Interview: Arianna Huffington Sees 'Huge Opportunity in Asia' for Her Digital Brand

Arianna Huffington speaks at the 2014 Commerce & Creativity Conference in Montreal. (Charles William Pelletier/Flickr).

In America, headlines lamenting the financial woes of traditional print journalism have become increasingly common. To defray dwindling profits, many news outlets have hugely downsized their foreign news bureaus. But as founder and editor-in-chief of online news site The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington has bucked this trend by creating international editions of her site in 11 countries within the past few years, including both Japan and South Korea (an India edition is in the works.) Earlier this year, HuffPost launched The WorldPost, which hopes to spur important global conversations by featuring articles authored by some of the world's most recognizable public figures. However, crafting news for a varied foreign audience inevitably presents unique challenges for the media conglomerate as it attempts to make headway in Asia and throughout the world.

In her inaugural "President's Forum" event, Asia Society President Josette Sheeran hosts Arianna Huffington at Asia Society New York this Thursday, June 26. (For those who can't attend in person — and tickets are going fast — the program will also be a free live webcast at at 6:30 pm New York time on the 26th.)

In anticipation of her visit, Asia Blog caught up with Huffington via email.

The Huffington Post recently announced plans to launch an Indian edition later this year. By virtue of its gigantic population, India is a nation of contradictions: a billion people lack access to the Internet, and 300 million lack basic electricity. At the same time, over 900 million Indians have mobile phones. How has The Huffington Post been able to navigate these contradictions?

HuffPost India will be our 12th edition since we began our international expansion three years ago. It's an incredible opportunity for us to tell the stories that matter most — and just as important, to help people throughout India tell their stories themselves, in words, in pictures, and in video. By opening up the conversation we'll be putting a spotlight on the country's many contradictions and also the many ways India embodies much of the ancient wisdom the world desperately needs now.

The Huffington Post has made headway in Asia by launching international editions in South Korea and Japan through partner organizations that are well-established in the respective state's media business. What's the process you go through in choosing a specific partner, and how do these organizations help you make sense of each country's unique media landscape?

Finding the right partner is the most important decision we make when we launch a new international edition. Our strategy is to build partnerships with leading media brands and make investments with the full intent of becoming market leaders. We build strong local teams with our partners — with sterling editorial leads like Anne Sinclair in France, Montserrat Dominguez in Spain, and most recently Mina Sohn in Korea — and these teams bring experience and expertise when it comes to navigating each country's unique landscape.

Speaking of partners, The WorldPost has been syndicating content from ChinaFile, the online magazine published by Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations. Are these kinds of relationships likely to become more commonplace in today's media landscape? How does each partner benefit from the relationship?

At HuffPost and The WorldPost, our goal is to direct our readers to the best available stories — whether they were created by our reporters, editors, and bloggers, or by others. These relationships are definitely becoming more and more commonplace, because they give value to both partners — and especially to the readers. In the case of The WorldPost and ChinaFile, our syndication partnership means that readers of The WorldPost have an opportunity to discover great content on ChinaFile they might not otherwise have known about.

You’ve been vocal in your conviction that blogs can be a forum for otherwise unheard individual voices around the world, at the same time helping to democratize the media/publishing industry. As The Huffington Post spreads to Asia, what role do you envision the site playing in highlighting human rights violations and promoting social justice?

When it comes to these issues, there's a huge opportunity in Asia for HuffPost's mix of original reporting and opening up our blogging platform to voices that would otherwise go unheard. We've seen over and over again that by opening up the conversation in these ways we can actually make a difference in people's lives.

Already almost 50% of The Huffington Post's unique visitors are said to come from an international audience, even though the site launched the first of its 11 international editions just three years ago. How has The Huffington Post been able to expand its international reach in such a short time?

Though we just started our international expansion three years ago, we have seen tremendous growth in each of the local markets where we have launched in terms of audience, which has also helped expand the global brand of our U.S. site with readers around the world. We are also increasingly focusing on big global themes through partnerships like The WorldPost and with our focus on the Third Metric and how people can live more fulfilling lives.

Video: Arianna Huffington on So-Called Experts and the 'The End of Memory' (3 min., 4 sec.)

About the Author

Profile picture for user Saahil Desai
Asia Blog contributor Saahil Desai is a junior at Pomona College, and a native of Cincinnati, Ohio.