Huffington visits Columbia

By Jazzy Davenport

“You cannot enter into the same river twice,” said Arianna Huffington as she addressed Columbia’s students in Film Row Cinema at the 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave. “I think many of the old media are trying to enter into that same river that is gone. You cannot recreate that reality.”

Huffington, born in Athens, Greece and co-founder of The Huffington Post blog, visited Columbia on Jan. 27 as the featured speaker of the Conversations in the Arts program, a lecture series that offers an in-depth dialogue with some of the world’s most notable cultural figures in a select and intimate setting, according to

Columbia’s Web site.

The nearly 5-year-old Post, which was recently called the most-linked blog on the Web, is what Huffington admits is “a product of the 2004 election.” It is one of the few publications in the country that continues to grow amidst the recession and has featured blog posts from both Secretary of the State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama.

“We saw the role media played and the way the news was covered and not covered,” Huffington said. “I saw how often mainstream media suffers from ADD. They break the stories, and sometimes they break them and they abandon them and so nothing really changes. We in new media suffer from OCD.  We stay with the story, and stay with the story, and drive it into the ground. And very often for real change to happen, we need to persevere with the story until we can break things down. We need to be storytellers.”

With her straight, golden hair flowing past her shoulders, the successful columnist and noted author urged students to think deeper. She challenged them to consider the media attention given to the “balloon boy,” who she joked was actually “attic boy.” She said if people in need were given just 10 percent of the media attention he had been given, think of what we could do.

“There are many crises and many stories of human suffering within walking distance from here, walking distance from wherever we are,” she said. “We need to put the spotlight on them.”

The Huffington Post is a blog that features thousands of voices every day. What started as one section has now expanded into 19, including a Chicago section run by Columbia alumna and former Chronicle Managing Editor Jennifer Sabella. According to Huffington, the blog had received more than two million comments in the past

month alone.

People don’t want to just consume news, they want to share and envelop news, she said. That makes such a difference than the old fashioned way of consuming news sitting on the couch, she continued. However, Huffington does not believe that blogs like hers are to blame for the crumbling of traditional print media.

“I don’t think print media is going to die,” she told The Chronicle during an interview. “I don’t believe that it’s going to be either/or.  I see it as a hybrid future. Those in the old media adopt more of the ways of new media: you know, interactivity, transparency, immediacy. And those in new media are adopting the first traditions of old media: accuracy, fairness, fact checking … all those things.”

In what seemed like a split second, Huffington went from being the woman who made Forbes’ list of Most Influential Women in Media in 2009, to someone who understood what it was like to be a college student. She invited all of the students to submit stories to The Huffington Post, shared her e-mail address and encouraged the more than 50 students attending the program to e-mail their articles to her directly.

“All of you here can find stories,” she said. “You may know people you want to profile, to tell their stories and to take their pictures and that’s the way to become one country again, where we care for each other.”

Huffington’s obvious intention of being accessible did not stop there.  She then informed the students that the site would be launching a college section this month. The new section would provide a platform for whatever students write.  She encouraged professors and students to write for the section, which will spread across 100 colleges.

“In fact, I’ve promised a team that has already partnered with 50 colleges that I’m not leaving Chicago until you partner with us,” she said.

Without hesitation she added, “Anybody who wants to be involved with the college project, raise your hands.”

She then passed around a sheet of paper for interested students to sign up.

Surprised by the opportunity Huffington had just provided, the Washington, D.C.,  bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times and moderator, Lynn Sweet, who had skipped out on covering the State of the Union address that night, gave a word of advice to the students.

“Never in your careers discount showing up,” Sweet said.

Huffington took a moment to offer her thoughts on politics and even gave a word of advice to the president, who wrote a blog posted on the site titled “On My Faith and My Church” immediately following the controversy with his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, now famous for his inflammatory remarks during the 2008 presidential campaign.

“I feel that he needs to remember the audacity of running,” Huffington said. “Remember it was a very audacious thing for him to do and in many ways the audacity of running and the audacity of winning has been replaced by the timidity of governing. Especially young people who are so energized really believed again and need to be a reminder for him that he went to Washington to change Washington, not to tell us all the ways that it is difficult to change Washington because everybody knows that. My greatest concern is that these young people are disappointed. They may drop out of politics again and that’s going to be so detrimental to our democracy.”

Huffington had some criticism for the other side of the aisle as well.

“There’s something about Glenn Beck that is utterly disconnected from reality and yet he appeals to people and that, to me, is one of the most dangerous things happening that we need to address, we cannot just ignore it,” she said. “What’s happening on the right is an enormous amount of demagoguery.”

Though a noted author of eight books and advocate for fearless women, Huffington expressed her concern about the GOP’s newest star.

“My concern with Sarah Palin is that she often feels that she doesn’t have to get her facts right, and I think that’s detrimental to our whole democratic process because she has a lot of followers and no matter what you believe, I think we all have a responsibility to be accurate,” Huffington said.

As the program came to a close, Huffington shared how excited she was about something Columbia students had been discussing all day—the Apple iPad. Calling Steve Jobs a “genius” and a person who is “adding value,” Huffington claimed that innovation is what capitalism is all about.

In a subsequent interview with The Chronicle, Huffington took a minute to offer some more advice to students.

“[The] most important thing for me is to find your passion,” she said. “What is it that you most want to write about and report on? Pursue that everywhere and [don’t] be discouraged.  And the greatest lesson for me is the greatest difference between people who succeed and those who don’t is ultimately every time they fail, they get up and start again. Life is not a straight line. There are a lot of ups and downs. The most important thing is perseverance and finding the joy in Auburn Gresham what you are doing, not just where we want to get.”