After the US, the UK, Canada, France and Spain it’s now time for The Huffington Post phenomon to hit Italy, where L’Huffington Post launched today.
Following the now usual practice of teaming up with a local mainstream news organization, L’HuffPost partnered with Gruppo L’Espresso, publisher of the daily La Repubblica and the weekly L’Espresso, having partnered with Le Monde and Les Nouvelles Editions indépendantes in France and El Pais in Spain.
Former TV journalist and former president of the public broadcasting company RAI, Lucia Annunziata has been named editorial director, while editor-in-chief will be the former editor of L’Espresso Gianni Del Vecchio.
L’HuffPost will follow the recipe of its international counterparts: a mix of reporting, aggregation and crowdsourcing participation in the form of unpaid blogs. A team of journalists, who will be dealing with original content on the site, will go alongside an army of bloggers ranging from well-known politicians of the left and the right, activists, and intellectuals to totally unknown citizens.
The bloggers number 189 at the moment – Annunziata announced – and while providing the broadest diversity of opinions they are united not by their titles but by the uniqueness of their voices.
The editorial team will concentrate on politics and economics, the two issues that have most impact on Italian citizens at these times, Annunziata added.
The site launched with an interview to former prime minister and media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi: the first to an online outlet, as the article claims.
TechCrunch (which for full disclosure is owned by AOL which also owns the HuffPost) reported that financial terms of those partnerships have not been disclosed. “The partnership follows a wider AOL strategy to build up more of its international footprint among its media properties, to help grow the reach of its advertising network. Italy is a fertile ground for that strategy. The country has 35.8 million internet users — 59% of its population — and has been shown to be one of the more engaged consumer bases in Europe when it comes to responding to online and mobile advertising”, the article said.
The landing of HuffPost in Italy already created quite a kerfuffle online and sparked a debate on the effects that the new arrival will have on the country's media landscape. The two diametrically opposed positions could be summed up by – respectively – an article by former Wired editor Riccardo Luna and one by Christian Rocca on Il Sole 24 Ore.
Luna on Il Post argued that L’HuffPost is going to be a game changer in the Italian media reality especially concerning the relationship between digital and print.
For the last 15 years the traditional print news organizations have firstly ignored the web, then underestimated it and eventually squandered the opportunity to make the most out of their digital editions. The online versions of mainstream newspapers, Luna commented, never had “real editors-in-chief” able to invest in the website enough to compete with their printed papers; in fact, the websites were considered useful to attract unique visitors but they weren’t allowed to scoop the paper, he wrote.
Finally, in Luna’s opinion, Lucia Annunziata is an editor-in-chief with a background that will allow her to compete with traditional news organizations without having to worry about a print edition.
Besides this, he argued that the other winning factor of L’HuffPost is represented by the huge number of bloggers – and among them some of the great names who have been chosen – which will make the site an hub for the political and economical debate in Italy.
In Il Sole 24 Ore, Christian Rocca was of a completely different opinion. He noticed that what made the HuffPost successful in the US was having introduced a new way of doing journalism, offering a liberal answer to the conservative Drudge Report, mixing news, gossip and opinions. The problem in Rocca’s opinion is this is not at all an innovation in Italy where this mix already exists and where the websites of the mainstream newspapers already show on their homepages photo galleries with TV showgirls (better known as “veline").
These analyses don’t include the fact that in recent years Italy has seen the emergence of online-only news organizations, such as Il Post, Linkiesta and Lettera43, which clearly didn’t have the limit of a paper behind them and were able to do exactly what Luna argued L’HuffPost will do. The experience of the having a network of bloggers isn’t new also, as the daily Il Fatto Quotidiano has a number of bloggers for example.
The Editors Weblog asked Marco Pratellesi, former head of online of Condé Nast Italy and former editor of the online edition of the daily Corriere della Sera, how L’HuffPost is going to affect the Italian news media landscape.
“Both opinions contain some truth”, Pratellesi said, “and in effect neither the mix of news, gossip and opinions, or the introduction of a network of bloggers is really new for Italy”.
The real innovation, and what could certainly be the winning card for the Italian L’HuffPost, could be experimenting with a form of open journalism, Pratellesi continued, bringing the public into the conversation, selecting the best of the web and highlighting it through links, as the US version has been doing. In other words: the aggregation.
The HuffPost succeeded in the US because it started speaking the language of the web, focusing on what is its atomic nucleus: selecting the best of what’s happening online and providing the links. According to Pratellesi this is exactly the real news that L’HuffPost might introduce to the Italian news media landscape.
It very rare to find the link to the original source in mainstream newspapers, Pratellesi said, and if L’HuffPost will become to place to go to find the best of what’s going on online it might have a winning formula. Pratellesi believes that The Huffington Post is the best example of a platform that aggregates online journalism and the best way to be part of the online community. This is also the advantage for Gruppo L’Espresso in teaming up with L’HuffPost: be the partner of this kind of platform.
On the other hand it will also need to find the right business model and get the best from online advertising.
L’HuffPost therefore faces two challenges: to offer – through reposting articles and links - the very best of the web, and to find economic sustainability through online advertising or elsewhere.
It’s an exciting proposition.