Arianna Huffington Launching Massive Group Blog

Arianna Huffington has lined up more than 250 people, many of them famous and well regarded, for a new group blog.

A Boldface Name Invites Others to Blog With Her (NYT)

Get ready for the next level in the blogosphere. Arianna Huffington, the columnist and onetime candidate for governor of California, is about to move blogging from the realm of the anonymous individual to the realm of the celebrity collective. She has lined up more than 250 of what she calls “the most creative minds” in the country to write a group blog that will range over topics from politics and entertainment to sports and religion. It is essentially a nonstop virtual talk show that will be part of a Web site that will also serve up breaking news around the clock. It is to be introduced May 9.

Having prominent people join the blogosphere, Ms. Huffington said in an interview, “is an affirmation of its success and will only enrich and strengthen its impact on the national conversation.” Among those signed up to contribute are Walter Cronkite, David Mamet, Nora Ephron, Warren Beatty, James Fallows, Vernon E. Jordan Jr., Maggie Gyllenhaal, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Diane Keaton, Norman Mailer and Mortimer B. Zuckerman. “This gives me a chance to sound off with a few words or a long editorial,” said Mr. Cronkite, 88, the longtime “CBS Evening News” anchorman. “It’s a medium that is new and interesting, and I thought I’d have some fun.”

In some ways, Ms. Huffington’s venture is a direct challenge to the popular Drudge Report. Started nearly a decade ago by Matt Drudge, the Drudge Report lifts potentially hot news from obscurity and blares it across a virtual “front page,” usually before anyone else. While his squibs are sometimes cast with a conservative slant, his “developing” scoops often send the mainstream media scrambling to catch up. Ms. Huffington’s effort – to be called the Huffington Post (www.huffingtonpost.com) – will also seek to ferret out potentially juicy items and give them legs. In fact, she has hired away Mr. Drudge’s right-hand Web whiz, Andrew Breitbart, who used to be her researcher. But unlike the Drudge Report, the Huffington Post will be interactive, offering news as well as commentary from famous people and allowing the masses to comment too, although not always directly with the celebs. Notables will oversee certain sections, with Gary Hart, the former Colorado senator, for example, taking the lead on national security issues. R. O. Blechman, the magazine illustrator, has designed the site. All material will be free and available on archives.

While many of the bloggers are on the left of the political spectrum, some conservatives have also signed on, among them Tony Blankley, editorial page editor of The Washington Times, and David Frum, the writer who coined the phrase “axis of evil” when he was a speechwriter for President Bush. In a solicitation letter to hundreds of people in her eclectic Rolodex, Ms. Huffington said the site “won’t be left wing or right wing; indeed, it will punch holes in that very stale way of looking at the world.”

I agree with Ogged that this blog is quite likely doomed to failure: “If other famous-before-they-start blogs are any guide, this one will suck, because blogging takes practice, and the famous folks don’t get a chance to find an appropriate blog voice.”

Michelle Malkin managed to make her blog hugely successful almost immediately. That’s because she took the time to figure out how this medium worked and hit the ground running with a functioning site, put the work necessary into creating a steady stream of interesting posts, and followed the ettiquette of the blogosphere, including sending TrackBacks and otherwise linking blogs big and small. One suspects the narcisitic Huffington is unlikely to do the same.

More importantly, though, is the issue of voice. A site that is all over the map ideologically is highly unlikely to appeal to readers. It’s not just that people want people to tow the party line–lots of successful blogs don’t–but that people expect a blog to be conversational and have something to say.

Group blogs have a difficult time finding a voice. About a year ago, when Venomous Kate was contemplating going the group route, I argued:

I go back to particular sites because of the personality and insights of the bloggers behind them. There are almost no group blogs on my blogroll, because there are very few that appeal to me. I’m an occasional contributor to both Political State Report and Command Post, but I consider them information portals rather than daily reads. I read Crooked Timber fairly regularly, but it’s a consortium consisting partly of two bloggers-Kieran Healy and Henry Farrell–that I was reading before they pooled their talents. The only other group blog on my regular reading list is Volokh Conspiracy, which has a personality because its namesake, Eugene Volokh, is easily the most prolific conspirator and he has managed to aggregate quite a few excellent scholars in one place.

At its core, a blog is a dialog between a writer and an audience. I’m not a fan of guest posters when the main blogger is away, multiple contributors, or a collection of diverse viewpoints under one roof. Frankly, it’s unlikely that all–or indeed, most–of the contributors to such an enterprise would inspire me to want to read them. If they did, I’d just go read their blogs. It’s not like it’s that hard to get one started. I hear they’re even giving them away free nowadays.

Regular readers will note that OTB, too, has become a group blog. Over time, I came to realize that having multiple contributors and a cohesive “voice” are not mutually exclusive. Where there were once almost no group blogs on my blogroll, there are now several. In addition to those noted above, Winds of Change, Unfogged, Q&O, Crescat Sententia and others come to mind. Wizbang went from being Kevin Aylward’s solo blog to a three man team with occasional guest posters. Even the venerable VodkaPundit is a two man blog these days, with Will Collier posting nearly as often as Stephen Green.

In bringing on new contributors, though, I looked for others who had a track record of solid writing on other blogs whose style and basic worldview were close enough to my own so as not to make the site lose its voice. It’s unclear to me how a site with 250 contributors will be able to manage that.

Also, as Steven Taylor notes, “[T]his again proves many in the MSM don’t “get” blogs, as if what Arianna is proposing is, indeed, a blog (I am somewhat unclear as to whether it really will be), then Drudge isn’t the direct competition.” Quite right. The only sense in which Drudge Report is a “blog” is that it’s on the Internet.

Update: Ace, reacting to a Drudge interview by Howie Kurtz on the occasion of the former’s 10th anniversary, has a different take: Drudge is a “legacy blogger.”

What annoys a lot of bloggers about big bloggers is that some big bloggers get massive traffic chiefly because they get massive traffic — in other words, once you’re big, you stay big, just because everyone knows you and everyone looks to you, based on your size and influence, to drive the day’s debate. In that respect, Instapundit is like the New York Times– just as the NYT determines largely what will be on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and even Fox, Instapundit determines, or at least strongly influences, what the blogosphere will be chattering about any given day.

There’s quite a bit to this analysis. I still don’t understand why people think Drudge is a blogger, though, since his site lacks the essential characteristics of the phenomenon, reverse chronological posting, first among them.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.