After several false starts – and five years after it was first mooted – the Huffington Post is set to launch in Australia.
Owned by AOL Inc, Huffington Post is one of the most successful digital platforms in the world and already has editions in Britain, Canada, France, Spain, Italy, Japan, the Maghreb, Germany, Brazil, South Korea, Greece and India.
After discussions with other local players, HuffPo decided in February to partner with Fairfax Media for its Australian launch.
It remains to be seen how the partnership will work editorially, how independent it will be of Fairfax and how the company will cope with HuffPo being a potential rival to its own editorial products, such as Daily Life, a subsidiary site primarily aimed at women.
Known as HuffPost Australia, the local edition will be edited by News Corp journalist and editor Tory Maguire. As HuffPost Australia’s editor-in-chief, Maguire, along with the CEO Chris Janz, will set the masthead’s local identity and voice, the company announced this week.
The editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, Arianna Huffington, said Maguire was a “first-rate journalist with deep digital roots and is truly passionate about utilising new media tools to both tell the stories that matter and engage with readers in new and exciting ways”.
“I am thrilled that she will be leading the team in establishing the HuffPost DNA in Australia,” she said.
“Tory knows how to spark conversations,” Janz said. “Her extensive experience and proven digital expertise in delivering highly engaging journalism and video content make her the ideal leader of HuffPost Australia’s local newsroom. Tory’s impressive passion and energy will drive the delivery of HuffPost Australia as an engaging and influential platform for Australians to voice their thoughts, opinions and commentary.”
A 15-year veteran of News, Maguire was the editor of opinion and news website the Punch which was successful in recruiting a wide range of commentators – including politicians and ABC presenters – before the company ended the digital platform experiment in 2013.
She has also been the Daily Telegraph’s opinion editor and is a regular commentator on political and social issues on television.
Former news.com.au editor Paul Colgan, now the publisher and editor-in-chief of Business Insider Australia, worked with Maguire on the Punch. “Tory Maguire is one of the best journalists I’ve ever worked with,” Colgan said. “She’s rigorously fair, insightful and tough. She’s also a deep well of ideas and that’s the most exciting thing when you think about what she’ll be able to do with a brand like Huffpo in the Australian market.”
But some in the media industry are questioning whether Ariana Huffington has left her run too late, given that, since Australia was first targeted by the company in 2010, several international digital-only publishers have set up in an already competitive marketplace: there is Daily Mail Australia, Guardian Australia, BuzzFeed Australia and Colgan’s Business Insider Australia, run by Allure Media which has several other sites including Popsugar and Lifehacker.
The publisher of media and marketing website Mumbrella, Tim Burrowes, says the opportune time was a few years back. “It felt to me like it was never going to launch here because they talked about it for so long,” he said. “The big question now is have they missed their moment because there is so much more commentary now – and an awful lot of commentary with a more female focus. The established players have improved their game too, compared to three years ago.”
Burrowes warns that Fairfax is at risk of cannibalising its own properties. “The question is can they create more eyeballs via Fairfax or will it spread the eyeballs they already have? Clearly if you can create something that is distinctive and different you can generate a new audience.”
Fairfax Media’s smh.com.au jostles for position as No 1 news website with news.com.au and wouldn’t want anything challenging its supremacy. The Daily Telegraph and the Australian’s websites have already been overtaken by Guardian Australia and the Daily Mail Australia.
But Huffington says the more competition the better. “We don’t see the world in terms of competition because we feel there are always going to be more and more media players in the space and the more good digital players there are the more it benefits everybody,” she told Mumbrella last year.
Launched in 2005, the Huffington Post is a mix of news and commentary and has a large army of volunteer bloggers made up of high profile personalities and unknowns.
But it is this model – which relies more on editors than writers and takes a lot of free content from bloggers – that has earned the company some bad press and even a law suit.
“Clearly there is a perception issue that they have to deal with,” Burrowes says. “It’s an issue that’s dogged them over many years.
“I think it’s a bit overstated though because there’s a value exchange in bloggers writing for free. Bloggers can position themselves as experts. I wouldn’t approve when it’s young journalists desperate to get into the business though.
“But there will be a point when there are no more people who are willing to write comment for free because they’ve already all been signed up.”
Each edition of HuffPo has had a local flavour and it it is not known what direction HuffPost Australia will take. Will it focus on politics and skew female or will it feature entertainment and lifestyle?
“I think it will be more opinion than news,” Burrowes says. “The flavour of a site can be quite different from one market to another. If you look at Buzzfeed it’s still very much on the side of viral fun content in Australia, whereas in the US they also invest in hard news journalism which we haven’t seen here yet.”
Huffpo is advertising for an associate editor and a deputy news editor and will post more jobs in the near future, a company spokeswoman said.
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