Arianna Huffington was one of the first to grace the stage today at the 4A’s leadership and media conference in San Francisco, dubbed "Transformation 2010."
Ms. Huffington took some characteristic jabs at old media and shared a plan to navigate the media world’s collective digital future.
"I didn’t kill newspapers, darling," she said, quoting her acceptance speech from past Webbies awards. She charted the "4E’s" — engagement, enthusiasm, empathy and energy — needed to tap into the zeitgeist of the digital era that’s transforming the content business.
"This is the era of engagement," Ms. Huffington said, then quoted musician Will.i.am’s assessment of the news climate, where consumers used to get news on the couch, and are now getting news on a "galloping horse."
To demonstrate the rise of user-generated content, Ms. Huffington said that more video was uploaded to YouTube in the last two months than if the major networks had created original content every minute of every day since 1948. She urged advertisers and media outlets to recognize that the abundance of user-generated content means content organizations need to step out of the center of the news universe and invite users into the news-gathering process — a model her own site, the Huffington Post, has grown up on.
Ms. Huffington then reminded the audience that surviving in the digital age means constantly reevaluating strategies for success. She pointed to the difference between the two most recent presidential elections as evidence. In 2004, YouTube didn’t exist and texting had not yet become ubiquitous. Meanwhile, Barack Obama announced his vice-presidential nominee via text message, and Will.i.am’s "Yes We Can" music video supporting his candidacy was a viral hit.
"What worked yesterday might not work today," she said, turning the conversation to the pay wall debate at old-media properties, which continue to evaluate means to get micro-payments for content from consumers.
"New paths for success still need to be charted," she said, in an endorsement for free content. "We can’t use an analog map and expect to find our way in a digital world."
Ms. Huffington then turned to critique comments from Robert Thomson, managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, who said, "Google devalues everything it touches" because it decentralizes the authority of the news brands.
Ms. Huffington gave support for the recent trend toward cause journalism and advertising, calling out brands such as Coke, Pepsi, American Express and Starbucks as examples of organizations that are tapping into consumer longing to make their lives about more than their own private concerns.
"Empathy is at the core of what’s happening today," she said. Bringing the cause-marketing model to journalism, she promoted a new section on HuffPo, Impact, that lets readers turn news into action.
Ms. Huffington’s last tenet, energy, got a little lost in her rousing endorsement of sleep, which she said can help foster the characteristic "that drives all others."