Quotably Arianna: 12 Insights from The Huffington Post Mastermind

It’s often tough to have the last speaking slot of the day. Everyone’s tired, and the last person on the stage stands between the audience and what Business Insider’s Henry Blodget promised would be “copious amounts of liquor.” So, how do you hold everyone’s attention?

You invite Arianna Huffington onto the platform – and trust that she knows what to do with it.

Well, it worked. Blodget’s interview lasted around half an hour, and Huffington certainly delivered. Doubtless, this was the highlight of the first day of the IGNITION conference, as you’ll see from a dozen insights that could only come from Arianna!

1. Stiff competition from the start: Huffington didn’t pull any punches. When Blodget brought up the issue of size, she asked, “Are you bleeping certain words?” Doubtless, it was a strange question to ask, especially since Gawker’s Nick Denton had graced the stage [LINK: http://www.adweek.com/socialtimes/2010/12/7-chuckle-worthy-moments-from-gawkers-nick-denton-interview-at-ignition/] earlier that afternoon. Assured the session was not being edited, Huffington continued, “You guys are all about who has the biggest swinging dick.” With her publication approaching the size of NYTimes.com, Blodget persisted, “But who’s going to be bigger?” keeping the double entendre alive.

2. Women don’t need numbers: Throughout the interview, Huffington returned to the notion that it takes more than numbers to determine the success of an online publication … a concept that women understand and that men fail to grasp. “Maybe if Lehman Brothers were Lehman Brothers & Sisters,” she said, “it would still be around.”

3. Not left or right, not in the middle: Unsurprisingly, Huffington pushed back when Blodget raised the frequent criticism that The Huffington Post is a left-leaning publication. He persisted, “Are you seriously saying HP is not a liberal publication?” “We’re beyond left/right,” she replied.

Disclosure: I contribute fairly regularly to The Huffington Post, and I can assure you, I have never been instructed or edited to reflect any sort of political agenda. Of course, it could be possible to write travel stories in a way that glorifies traditional liberal principles … okay, you see how absurd that sounds?

4. Don’t trust traditional journalists: As it is practiced in the mainstream, Huffington explained, journalism is largely ineffective. “Some people say the earth is round. Some people say the earth ifs flat. And my job as a reporter is to report both sides of the story. I don’t call that good journalism.” This propensity to report both sides rather than push for the facts, she continued, has “made it difficult for a lot of the public to trust journalists.”

5. Keep the nut-jobs at bay: “We don’t allow conspiracy theorists,” she said when discussing the site’s overall community. Huffington likes her writers … and her commenters. Blodget asked, “What drives someone to become commenter 2916?” on an extremely popular story that gets a lot of traction, and he did toss out the word “freak.” Huffington weighed in, “I haven’t read any freaks on the Huffington Post,” speaking specifically about the commenters.

6. Skepticism starts at home: “I wasn’t even trusted in my own home,” Huffington admitted to Blodget. In the early days of The Huffington Post, her then teenage daughters would verify what they found on her site by checking CNN.

7. How to make money: “Fox News is not news, and it’s much easier to be profitable if you’re not news.” Meanwhile, she said to Blodget, “We’re profitable.”

8. Keep it real: “We need to make a distinction between opinion and fact,” Huffington told Blodget, “and fact and fantasy.” What is fantasy? Glenn Beck. “Glenn Beck[‘s show] isn’t realistic. It’s Dadaism.” Ouch. She continued by discussing Beck’s claim that financier George Soros is “running the world.” Playfully, she asked the crowd at IGNITION, “Is George Soros running the world?” She shaded her eyes and surveyed the audience, adding, “Show of hands?” You could hear the laughter as far away as the press room.

9. Rivalry, catfights and Tina Brown: Blodget raised the name Tina Brown, as The Daily Beast has emerged as something of a competitor to Huffington’s site. In reply, Huffington made yet another dick remark (not uncommon during the interview), before explaining that Brown is a friend – and that the male establishment can’t seem to wrap its head around that concept. “She was at Oxford when I was at Cambridge. That was 3,000 years ago,” Huffington poked. “She continued, “The idea that you can’t have two powerful women running sites like The Daily Beast and Huffington Post is absurd.”

For the win: Huffington says that when men see two powerful women, they assume “there must be a catfight somewhere.”

10. No dead tree: On the subject of Tina Brown, Newsweek and The Daily Beast, Blodget asked Huffington, “Do you wish you bought Newsweek?” Her answer was as simple as it could get: “No, we’re not in the print business.” With 24 million monthly unique visitors, it’s easy to see why. Huffington explained, “That’s a very monetizable business.”

11. The role of power: With such a broad reach, it’s obvious to wonder just what Huffington plans to do with it. Taking another potshot at the boy’s club, she asked Blodget, “”Isn’t power ultimately about influence and impact? Or is it just about women?”

12. As if there were any doubt … “The accent is for real.”

Tom Johansmeyer is the Senior Content Director at enter:marketing. He also blogs for Cigar Reader, of which he is co-founder, Gadling, and Luxist.