OMMA Global – Keynote: The Challenges Facing Online News Brands

After opening comments by event MC Max Kalehoff, the keynote address was delivered by Arianna Huffington, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief at the Huffington Post.  She believes that social media is changing everything, from the way we consume media, to how we buy products, and even how we choose political candidates.

Over its five year history, the most important lesson that the Huffington Post has learned is that people and organizations have to be clear about who they are.  It’s critical to maintain your core principles and stay true to your DNA instead of chasing the latest trends.  After all, Huffington noted, when you chase the next big wave, you’re likely to be crushed by it.  While doing this, however, the Post has strived to leverage emerging distribution channels to engage with as many readers as possible.  The way that people are interacting with news is changing; instead of just consuming it, we are now sharing it and trying to be part of the reporting process.  As Huffington put it, instead of consuming news sitting on the couch, we’re now consuming it “riding on a horse.”

The Huffington Post has also learned a few other key lessons that they seek to apply to how they do business:

Data is great, but storytelling is better: Rather than just reporting on the economic downturn, the Post sought to tell stories about those who were affected by it.  News publishers can connect with the reader by storytelling, and by combining news with blogs and communities.

Media coverage needs more biopsies and fewer autopsies: News has traditionally been told after the fact.  The Post seeks to bring awareness to issues as the point where readers can engage the problems at hand.  The way that media polarizes issues must change too: viewing issues as right vs. left is obsolete.  Huffington blames the media for increased polarization in politics, as they try to follow stories that incite (and engage) their viewers.

Media should bring together people of multiple interests: The Huffington Post embraces both the high-brow and the low-brow.  They look to create hubs of news and engagement around issues about which people are concerned (whether it’s the economy or Angelina Jolie.)

Social media is being used to connect people in troubled times: People are using social media to create businesses, solve problems, and give back to the community.

Huffington described two trends in the country right now.  The first is an explosion of empathy.  Individuals are leverage social media to give back, and corporations like Pepsi and American Express are using their resources to help people in their causes.  The second is that people are recognizing that they need balance in their lives.  We’re always hyper-connected and hyper-stressed.  The Huffington Post, she notes, is very committed to sleep.  The crowds gathered at OMMA this morning, however, appear not to be!

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