As Lydia Polgreen sees it, society is currently divided into media haves and have nots, and it’s important for HuffPost to remain mostly free for its readers so that it can serve a group that mostly consumes content for free.
In a wide-ranging conversation covering the role of consolidation in the current media marketplace and platforms that have performed the best for HuffPost, Polgreen was most emphatic on the need for free or low-cost content online.
“I am very committed to the idea of free to no-cost consumer news,” Polgreen told Recode’s Kara Swisher and Peter Kafka onstage at the Code Media conference in Huntington Beach, Calif. “One of the reasons I wanted to take this job was what I saw as the stratification of society into media haves and have nots.”
One way to support that independence is to have the big corporate parent that HuffPost enjoys in Verizon (also the owner of TechCrunch through its acquisition and merger of AOL and Yahoo into Oath).
“Any content company has to be thinking about the fact that all content consumption is converging on mobile devices. In 2018 probably the best owner you can have is a phone company,” Polgreen says.
Polgreen said that Verizon hasn’t interfered in the creation of stories, which was her biggest concern when joining the organization. “Our journalistic independence has been intact,” Polgreen says. “Looking ahead at a world in which the device we’re getting our content also is owned by the people making that content, there are real questions around free speech and net neutrality.”
News, it turns out, occupies a central place in the media landscape and in Verizon’s approach to content online. “News is the dial tone of media,” Polgreen quoted one of our bosses as saying.
Increasingly that dial tone is being accessed on different platforms, which Polgreen also had some strong thoughts on. For her, Facebook’s declining importance has been counterbalanced by rising new distribution sources like Apple News and Google Amp.
“Like most publishers who are creating original content,” says Polgreen, “we’ve seen a significant decline in traffic coming from Facebook. For us, Apple News is a more important platform.”
Beyond that, Facebook doesn’t have the best history of being a great partner. “Facebook from a monetization perspective and as a place for us to connect with our audience has not necessarily been a reliable partner,” says Polgreen. “We’ve sought out other ways we can connect with our audience in meaningful ways. [But] we have invested heavily in community pages.”
As HuffPost expands, Polgreen does have three areas on her wish list that she’d like to invest more heavily in. Those areas — investigative journalism, service journalism and great video platforms — represent strategic goals where the site hasn’t had a tradition of strength (outside of service journalism).