When's the last time you checked out Real Clear Politics? Been, say, a little less than a month?
Huff Post's announcement of new $25 million funding brings RCP to mind. Yes, RCP seems like more of a single-purpose poll aggregation site, though it stepped out from that in becoming a political (and other) news aggregator through 2008. But RCP's example is instructive. While 2008 was the year of intense political reading interest, 2009 will be.....something else. Certainly, we've all seen we've got a lot at stake in the governing of 2009. Inevitably, though we'll be less rapt, dividing our interests up more traditionally, a little politics, a little entertainment, a little sports.
So against that backdrop, HuffPost has to diversify. It's a politics site with other stuff, at this point. You could see that diversification through 2008, as it added tabs for lifestyles, business, media and entertainment. And then it moved, loudly, into Local, the last refuge of those seeking new markets?
It launched a Chicago site in the fall, a presence built on pointing to Tribune, Sun-Times and other local stories and a single blog post a day on city times and politics, by HuffPost bloggers. It's a reasonable exercise, and a smart one by web standards: leverage a brand, create a small proprietary presence and then link like hell, exercising editorial judgment about what your readers will most value in other media coverage.
Now with $25 million newly invested by Oak Investment Partners, it says it is planning to:
- invest in its technology and infrastructure
- increase its in-house advertising capabilities
- continue to expand its content offerings–including a new investigative journalism initiative and a rollout of local versions of The Huffington Post in select cities.
This investment valued Huffington Post at $100 million. Just for sake of irony, compare that (today) to McClatchy: $154 million; The New York Times: $1 billion and Gannett: $1.9 billion. Could it be true, HuffPost is really worth 2/3 of McClatchy and a tenth of the Times?
That's the spark of the new talking, unburdened by legacy cost, debt and doubt. If Arianna doesn't nab a position in the Obama Administration, HuffPost will be an intriguing experiment to watch. Here's what I'm looking for:
- Can top-down local work, circa 2009, as opposed to the ferment we're seeing in bottom-up -- but so far un-networked -- local, as captured in Richard Perez Pena's recent Page One Times piece noting MinnPost, CrossCut and Voice of San Diego?
- Is Huff Post more than a national brand? Does it really have much resonance around local for its readers? Smart aggregation certainly makes sense in concept, but news aggregators have seen relatively slow audience growth. People are busy and not hungrily looking for new sources or pointers to sources. In addition, Topix and Outside In are plowing another part of this field, and it looks like they are having slow going in advertising.
- Is venture funding of investigative journalism a coming trend? Certainly, this hugely importantly, yet often costly, form of journalism has never been more needed nor more threatened by journalism's decline. ProPublica's been the most visible case of well-funded investigative work, meant to fill the deepening holes created as dailies crater. Investigative work is tough, and tough to make credible. HuffPost seems like more of a Mother Jones investigative model, one that can get more play on cablecaster like MSNBC these days, but still doesn't have the imprimatur of mainstream media.
- As a sign of the times, isn't this as much about HuffPost getting its ad act together? It's a significant part of the announcement. HuffPost has built an impressive audience; bringing modern ad technologies to it is a major challenge and will ultimately determine its success or failure.
- Is it an online newspaper? Old question, it seems to me, and one that is fairly irrelevant. Yes, the idea of an edited package of today's news is newspaper-like, but that's not a new idea. It's now more than a decade old, as we think about various versions of Yahoo News, Google, News, Slate, Salon, Topix and more. It's how the branding, the aggregation and the editorial judgment fit together. That's what will separate the winners from the losers.