The Huffington Post – the jovial US news website that revolutionised the global media landscape when it started just six years ago – probably couldn’t have asked for a better day than yesterday for its UK launch. With a homepage showing an image of Rebekah Brooks and Rupert Murdoch, the News International pair at the forefront of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, all eyes are currently on the British media, and HuffPost UK makes an appealing new addition alongside Murdoch’s old guard.
The UK team is led by Carla Buzasi, editor-in-chief of AOL Europe (AOL closed its $315m purchase of Huffington Post in February), and a team of 10 full-time editorial members, pulled in from Al Jazeera, BBC Radio 4 and BBC News. It follows the launch of a Canadian version in May. “Britain has always held a very special place in my heart. I started (and finished) college here. I started (and finished) my first serious love affair here,” writes Arianna Huffington on the launch. The famously candid Huffington (who else namechecks a romance in a press release for a news site?) also credits her time as President of the Cambridge Union for overcoming her fear of public speaking.
The website’s focus on creating dialogue between publisher and reader has been a large part of its success. With their blogs, tweets, and Add Your Comment boxes, a quick glance at the Guardian or BBC News shows just how influential HuffPost has been. The question now is, can the brand compete with its own pastiches? What can it offer that its US version, already pretty popular with the UK reader, or the Daily Mail (probably its main competitor for tabloid scoops) does not?
“I am quite surprised that the “look and feel” is so tabloidy – is there perhaps a sense that the British are more attuned and familiarized with the over-the-top bold, big headlines and photos that scream?” says media guru Mario Garcia. “Indeed, the US website uses the big headline for the top story, but in this first UK export I sense a greater approach a la tabloid.”
Content-wise, the website also feels vernacular, if a little odd. Writers contributing yesterday include Alastair Campbell, Sarah Brown and Ricky Gervais. Stories included how British forces in Afghanistan will be affected by the withdrawal of US troops there and why London is a divorce capital. Today it’s Ed Miliband and Peter Tatchell and blanket coverage of the News of the World scandal. The challenge ahead lies in keeping this locality up.
“How can the Huffington Post UK beat the natives in terms of providing the melange that will reflect, in essence, what the UK audience is thinking and talking about on any given day, taking the pulse of a community?” asks Garcia. “The key will be to incorporate new, very UK-centric content that will extend the daily conversation of UK readers.”