Huffington: Economic crisis is a threat to our democracy

September 14, 2010

Thomas Patterson and Arianna Huffington.

Thomas Patterson and Arianna Huffington.

September 14, 2010Arianna Huffington‘s talk, “The New Media Landscape,” was a tour through a world that the founder of The Huffington Post herself reshaped. She launched the blog-centered Huffington Post in 2005 in part as a counterweight to aggregation sites such as the Drudge Report.

“The question of where you go for your news is really a question of trust,” Huffington said, speaking with Bradlee Professor of Government Thomas Patterson. Her stated goal was to create a community that allowed individuals to “have a civil discourse” in public.

Huffington is clearly proud of what she and the site have accomplished in just five years: “45 million unique visitors a month,” she said; 10,000 bloggers, 3.5 million comments a month, 190 full-time staff, and 30 reporters and editors. “We’re constantly hiring more,” she said. They recently launched the Huffington Post Investigative Fund, which also breaks stories — “though not all of the Watergate kind,” she joked.

Asked by Patterson about the key policy suggestions contained in her latest book, Huffington emphasized the big picture: “We as members of the community need to be engaged in the solutions. Beyond left and right.” She chose a jarring title for the book “to sound the alarm,” she said, about the rising unemployment and poverty in the United States as well as the country’s crumbling infrastructure.

Joel Engardio asks Huffington a question.

Shorenstein Center Scholarship recipient Joel Engardio asks Huffington a question.

“The media has really failed us, in terms of telling the stories, beyond the numbers,” Huffington said. “We’re now dealing with downward mobility,” with millions of people less well off than their parents were at the same age. She sees phenomena such as the right-wing Tea Party movement as a symptom of economic hard times and especially anger at the financial bailout. “People are believing things they would never believe otherwise,” Huffington said. “The danger is to our democracy, not just to our prosperity.”

And the next big thing in the new media landscape? “Disconnecting,” Huffington said. “I have a vision, but I don’t know how to monetize it yet,” she joked.

This article was written by Leighton Walter Kille and the photos taken by Janell Sims, both of the Shorenstein Center.