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Summary:

Arianna Huffington has made much of her ambitions to expand into Europe and beyond — but with just two weeks until the British version of the site launches, the evidence suggests it might not be as aggressive as its American parent.

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Arianna Huffington by World Economic Forum

A few days ago, amid the glitz of the annual Cannes Lions festival, Arianna Huffington — no stranger to the glamorous surroundings — announced that the British edition of Huffington Post would be launching on July 6, less than two weeks away. This in itself is not a huge surprise: the idea that the site (which sold to AOL for $315 million in February) would eventually cross the Atlantic first emerged in March, although the date wasn’t confirmed. But now, with the launch closing in fast, some of the details are starting to come out on how HuffPo UK might actually work.

According to a report by Paidcontent, the British edition will be led by editor-in-chief Carla Bevan, who joined AOL last year from the magazine Marie Claire and has since been running the company’s U.K. content operation. In the role of politics editor — an important job, given Huffpo’s elbowing in on the American political sphere — will be former BBC radio reporter Chris Wimpress: not a household name, but somebody with experience working for the country’s most respected news broadcast, Radio 4’s Today programme.

In addition, a look through the web shows that they’ll be supported by a roster of hires including Michael Rundle (assistant news & politics editor), Dina Rickman (assistant politics editor), Caroline Frost (entertainment editor), Sarah Dean (deputy entertainment editor), Andy Welch (TV editor) and Luke McGee (assistant blogs & communities editor). Most of those have been brought over from other AOL properties too, rather than recruited from rival news organizations.

So what does this tell us? Well, first, that Huffington Post UK is looking — on the surface, at least — more like a reworking of the current AOL UK operation than a brand new entity. That’s a low-risk strategy, but as I’ve previously argued, it might take more to make an impact in a highly competitive media market like Britain.

Secondly, it’s interesting that this team consists almost exclusively of young journalists, with very few of the high-level, experienced hands that Huffington has made a great play of luring over in the United States. There’s no equivalent, for example, to the likes of political heavy-hitter Howard Fineman, brought over from Newsweek, media reporting veteran Michael Calderone from Yahoo or award-winning reporter Trymaine Lee from the New York Times.

Are they biding their time, or simply setting their sights lower? According to a job specification seen by GigaOM, the site seems to be interested in recruiting largely junior roles right now, despite asking for “a little black book to rival Arianna’s” and at least five years of experience working at a successful site.

The last question is what the site will actually look like. That’s obviously still up for grabs, but even here there are a few clues. Right now the Huffingtonpost.co.uk domain is password protected to stop prying eyes from taking a look — but some crumbs of evidence held in Google’s cache indicate that the site will look almost exactly like its parent.

Those cached pages point to a service that seems to be carved almost entirely from the existing Huffington Post design, while pulling in few small design elements from existing AOL properties. As far as content? Stories currently on the site include a piece from Irish political blogger Jason O’Mahony called “Europe: Get off your knees or learn Chinese”, and one from Alex Larman called “Why I became a conservative”. Of course, the chances are that what we see now are largely placeholder parts lifted from AOL’s pages, rather than a preview of the final version. But it’s perhaps indicative of the direction we might see a British version of the site go.

Personally, it all seems a bit timid. I’m not sure whether that’s just because we’re going to see a soft approach, or whether — as I worried about Twitter’s London HQ the other day — it’s just a low-risk attempt by an American brand to jump in on some of the lucrative advertising money sloshing around on the other side of the Atlantic.

Only two weeks until we find out.

  1. It isn’t so much that it’s young, more that it is not a new or interesting play any more. HuffPost was new and exciting in 2005 when it launched, but with the strong competition in the UK from the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, or even the soon to launch Descrier (disclosure: I’m involved) – HuffPost isn’t bringing anything ground-breaking, and little interest except the name and what will likely be a PR-heavy launch.

    As you noted, if they had lured away big name commentators from the established media like The Times, The Telegraph or the BBC – then it may be interesting. But as it looks right now, I doubt any media properties are particularly worried.

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