2008 Media Person of the Year:
Arianna Huffington

The blog queen and co-founder of the preeminent "Internet newspaper" is named the most outstanding figure in media.

Arianna Huffington, the co-founder of the online news and opinion Web site The Huffington Post, is the 2008 Media Person of the Year, according to the annual election held by I Want Media.

The readers of I Want Media nominated 10 candidates and cast thousands of votes in the week-long Internet-based contest. The winner last year was "Hollywood's striking writers," who followed Comedy Central satirical newsman Stephen Colbert in 2006.

Huffington had a big year in 2008, guiding her liberal-leaning news and blog site to record traffic during the U.S. election season.

Most of the other nine contenders this year — including the top two runners up, Tina Fey and Rachel Maddow — "owe a debt of gratitude to Huffington," according to a comment posted on HuffPo by "wetzelwest." "Every news scoop I saw throughout the election was covered on Huffington Post two full days before the mainstream press covered it. Yep, Arianna's the one!"







HuffPo has become a "strong brand," said Fred Harman, a managing partner of Oak Investment Partners, which recently invested $25 million in the site. HuffPo presents an "approach to content that leverages other news and blogger feeds in a manner traditional media players have not."

Many media people also recognized Huffington's growing influence. Bonnie Fuller, the Media Person of the Year honoree in 2003 (and a HuffPo blogger), said that Huffington has "proved, despite naysayers, that great content will bring a great number of eyeballs to new media."

Jon Stewart, the 2004 Media Person of the Year, remarked on his Comedy Central show: "I love clicking onto the Huffington Post." Arianna has "really created something that has a great breadth of opinion from the famous to the near-famous."

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark said he believes that HuffPo is a "successful reinvention of business models for journalism."

David Carr, the media columnist for the New York Times, observed that HuffPo allowed citizen journalist Mayhill Fowler to do some "amazing" reporting during the election this year. Yet, Fowler didn't "make any money on it," which "sort of embodies the paradigm going forward."

Huffington argued in her new book, "The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging," that the old- and new-media worlds are joining together. "The convergence is going to keep growing," she said. And within a few short years, they will "have to share the power."

This year's 10 candidates:

Tina Fey. The former NBC "Saturday Night Live" regular's deliciously dead-on impersonation of U.S. VP candidate Sarah Palin made her television's new Queen of Comedy, TV critics say. "SNL" head writer Seth Meyers believes that Fey is at least a worthy runner-up for Time magazine's Person of the Year. Other observers claim that Fey and Co. could help transform online video into a real business, since many viewers preferred to watch "SNL's" popular election routines on the Internet. Fey, for her part, says she is more than happy to be viewed "on,, iTunes, Verizon phones, United Airlines, and occasionally on actual television."

Arianna Huffington. The co-founder and top editor of the liberal-leaning Huffington Post guided the news and blog site to record traffic during this U.S. election year. HuffPost, which made its debut just three years ago, is now the top political destination on the Web and reportedly worth some $200 million. Its provocative mix of unpaid bloggers and full-time reporters likely helped inspire this year's launch of online news aggregators like Wowowow and The Daily Beast. (HuffPost published a book offering advice on how to blog.) Next up for Arianna: the rollout of a U.S. network of local news blogs and a project to fund investigative journalism.

The Laid-Off Journalist. I Want Media stopped updating its Media Layoffs roundup page more than two years ago. Bad timing. Job cuts accelerated in 2008, as the economy tanked and more belt-tightening ensued. Notably, Time Inc. announced plans to slash 600 magazine jobs, while the Associated Press says it will let go about 400 staffers. The Christian Science Monitor, U.S. News & World Report and Radar decided to ditch print and focus online — with smaller headcounts. Magazines from CosmoGirl to Men's Vogue ceased publication. Hollywood's striking writers won sympathy in 2007; will this be the year of The Laid-Off Journalist?

Mel Karmazin. Satellite-radio rivals Sirius and XM finally completed their long-awaited merger in 2008. Now comes the hard part. CEO Karmazin is facing a serious cash squeeze, with the new company's $1 billion in debt coming due next year. Sirius XM star Howard Stern, the one-time King of All Media, now has a fraction of the audience and clout he once enjoyed on terrestrial radio. Industry observers say that satellite radio's "value proposition" will become "very questionable" once Internet radio is widely available in automobiles. Karmazin, however, remains confident. He predicts: "We will be the most successful company in audio entertainment."

Jason Kilar. Many people in the media world were initially dismissive of NBC Universal and News Corp.'s plan to launch an online video portal offering full-length movies, television shows and clips without amateur content like Google's mammoth YouTube. But two months after Hulu launched in March, the once-derided "Clown Co." became a top-10 video site. The upstart is now reportedly poised to upstage the user-content-focused YouTube, in terms of attracting advertisers. "Our focus is on premium content," CEO Kilar told I Want Media. "We're not going to stop until we have aggregated the world's best content and presented it on users' terms."

Rachel Maddow. The host of MSNBC's left-leaning news and commentary program "The Rachel Maddow Show" is much more than a "wonky lesbian pundit." She's also a big television ratings draw. Since her debut in September, the Air America radio host-turned cable news star has averaged 1.9 million viewers nightly — up 259% from the programming in the same time slot for two months before it. Fans gush over her "offbeat, funny and whipsmart" punditry. Some observers claim she represents no less than "the future" of MSNBC. Her impressive ratings could force changes at rival news channels, television critics say, making Maddow a genuine "game changer."

Rupert Murdoch. The king of News Corp. fell to the No. 2 spot on Vanity Fair's 2008 New Establishment list (behind Vladimir Putin?) after acquiring the Wall Street Journal last year. Still, as VF pointed out, the 77-year-old mogul is "eyeing higher peaks." Among them, challenging Apple's iTunes with this year's launch of MySpace Music. During the political season, he covered his bases by having his various newspapers endorse both Barack Obama and John McCain for U.S. president. And while rival media titan Sumner Redstone appeared to flounder, Murdoch became the star of a controversial new biography, reinforcing his rep as "The Man Who Owns the News."

Eric Schmidt. Google's CEO and his minions continued to insist this year that the Internet giant won't ever become a rival to traditional media. Yet, Google "cut past former giants like a hot knife through butter" to land at No. 12 on Advertising Age's 2008 list of the 100 Leading Media Companies, based on revenue. Google, during its 10th year, did in fact help prop up "old media" with new collaborations — selling television advertising with NBC, making more newspapers searchable online, archiving millions of images of Life magazine. Schmidt also befriended U.S. president-elect Barack Obama, catapulting Google's top guy to a new level of power.

Twitter Trio. They're not the Google guys — yet. Maybe they never will be. But Biz Stone, Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams's free micro-blogging service Twitter attracted sensational buzz, a dramatic increase in users and even a takeover offer from Facebook this year, despite a lack of a clear business model. The "hyper-grapevine" news resource has signed up millions of accounts for sending and receiving "tweets" — quick-fire text messages limited to 140 characters. But despite its increasing popularity, Twitter won't ever replace "old media" like newspapers, Dorsey told I Want Media. "We will always need a medium that carries more words."

Sam Zell. How often do media CEOs get sued by their own employees? Tribune boss Zell was hit by an employee lawsuit this year that alleged he was destroying the company's value. Tribune, after all, had cut hundreds of jobs since he took over in 2007. [See "The Laid-Off Journalist," above.] Zell has reportedly "appalled" media colleagues for his disregard for his newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. But is he really a Media Bogeyman? Part of Zell's mission is to move Tribune's culture "away from being very old school," company exec Lee Abrams explained to I Want Media. He wants to "just go in there and get the job done."

Don't see your choice? Submit your nomination. Be sure to include a brief explanation as to why your candidate deserves to be recognized. Comments may be posted.




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