The Huffington Post had about 1.2 million unique visitors per month from Canada. After launching a Canadian website — huffingtonpost.ca, in May 2011 — that number is now up to 2.8 million, reports The Globe and Mail.
This has been done through the HuffPo’s trademark blend of aggregation, (free) opinion blogs from contributors and some original reporting.
From The Globe and Mail‘s Simon Houpt:
HuffPost is successful in part because it has an existential certainty, unencumbered by the heritage that weighs down so many other news organizations.
And yet. Earlier this week, I asked (AOL Canada director of content Brad) Cressman and Kenny Yum*, the managing editor of AOL Canada, if they could point to any journalistic project they were particularly proud of.
* FWIW, Yum is a former editor of globeandmail.com. For full disclosure, I worked with Yum almost a decade a go.
Yum began talking about how HuffPost has staked out a “Main Street approach” to business coverage. “I don’t see a lot of other news organizations actually staking out that ground, and we’re proud actually to do that.”
He mentioned a series called Mind the Gap, which is dedicated to exploring the income gap between the rich and poor in Canada. HuffPost believed in it so much, they sent their business reporter to Calgary for a story. Whenever another story about income disparity comes across the wires, it runs under Mind the Gap.
“Part of the DNA of Huffington Post is to focus in on things that we think are important and don’t just require a ‘Hey, this is going on,’ and then move on to the next one,” Cressman said. “So Kenny and his team do have the flexibility to cover the things that are important, and not just chase page views.”
The contrast that Cressman drew – the difference between “important” and “page views” – stuck in my head as I walked back to the office, opened up HuffPost and searched for the Mind the Gap series. It was hard to tell how much traction the Calgary story had received, but it didn’t seem to have lit up the site: It had been shared only a couple of hundred times on Facebook.
Far more popular was a slide show of the five most expensive homes in Canada. It, too, was tagged Mind the Gap. But, really, it was pure traffic bait. And, yes, I clicked on it.
When I first looked at the Huffington Post’s Canadian edition this morning, the lead headline, in orange, was They Had Nothing, about the Costa Allegra cruise ship that suffered a crippling engine room fire. The main story was written by the HuffPo’s UK edition.
An orange sub-headline linked to a two-day-old CP story saying there were 14 Canadians aboard the ship.
The Burlington train derailment story, in which it was revealed that the VIA train had been going too fast, was treated as a second-screen “just in” — despite first breaking almost an hour earlier. Which is the bigger Canadian news story of the moment? It’s also worth noting that HuffPo used the CP story.
Shortly after 11 a.m., the Costa Allegra was no longer the splash story. The new lead story was Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino saying no contracts had been signed yet for F-35 jet fighters.
But that story was first posted Wednesday, so it is literally yesterday’s news. It’s an Ottawa story, but it’s not written by the HuffPo’s lone staffer in the nation’s capital. Instead, it was from CP.
The lead blog post is by convicted felon Conrad Black on whether U.S. citizens should concern themselves with the sex lives of their presidents. He focused on the recent memoir of Mimi Alford, who had an affair with President John F. Kennedy when she served as a White House intern.
Black’s piece is timestamped Tuesday, making it two days old.
Another CP story about robocalling and the Ontario provincial election is from Wednesday. It is accompanied by a slide show of captured tweets. The first tweet is from @PierrePoutine, a joke Twitter account spun off the robocall controversy, saying, “Not even Rob Ford himself can stop MY gravy train.”
What’s interesting is the background image. It appears to be an ad for New York Fries’ poutine.
Besides the Burlington derailment update, the only other prominent ‘today’ story on the HuffPo Canada home page was the death of U.S. conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart. The U.S. HuffPo site wrote a story aggregating coverage from other outlets.
I didn’t see an original story today yet from the HuffPo Canada writers, either an aggregation effort or a work of original reportage.
So relatively early in the news day, there was a lot of stale news still on the HuffPo Canada site, and the most important Canadian breaking news, the derailment update, didn’t get top billing. It was the lead story on most of the old-skool Canadian news sites I checked.
As to its ongoing Mind The Gap coverage, it’s not a featured link on the home page. Nor is it featured on the business home page. For the fun of it, try searching for the phrase on HuffPo Canada.
If there’s any lesson about the future of journalism in the HuffPo, it points to cheap content that can be easily monetized. But not every site can exist on aggregation. Some organization has to be doing the original reporting at some point.
But if the HuffPo has been able to increase its Canadian audience to 2.8 million in a matter of 10 months, maybe, as Houpt suggests, it’s because a significant part of the Canadian news audience cares more about how news is packaged than how it was originated.
Late Thursday, I saw the following via the @HuffingtonPost Twitter feed:
- .@justinbieber has a message for ‘cougars’ who are happy he’s ‘finally legal’
- Katy Perry flashes her underwear
- Spotted: Beyonce breastfeeding in public
- Kardashian shares intimate photos
And last but not least:
- Grosssssssssssss: semen-tainted yogurt
It would be fun to know how important the naughty content is in driving page views for Ariana Huffington’s creation.
In fairness, however, I’ve talked with some U.S. journalists I respect who say they admire the site’s coverage of U.S. national politics.