EXCLUSIVE: Inside Huffington Post’s Weekly Magazine App
Arianna Huffington, Tim O’Brien and Josh Klenert on HuffPo’s new endeavor.
On the heels of its seventh anniversary and its first Pulitzer Prize, Huffington Post is breaking into the digital magazine business. On April 24, Huffington Post will debut the weekly Huffington, the Huffington Post Magazine for the iPad. Along with Huffington herself, HuffPo executive editor Tim O’Brien will lead the effort.
The new product is designed to showcase top stories in a format that’s days long rather than hours. “If we publish a story on a Wednesday, it may hold a top space on the site for a couple of hours; if we’re not splashing it and keeping it at the top of the page, it’s going to cycle right off the front, and it’s going to be harder for readers to find,” says O’Brien. “This is a place where we can silo our best work and give it longer legs.”
Huffington Post typically publishes 360 pieces daily, with 60 to 70 stories including original reporting. A weekly cycle for Huffington was decided upon due to the amount of work produced each week, and "it is a cycle that gives us more traction with readers," says O’Brien. The publication already has apps for Apple and Android platforms, in addition to specialty apps like the recently announced GPS for the Soul.
Huffington editorial staff is culled from HuffPo’s existing newsroom, but additional designers and a dedicated photo editor were brought on to help with the magazine’s launch.
The magazine, which will be published as an app for the iPad, is divided into three segments. O’Brien says the front of the book “will bring readers up to speed on the news of the week for the cocktail party on Saturday night.” The section will showcase infographics, Q&A’s and primers on the week’s events. The middle of the book acts as a feature well, home to two to three features running from 4,000 to 8,000 words each. Huffington closes with book, film and music reviews: “Fun, distinct features that we will include only in the magazine,” says O’Brien.
He describes HuffPo’s readers as similar to The New York Times’ audience demographic (where O’Brien previously acted as Sunday Business editor).
“We have a younger audience, but relatively high income, college educated, urban coastal, politically aware, socially engaged,” says O’Brien. “I think there is a big population on the website who wants a more sober, sophisticated, leisurely reading experience than you have on the Web. In our view, it’s distilling the best of what we have for the most discerning portion of our existing audience.”
The App Advantage
“I’m excited about having a vehicle that we can take our work every week, the additional reporting and the blogs, and put it in a distinct setting, because there is so much going on the site already,” Huffington tells FOLIO:.
Like its website counterpart, the magazine will integrate user comments into every article. Also similar to the website, comments will be moderated by both humans and algorithms, “This was part of our DNA from day one. We wanted to eliminate the worst habits of the Internet: trolls, ad hominem attacks. At the beginning, we moderated through all human pre-moderation. Last month, we had seven million comments, so to have only people moderate would have been prohibitive financially. About 30 humans supplement the technology,” says Huffington.
Huffington’s content will pay tribute to commenters through an in-book section called “Quoted,” featuring the “shrewdest or interesting comments from the site,” says Josh Klenert, who leads the magazine design team.
Promotion for the app will coincide with its launch, and already several advertisers are on board with full-page ads for Huffington. Reports have indicated the app will be free, but as of last week, a specific model—paid or free—had not yet been determined, says O’Brien. He also declined to share advertising partners. However, regardless of pricing, Huffington is slated to appear on Apple’s Newsstand.
Designing for Success
“We didn’t want to overwhelm the reader with a lot of bells and whistles that tend to be distracting. From a design point of view, I didn’t want my creativity to block people from reading. The magazine is easy to navigate, has very clear pages and utilizes the retina display on the iPad,” says Klenert. “We’ll have the table stake features and functionalities like video, audio and sharing, but I don’t think we are going to hit people over the head with that. We also want this to be a light-loading app.”
O’Brien illustrates why Huffington was built as a native app (constructed by AOL’s technology staff), as opposed to a Web-based HTML5 experience. “You can do a lot of one-stop design with HTML5, but it certainly doesn’t give you all of the functionality and design capabilities an app does,” says O’Brien. “This is a software-centric product, because it is allowing us to do beautiful and innovative things; a portion of which I don’t think we would be able to do with HTML5.”
Klenert adds, “HTML5 puts a lot of resources on the devices to render, and slows it down. And we certainly don’t want to overheat people’s iPads because we’re making the device do all the work. But, we do want to create fluid layouts that we can adapt over different platforms as need be.”
After six months of development, Huffington is a direct product of “New York editorial and Palo Alto technology,” says O’Brien.
“If you go back to how we positioned the Huffington Post almost seven years ago, it was the best of the old and the best of the new. Huffington embraces the best of traditional journalism (story telling, in-depth investigation, design and photography), and integrates it into all that technology has made possible,” says Huffington.