NEW YORK ― Huffington Post editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington announced Thursday she will step down from the company she co-founded 11 years ago to build Thrive Global, a new lifestyle, health and wellness site.
Huffington launched her namesake site in 2005, following the re-election of George W. Bush and as the war raged in Iraq. What began as a left-leaning answer to the Drudge Report, comprised primarily of aggregation and blog posts from friends, morphed over the years into a major news organization and digital media company that’s expanded into 15 countries. The site recently drew nearly 200 million monthly unique visitors globally.
The Huffington Post has been a disruptive force in the news business over the past decade, while also sparking controversy early on for its aggregation practices and for not paying bloggers writing on the platform. The company has grown significantly since its early days, now boasting around 850 employees worldwide, and management has put significant resources into original reporting and video, with the site winning numerous journalism awards, including the Pulitzer Prize.
Though Huffington has remained immersed in politics throughout, including by strongly opposing Donald Trump’s candidacy from the beginning, she’s increasingly turned her attention in recent years to health and wellness issues, the focus of her 2014 book, Thrive, and this year’s The Sleep Revolution. In June, Huffington announced the upcoming launch of Thrive Global, which she had initially planned to run while remaining at the helm of HuffPost.
In an interview, Huffington said she realized she “could not build a company part-time,” especially as she began staffing up and investors began putting in millions of dollars.
Huffington’s role has shifted once before, after AOL purchased the site in 2011 for $315 million. She remained editor-in-chief following the deal, while also becoming president of the newly formed Huffington Post Media Group.
Her departure comes just weeks after Verizon ― which bought AOL last year for $4.4 billion ― announced plans to scoop up Yahoo for $4.8 billion. A source suggested to Recode that shifting power dynamics as a result of the deal prompted the departure.
Huffington said her decision was not tied to Verizon buying Yahoo, a purchase that she said would “be great for HuffPost because of the amazing distribution it can provide for our content.”
She said she’s been thinking about this transition for awhile, but the timing had to coincide with closing a funding round for Thrive Global on Friday.
She has described the company to investors as a platform to “promote well-being and productivity,” “address the pandemic of stress,” “maximize creativity” and “transform our culture from surviving to thriving,” according to a prospectus. Thrive Global is expected to provide both consumer content, including a website, apps, and events, and corporate offerings such as workshops and seminars.
We’re “at this moment of transition, this real culture shift where we don’t have to work and live the way we’ve doing it,” Huffington said. “I feel like I can make a real contribution here by helping people change behavior, giving them micro-steps to make that easy.”
News of Huffington’s departure came as a shock to many in the company’s newsroom, with some senior managers only learning of the decision late Wednesday night. The majority of the staff found out Thursday morning by way of memos from Huffington and AOL chief Tim Armstrong, who said an interim editorial committee has been formed to find a new editor-in-chief. The search process is expected to include both internal and external candidates.
Huffington said she’s confident The Huffington Post “will do amazing things in the future” under new leadership.
“We are very solid in our DNA, what we stand for,” she said.
During a Thursday staff meeting, Huffington reiterated her faith in the site going forward.
“Great companies always succeed beyond their founder,” she told attendees. “Even though HuffPost bears my name, it is absolutely about all of you and about this amazing team we’ve been for over 11 years.”
Huffington said she opted against staying on some capacity ― say, as an adviser or editor emeritus ― because she felt the “new leadership needs to feel that they are all in, that they are building HuffPost beyond today and I’m not there kind of hovering and overseeing.”
“I need to feel that this is it,” she added about needing to make a decisive break. “There’s no blueprint. I’m building something from scratch. I’m not saying that I have it all figured out.”
There’s been some uncertainty in the HuffPost newsroom in recent months following a flurry of editorial departures that left some sections sparsely staffed through attrition. The Yahoo deal quickly raised questions about integration going forward, and Huffington’s departure could heighten concerns about resources allocated to the media company.
HuffPost CEO Jared Grusd told staff Thursday that the company is “very strong” and has had continued audience growth. He said AOL approved The Huffington Post’s hiring plan Thursday morning and that much of the additional hiring will be aimed at beefing up the editorial ranks.
Grusd acknowledged that the overall integration with Yahoo remains “undefined,” but said The Huffington Post’s mission remains the same. He said Yahoo’s scale will help amplify the site’s work and its original voices.
“The idea of us taking our mission and growing it in much bigger ways as a result of the acquisition is absolutely part of the reason why Verizon bought Yahoo,” he said.
The timing of the move was surprising, as it comes in the waning months of a heated presidential election during which Huffington’s site has taken a strong stance against the Republican nominee. An editor’s note has accompanied articles about Trump since December labeling him a “serial liar,” “racist,” “misogynist” and “birther.”
Huffington said she’s proud of the site’s Trump coverage and believes the Huffington Post was the first media outlet “to see him for what he is.” In the summer of 2015, the site temporarily moved most of its Trump coverage from the politics section to the entertainment section.
“We’ve been at the forefront of refusing to treat him like a normal Republican nominee with whom we disagree,” she said.
Though she’ll be stepping out of day-to-day political coverage, Huffington suggested there’s a relationship between well-being and our political process.
“First of all, I think when people are more connected to themselves and their own wisdom, they’re going to make better decisions about who they vote for and how they lead,” she said. “I think there’s a connection between sleep-deprived, burned-out politicians ― of course, Donald Trump is exhibit A ― and the decisions politicians are making driven by fear.”
She also indicated she won’t completely exit the political arena that she’s been a part of for decades.
“For me,” she said, “politics will always be a part of my life.”
Here are memos from Huffington and Armstrong:
For the past 11 years, The Huffington Post has been at the center of my life, and frankly I thought it would be my last act. What we have built together has exceeded my wildest expectations. Never did I imagine when there were just five of us working out of my home office in L.A. that we’d grow HuffPost to be one of the most-visited news sites in the world with editions in (soon-to-be) 16 countries and a Pulitzer Prize-winning global leader in news and politics, solutions journalism and wellness.
As all of you know, since publishing Thrive, I’ve become more and more passionate – okay, obsessed – with burnout and stress and how we can reduce their impact on our lives. As I went around the world speaking about Thrive and hearing people’s stories, I became an even bigger believer in the urgent need to turn that passion into something real and tangible. That’s why, when I signed a new contract last spring, we included a carve-out so that I was able to also launch a venture dedicated to putting Thrive’s values into practice, helping individuals and companies around the world reduce stress and burnout and improve their health and productivity.
When I wrote to you in June, I fully expected to be able to continue leading HuffPost while also building Thrive Global. But it became clear that this was an illusion as Thrive went from an idea to a reality, with investors, staff and offices. One of the Thrive principles is knowing when it’s time for a new chapter to begin, and for me that time has arrived. And so I’ve decided to step down as HuffPost’s editor-in-chief. This has been a very difficult decision, but in many ways an inevitable one, given my commitment to building Thrive into a company that has a global impact on how we work and live. Building something from scratch doesn’t become easier or less challenging just because you’ve done it before. There is only one way to do it: with your full attention and all your heart. This is also the only way I have ever known how to run HuffPost through the years, as we have evolved and grown, taking the risks that have led us where we are today.
What made the decision easier is my complete confidence in what we have built together. We have a first-class newsroom, guided by HuffPost’s strongest leadership team ever, starting with Jared who’s been our amazing CEO and partner to me, and Tim who has loved and believed in HuffPost from day one. The talent, commitment and values you all bring to everything you do here make HuffPost what it is – and what you do is now more important than ever. So most of all, I want to end by thanking all of you. I’m filled with gratitude and admiration for all the colleagues and friends that I’ve made over the years on this incredible adventure. You have made the last 11 years truly unforgettable, and you will always be part of my life. And of course, I’ll never stop recruiting bloggers for Bryan, suggesting splashes to Whitney, and acting as HuffPost’s unofficial Sleep Ombudsman.
Our core DNA of unleashing the world’s best builders of culture and code is happening again today. After an unprecedented partnership over the last five years that took The Huffington Post from a U.S. blog site to a global media powerhouse, Arianna is following her passion to devote herself full-time to her new venture, Thrive Global. The Huffington Post will continue its push to become the #1 global leader in news and information and the leadership of The Huffington Post is prepared to take the mission to the next level.
Arianna is an undisputed new media pioneer, and The Huffington Post is nothing short of an iconic brand. We want to thank Arianna for her entrepreneurial spirit, vision and leadership in helping to build The Huffington Post into the successful and thriving news platform it is today. We know she will bring the same passion to Thrive Global and we believe that Thrive Global will help transform the wellness industry.
The Huffington Post has been working on a next generation strategy over the last few months and the CEO of The Huffington Post, Jared Grusd, will lead the implementation and communication of that plan, which focuses on scaling news and video on an even more global basis. We have formed an interim editorial committee (Ryan Grim, Liz Heron, Katie Nelson, Kate Palmer, and Whitney Snyder) that will be stepping in to fill Arianna’s role and they will be involved in an ongoing search for a new Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post. We know that our exceptional team will continue to deliver the powerful reporting, writing and analysis that draw more than 178M people worldwide to visit The Huffington Post on a daily basis.
The Huffington Post is a critical pillar of our strategy and is only becoming more important with our recent moves into AR/VR with RYOT. As the connected world expands and the global need for news and information expands, The Huffington Post is well positioned to be a leader for decades to come.
We will have a proper celebration for Arianna before she leaves to change the world again – and we will continue the mission and innovation of The Huffington Post with our incredible team. Let’s make news - TA
This post has been updated with details from Thursday’s staff meeting.