Arianna Huffington, a pioneer in the new medium of online news, spoke to scene over the phone earlier this week about new media, college and sleep. Huffington is the co-founder of The Huffington Post, a popular news Web site.
Correction: March 8, 2010
This article has been modified to reflect multiple transcription errors. The corrected text is as follows.
Q. What were your original goals when starting the Huffington Post?
A. Well, in the beginning, I wanted to bring together some of the most interesting voices, some of whom didn’t even use a computer, like the first person I invited to blog, Arthur Schlesinger. He used to fax me his blogs. It was really a combination of great established voices and exciting new ones. We love to have young people blog for us — and launching our new college section is an expression of that. So it was always a combination of three elements: a group blog, curating the news 24/7, and having a very vibrant community.
Q. So with all the news that’s out there every single day how do you curate what goes on the Web site and what stays off?
A. Well we now have over a hundred people working on the Huffington Post. And our senior editorial team works with our editors, we establish our editorial goals and priorities – and our editors are very, very good at picking and choosing the best and most interesting stories.
Q. Why the new sleep challenge initiative?
A. We believe that sleep deprivation is a major problem — especially with college students.
Q. So what’s the secret to getting a good night’s sleep?
A. Part of it is making an appointment with sleep. So if you have to get up at a certain time, see how many hours you need. And there’s a whole series of other things you can do — like not having your [electronic] devices charging right next to your bed. That way, if you get up in the middle of the night or something wakes you up, [you won’t] immediately start checking your iPhone or your Blackberry. Because, if you do, even if you go back to sleep, it’s not the same. Our whole point is that if you are re-charged you are much more likely to be creative, effective and productive.
Q. So at Yale a lot classes here begin at 8:30 or 9. Do you think we should move them back?
A. Well, I think throughout life you often find that you have to start even earlier. But the real question is what time do you go to bed?
Q. Um, [laughs], pretty late. Like 2 or 3
A. Is that because you are working or having fun or both?
Q. I’d say a mixture
A. Yeah, yeah… so the thing about sleep is that it depends on how you’re feeling, it’s like everybody needs a different amount of sleep. But you’ll find that when you’ve had enough sleep, you enjoy everything more, you’re more productive.
Q. Why do you think there’s such an appeal to blogging these days?
A. It’s a very effortless way to have your views be a part of the national conversation. The other thing that’s wonderful is the instant gratification. If you’re a blogger on The Huffington Post you can have your own password, so anytime of the day or night, you can post and it’s something that you can immediately send and share with your friends. Right now we’re doing a lot of social media, you know, Facebook, Twitter feeds. So if you have something that you’re thinking, you can immediately share it with millions of people all around the world.
Q. Do you think our generation is too obsessed with instant gratification now?
A. I think that there is more self-expression. I think that your generation, for many in your generation, self-expression is the new entertainment … so many have moved from passive consumption of news and entertainment to a much more active engagement.
Q. With all the instantaneous media that’s available online, what do you think about print news? Do you still read physical newspapers?
A. Absolutely. I love newspapers. I subscribe to seven of them. I read magazines and I think that in the foreseeable future there will be print and there will be magazines and there will be a very active online media.
Q. How do you feel about the direction of print news moving more towards multimedia and the internet these days?
A. Well I think it’s necessary. Can you image the Yale Daily News not having an online component? It wouldn’t make any sense.
Q. So Forbes named you as one of the most influential women in media. How does this feel and what kind of responsibilities does this carry for you?
A. I feel very blessed that I’m doing something that I love and care passionately about. I feel that what I’m doing is constantly evolving. That’s the great thing about being in online media. We’re constantly adding sections, like last week alone we launched College and Religion. We’re adding reporters who are doing more and more original reporting … For me, my goal is to always combine the best of the old with the best of the new. The best of the old media, which is fairness, accuracy, fact checking. And the best of the new, which is transparency, authenticity, and immediacy.
Q. While we’re on the topic of college, did you have a favorite class or professor?
A. I majored in Economics at Cambridge in England and I remember there was a very young professor, Simon Schama. He was a historian and loved great little history books. He was the youngest and the most dashing professor [laughter]. So when I was at Cambridge I had a complete intellectual crush on him. We would line up for his lectures and he thought I was majoring in history, which I wasn’t. I loved my writing classes and my logic class but these were not classes that were a part of my economics courses.
Q. Do you think it’s good to branch out to things that you have an interest in but you know are not really the thing for you?
A. Yes, I was very involved in the Cambridge Union, which is the debating society. So I spent of a lot of my time debating and learning to debate. I ended up being the president of the union and then I organized debates. So that was my favorite extracurricular activity.
Q. Ok, one other question. Blackberry or iPhone?
A. Ok, Blackberry for communication because I travel a lot, and I use it a lot for emailing. iPhone for surfing the web.
Q. Do you have multiple phones then?
A. Oh, yes — it’s really bad. Because I’m so dependent on my devices, I have a couple of Blackberries, each from a different service provider, so if I’m in an area with lousy coverage on one of them, I can stay connected on the other. But here’s the important thing: At night, I have everything charging as far away from my bed as possible.
Q. Obviously you’re always really busy and have so many things going on at the same time. How do you manage that, how do you juggle so many things going on at the same time?
A. I find that the key thing is loving what I do, so that there’s no real distinction between my work and my life. And also, as I said earlier, I’m rested. I love hiking, so going on hikes when I’m in LA, — it’s especially great in the evenings. When I’m in NY or somewhere, I love doing yoga. Exercising [and] getting enough sleep make a big difference in terms of being able to [do] a lot of things.