Arianna Huffington on HuffPost’s Upcoming Middle East Edition, Doc Ambitions and 115 Million Unique Visitors

The site, which hit over 100 million unique visitors on ComScore in August, plans to continue its expansion

Huffington Post editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington emailed her entire staff Monday with an important message: HuffPost had hit 115 million unique visitors on ComScore for the month of August, marking the site’s first month over 100 million uniques and making it the number one news site in America.

It was a pretty big deal.

Nine years after launching the site as a small blog, HuffPost has 11 international editions and its own video studio. And with Monday’s major traffic accomplishment, Huffington admitted to getting a little bit emotional.

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“I have to say, this news made me a lot more emotional than a comScore stat usually does,” she wrote to her team, adding, “It’s a lump-in-the-throat combination of gratitude and amazement; of satisfaction at what we’ve accomplished and surprise at how fast it all happened; of nostalgia for the early days when we celebrated every small spike in traffic and a delight in knowing that our best days, without question, still lie ahead.”

TheWrap spoke with Huffington on Tuesday to discuss the big milestone, as well as her plans for pushing HuffPost forward.

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TheWrap: You launched as largely a political site, but as it has grown, HuffPost has become a huge lifestyle and entertainment and live video site in recent years. What would you say the main guiding purpose and mission is for HuffPost today?
Arianna Huffington: The mission hasn’t changed at all. From day one, it was to take the kind of conversations that we would find at water coolers and dinner tables and kitchen tables, which are always about everything, they’re about politics and food and sex and books, and bringing them online. We’ve always wanted it to be about everything.

From day one, even when we were just one page, we had the blog section and the political section, the business news, and then entertainment and lifestyle. And now we have over 70 sections, so we’re obviously covering it more in depth.

And then obviously, we’re doing all of this not just in text but in videos and in pictures, and around the world.

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What has been the biggest change on the Internet that you’ve seen, and how have you had to adapt to it?
Huffington: The biggest changes are in terms of mobile. Now, so much of our traffic comes from mobile apps and mobile web. That’s why we made our head of mobile our Chief Technology Officer. We don’t just say Mobile First, we actually live it, with everything we do, with our stories, our headlines, and our pictures.

Huffpost Live was a big investment in video for us, but also continuing to experiment with what our DC office is doing on video. We are doing them both in short and increasingly, we are going to be doing them in longform.

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What would longform look like for you? Documentaries?
Huffington: Yes, we’re going to be doing documentaries, shorter and longer. We have a very ambitious video plan, because we are looking to be 50/50 video, that’s the goal.

You have a whole new studio for HuffPost Live, how have you seen it develop now that it’s been around for a while?
Huffington: It’s fantastic to see how, first of all it’s become a place where now everybody who has a book and movie is going to come and do an interview, and that for us is both live for people watching, and it’s also an enormous amount of cut video that we can insert in stories. Live is covering everything, from politics and business to a regular Third Metric segment, and events from around the world. Because we put the viewers at the center, they’re all typing in from Google Hangouts from around the world.

You’ve had a slew of imitators and competitors, like BuzzFeed and Upworthy and other news sites. How do you compete with newer sites that try to outdo you? How do you keep the edge?
 Well we want to do that anyway, because we feel that, as I said in my email to the staff, we don’t want to fall into the trap of the innovator’s dilemma. We constantly want to be innovating and that’s why we continue to lead the way in so many areas. Like social, we’re the top publisher on Facebook, in business, native advertising, we launched it first and now we are continuing to innovate. Global, video, mobile, all arenas. I welcome the new kids on the block, I love that. I think there’s plenty of room on the block, because the block is getting bigger and bigger. I think when new sides do innovative things or Jeff Bezos buys the Washington Post and wants to do innovative things, it’s good for all of us.

What would you say is your biggest success at HuffPost, and what is your biggest failure?
 I would say that the biggest success is its hybrid nature, that we have been able to demonstrate that you can be a very serious journalistic enterprise of the kind that has hundreds of journalists and reporters and editors and has won a Pulitzer and is now a global newsroom, and is also a platform. It has tens of thousands of people, both known and unknown, with something interesting to say.

I would say our biggest failure is not limiting blog posts to 140 characters. We should have said, you can blog, but only 140 characters.

How do you get to 200 million now? Is there a new product you’re especially excited about coming up that you think will help you make the leap to that number?
 Continuing international expansion is a big part of our growth plan. We now have 11 editions, we’re going to be launching in India in November, then in the Middle East, then in Greece, then in Australia. It’s a huge market.

Where in the Middle East?
Huffington: This one we call Huffpost Arabi, and we’ve partnered with Wadah Khanfar, director general of Al Jazeera, and he’s going to be basically running it from London, so that way we can keep our independence and not be subject to censorship and pressure and be able to cover the whole Arab world with someone at the helm that is very, very knowledgeable about the area.

Does it worry you, there have been a lot of journalists who have been kidnapped the last few years there?
 Of course. I’m also on the board of the Committee to Protect Journalists, and it’s very tragic. We have a brilliant young woman in the Middle East, Sophia Jones, who goes on HuffPost Live so you can see her work. We have constant concern about her safety and the safety of all reporters in the region.

Editor’s note: The writer of this story, Jordan Zakarin, was a former entertainment editor at The Huffington Post