National Press Club

Armstrong, Huffington see thousands more citizen journalists covering local news

July 18, 2011 | By Robert Webb |

Tim Armstrong, CEO and chairman of AOL Inc., and Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of AOL Huffington Post Media Group

Tim Armstrong, CEO and chairman of AOL Inc., and Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of AOL Huffington Post Media Group

Photo/Image: Al Teich

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong and Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of the AOL Huffington Post Media Group, described at a July 15 sell-out luncheon a media world embracing thousands more citizen journalists covering neighborhoods not only across America but also across the world.

At the same time, they emphasized the continued key role of professional journalists.

Armstrong said that journalists should be more transparent to their readers.

"We need to know what they believe, what are their religious views before they write," Armstrong said. "We need journalists who will go for the truth."

Armstrong and Huffington also revealed that they agreed on the deal in which AOL bought Huffington Post for $315 million at halftime of this year's Super Bowl.

Armstrong said he outlined a vision in which AOL and Huffington Post would bring journalism, especially citizen journalism, into a new age focused on what people at the grass-roots level want and need.

"We want to know how people live their lives offliine, which is the most important part of their lives," Armstrong said. "We want local news, which is important to all of us."

Huffington, a native of Greece who has written more than 13 books, emphasized the role of bloggers and invited members of the audience to blog for Huffington Post.

Time and again Armstrong and Huffington returned to local news.

Huffington emphasized how the Huffington Post relies heavily on Patch reporters around the country. They are mostly citizen journalists writing about what is happening in their communities under the supervision of professional journalists. Armstrong said there are 24 Patch offices in the San Francisco area.

Armstrong, who once headed Google's American division, said AOL scores high in trust and brand awareness and will now concentrate on content, which he called its third goal.

A third speaker was Walter Isaacson, CEO of the Aspen Institute and former managing editor of Time magazine, who presented a vision of a "hybrid...journalism" that serves the entire society.

He cited Benjamin Franklin, whose newspaper relied on "social media," which in those days meant people at the grass roots writing about what was happening around them.

Isaacson deplored what he said was the lack of adequate social media in New Orleans after Katrina.

"There was no after-the-storm hybrid media," to help ravaged areas recover, he said. China also lacks sufficient social media, he said, but efforts are under way to fill that gap.

When asked what she thinks of professional journalists, Huffington said, "We have a thousand professional journalists on the ground with Patch. There are incredible opportunities for (professional) journalists."

She also emphasized what she sees as the urgency for journalists to get more sleep.

"We have two nap rooms in our office," Huffington said. Huffington Post's main office is in New York.

The luncheon occurred on Huffington's birthday. At the suggestion of Club President Mark Hamrick, the audience serenaded her with a rendition of "Happy Birthday."