Arianna Huffington Takes on the Web, No Holds Blogged

Arianna Huffington kicked my ass in 1992.

This wasn’t the first time I got taken down a Dixville Notch by a woman in politics; U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein and I went a few rounds a couple years before on the death penalty, and while I snuck in a few good punches, in the end she was still Diane Feinstein and I was still a lowly reporter who checked the Sunday circulars for macaroni & cheese coupons.

Arianna was a lot nicer than Feinstein and smarter in some respects. We met at a college campus debate, where her husband, Michael, and my Congressional candidate, Gloria Ochoa, were supposed to go toe-to-toe on the issues facing Santa Barbara County. But the candidates didn’t show, so it was left to Arianna and I to debate in front of about 100 college students who for some reason felt that watching a tall Greek and a short Jew argue about environmental policy was more interesting than getting high on the beach.

Thankfully the debate didn’t make the evening news – after all, Arianna wasn’t “Arianna” back then, and I’m still nobody. Besides, her now ex-husband had a lock on the race (though he failed a couple years later in a bid for the Senate), so the whole campaign felt like an exercise in futility. Or as the Democrats now call it, “the 21st Century.”

I didn’t think about Arianna much until 2003, when she ran a spirited if long shot campaign for California Governor. I was impressed by her determination, and her online strategy was among the best and most memorable of the election – if you never saw her “Hybrid vs. Hummer” flash movie, you missed something special.

So now the columnist, author, and former candidate is launching the Huffington Post, a so-called “celebrity blog” featuring 250 “creative minds” who will post on topics from politics to pop culture. There will also be “breaking news,” ala the Drudge Report, though I use the term “news” here as loosely as possible. Nevertheless, the Post signed a contract with Tribune Media Services to syndicate parts of the blog to newspapers and their online counterparts.

There is a whole other topic here about where “blogs” end and “mainstream media” begins, but I’ll save that for another time. Better yet, maybe I’ll just let Jay Rosen handle it.

Here’s my take on Arianna’s latest venture: I don’t have one, at least not yet. Why? Because it doesn’t launch until May 9, and making a judgment on something I haven’t experienced is not only impossible, it’s what most politicians typically do. I’m in PR and marketing now, so it’s not as if I don’t already have image problems.

So yes, it bothers me when people say it’s not a “real” blog, or that you can’t give a “voice” to those who already have a voice.  And I’m not concerned that having prominent people in the blogosphere is the online equivalent of relieving oneself in the deep end of the public swimming pool. James Wolcott has a blog, so why not Walter Cronkite or David Mamet? If Arianna can facilitate people like these to participate in the online conversation, the least we can do is hear what they have to say.

Joan Walsh, Editor in Chief of Salon, said it best: “You think you’re shaping the Web, but the Web shapes you.” Arianna ultimately has no control over the Huffington Post – the Post will be what the web decides it will be.

Conservative? Maybe. Liberal? Probably. Interesting? Definitely.

Take it from someone who knows – Arianna is about to kick the web’s ass. Enjoy.

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