Why Arianna Huffington is leaving The Huffington Post

Arianna Huffington will leave behind an impressive, sometimes controversial, journalistic legacy as she leaves her post as editor-in-chief of the The Huffington Post.

Denis Balibouse/Reuters/File
Arianna Huffington attends a session at the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos. Ms. Huffington has announced she will soon step down from her role at the Huffington Post.

Arianna Huffington, founder and the editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, will step down in the next few weeks to work full time on her new health and wellness startup, Thrive Global.

Originally she planned to run Thrive Global while remaining in her position at the Huffington Post, as she had signed a contract to remain editor-in-chief through 2019.

“I really thought I could do both, but as we started building it up, I realized that it really needed my full attention,” Ms. Huffington told The Wall Street Journal. “It is important to know when one door closes and another opens and I felt that moment had arrived.”

With Thrive Global, Huffington plans to help companies improve their employees' wellness. In the past few years, the Greek-born businesswoman and former political commentator has written a number of books on health and success, including “Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder,” and “The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time,” and has given frequent talks on related topics.

As she exits journalism, Huffington leaves behind a sizable legacy in a quickly evolving field.

In creating The Huffington Post – one of the first forays into digital-only journalism, and a liberal alternative to the Drudge Report – Huffington combined the online worlds of bloggers and news aggregators with traditional print journalism.

"The goal was to fill a vacuum," she told AdWeek last fall, "to create a hybrid that was both a journalistic enterprise and a platform that would allow voices – some well-known and some not – to be heard."

HuffPo was also an early adapter of native advertising: custom content such as quizzes, lists, videos, infographics, and blog posts sponsored by companies as advertising, but imitating the tone or style of the host media outlet – a successful model for sites that get millions of views each day. Last September, for example, HuffPo received 86 million unique visitors to its site, although that represented a significant decrease from the previous year's 113 million, according to the International Business Times. 

"Arianna has built a global digital brand at the most important inflection point in the history of media," Tim Armstrong, the chief executive of AOL, which acquired HuffPost in 2011 for $315 million, told The Wall Street Journal. "Building that brand has taken vision, leadership and an ability to change as the landscape changes."

Her business model has come under fire, however, for not paying contributors – a particularly sore point for journalists, many of whom also worry about the industry-wide trend, which HuffPo helped launch, of relying on aggregated news. The site rationalizes its write-for-free policy by arguing that its massive audiences gives bloggers exposure they would not otherwise have, helping them land more lucrative gigs down the road. The model has since been replicated by outlets like Thought Catalogue and Bleacher Report. 

"The internet has democratized media in unprecedented ways," Huffington told New York magazine last month, saying that a "dramatically lowered" barrier to entry has allowed a far more diverse group of journalists and media figures to be heard. And for those who doubt that quality journalism can thrive in an increasingly digitized environment, she offers a different perspective. 

"We're way beyond the point of wondering whether the internet and quality journalism can coexist," Huffington added. "They can and they do. In so many ways, we’re living in a golden age of journalism, with no shortage of great journalism being done and no shortage of people hungering for it. So you have to be a champion of all the new possibilities, and I’m not only squarely in that camp, I feel I am in great company."

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