Huffington Post UK may only be two years old but editor Carla Buzasi isn’t hesitant in revealing her lofty ambitions for the website.
“I would like the Huffington Post to be a household name throughout the country,” she tells Press Gazette.
But what does HuffPo stand for? It has been derided by sections of the newspaper aristocracy as little more than a news aggregation site, while to others it exists as a mothership for the sprawling masses of the bloggerati.
Although she would reject the dismissive tone of those descriptions, Buzasi seems to accept that it is a little bit of both.
“I think with the news we try to take a different angle on a story and often that is taking into account the opinion and debate that’s going on around that story,” she explains. “We’re about kick-starting a conversation: what are the people on the street saying about a story?”
Moving stories on is one thing, but Buzasi insists that breaking news is “very important for us” and highlights the hire of former New Statesman journalist Mehdi Hasan as political director as a sign that HuffPo UK should be seen as a serious player.
“In this country the news landscape is dominated by these big brands that have been around for decades if not centuries so it’s not easy to just pitch up and say: ‘We want to be part of the ball game’. But I think we are accepted now.”
So what stories has HuffPo’s 25-strong editorial team actually broken? Buzasi is ready and waiting with her examples. She points to recent Hasan interviews with Ed Miliband’s adviser Stewart Wood and suspended Labour peer Lord Ahmed as two that “led the news agenda”.
On the celebrity side, an interview with Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay revealed that the star was shocked by her own character’s demise.
Of course, such stories don’t quite rank with Watergate in the journalistic canon, and Buzasi is ready to admit that much of the exclusive news stories her site breaks will be interview-based. But the fact that investigations are not high on the
HuffPo agenda should not lead anyone to believe it isn’t serious about news.
She is “very proud” of having an office in Westminster and the newsroom has bulked up its political team with the recruitment of Tom Mosley from PA. The focus clearly differentiates HuffPo from the ever-growing army of click-bait merchants.
“I’m very protective of the brand we’re building here, which means focusing on stories and having someone based in Westminster,” explains Buzasi. “We know those [political] stories aren’t going to drive tens of millions of clicks. We could have three celeb stories that could do that. But I would always defend the right for us to invest in the news and politics side.”
The numbers logging on to HuffPo websites from the UK are growing. They cite Comscore numbers up from 1.4m unique users in August 2011 to 4.9m in May 2013.
In terms of the bottom line, Buzasi says that parent company AOL does not report on the profit (or otherwise) of individual sites, but maintains that HuffPo UK is on track financially.
Away from its bread and butter news coverage, the coming years and months will see the site host more events and discussions, “taking the conversation offline” as Buzasi puts it.
So, at the age of 33, what of Buzasi’s own future? “I want to be here to see the team grow,” she answers. “It’s very much my baby and I’m not ready to give it up just yet.”