death throes? Arianna Huffington--everyone's favorite Greek-born conservative-turned-progressive-activist pundit--is getting into the game. On Monday she will launch The Huffington Post, which will be like most Weblogs in that it will put heat (and perhaps even shine a little light) on the news of the day through diarylike musings, opinions and links. It will be unlike most blogs in that huffingtonpost.com's 300 celebrity contributors will include people like Norman Mailer, Diane Keaton and Warren Beatty. And Maggie Gyllenhaal, David Mamet and Tina Brown. And Walter Cronkite. And so on.

"Let the conversation begin," Huffington, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of 10 books who ran in 2003's California gubernatorial recall election, writes in the site's inaugural May 9 post. "If you're looking for the usual flame-throwing, name-calling, and simplistic attack dog rhetoric ... don't bother coming to the Huffington Post." Huffington recently spoke with NEWSWEEK's Brian Braiker about why people should bother coming. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: What's the goal of this blog? What are you trying to accomplish?

Arianna Huffington: The Huffington Post is going to be two things. Its really taking the two things that worked great on the Internet--which is news and the blogosphere--and combining them, bringing to the Internet voices that haven't been there, as well as voices that are there. I've believed for a while now that some of the most interesting things are happening online and yet many of the very interesting people haven't been a part of the online conversation.

It seems that many of the blogs commenting on this project have been fairly critical of it, whereas the more mainstream outlets have sounded more enthusiastic. Why do you think that is?

I'm not sure I agree with the premise of the question. Actually, many people involved in the Internet have been very enthusiastic. That said, a lot of what blogging is about is offering critiques and taking jabs ... it's all part of the mix.

You were once a vocal conservative. You ended up endorsing Kerry in the last election. Where would you place yourself on the political spectrum today?

I am progressive. My views are very clearly expressed in hundreds of columns and my last three books. I've questioned the leadership of the Democratic Party and the stance it has often failed to take. I'm not a partisan.

The Huffington Post has been couched in the media as a response to Matt Drudge, which doesn't sound entirely accurate. Will it have a uniform bias? Or will you let celebrities on both sides of the aisle chime in on an issue?

The site has invited an eclectic mix of viewpoints and the blog is going to be a real dialogue. Drudge does news. What we're doing is two things. We do news. I don't believe news is left wing or right wing. And then we do the group blog, which is going to be a dialogue from all viewpoints.

The whole reason blogs caught on is that they are so democratizing. You didn't have to be a celebrity to have a blog. But the people you have signed on are not exactly lacking a platform.

Of course they have a voice, but they're not part of the online conversation. While most of these people could sit down and write a column for NEWSWEEK or submit a column to The New York Times, and chances are it would get published, the truth is they're not going to do that. They all are writing screenplays or having other jobs. They may very easily just write down a thought and send it in to be part of the dialogue in the blogosphere.

The process you describe is much less formal than submitting a carefully crafted editorial.

Which is really what the blogosphere is about, right? If you're writing an op-ed, it's got to have a beginning, middle and an end. If you have one thought, you can put it out there, and it can enter the cultural blogstream, and others will add to it, and it can become part of the conversation.

Does anyone need to know what Gwyneth Paltrow thinks about Social Security reform? Do you anticipate people like Larry David responding to comments on his posts? We'll see how that unfolds. Every contributor will decide to do it their way. One of the things that I'm finding with the stuff I'm already getting is really great and really conversational. I love the idea that the thoughts that people are having, others will be able to share them.

Is there any contributor or entry that you've been surprised by so far?

I was very moved, for example, by what [director] Mike Nichols sent. I got it last night, it was at the end of a very long day. I got this and it was just such a beautiful expression of his thinking.

What did he write?

It was really an indirect way of getting at political leadership. It started with how it's similar [to] directing a play or a movie and being a political leader. It was just such a different way of looking at it. He has a great line, which is "Dr. King knew that an improved reality begins with a dream." It's so simple; it's not like an intellectual treatise. It's conversational.

How will we know that these people are actually writing their posts and not having their handlers craft them?

Obviously, there would be no other reason for Mike Nichols or David Mamet to send anything unless it was a thought they had that they wanted to put out there. Their thinking is as much theirs as a fingerprint.

You've said that you wouldn't run for governor again, but you learned a lot in your seven weeks as a candidate. What did you learn as a candidate that informs your writing now?

I learned that the public really responds to large vision. And when candidates run on a laundry list of issues, it's very hard to communicate. That's really in a way what Mike Nichols was saying in that post and why it resonated so much with my experience. [Voters] want to be reassured. If the real thing is not available, they will fall for the ersatz thing, like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And your blog will strive to find "the real thing?"

The blog will be whatever the blog is. It's not my blog. It's over 300 people at the moment, and it keeps growing every day. [I'm] setting the tone, choosing who to invite. But there's going to be no editing, and it's going to be unfiltered and uncensored.