Huffington Post Bets People Will Read Good News — And Share It, Too Arianna Huffington says readers need more positive news coverage, so her site is launching an effort focused on good stories. Their shareability may make "What Works" a smart business move, too.
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Huffington Post Bets People Will Read Good News — And Share It, Too

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Huffington Post Bets People Will Read Good News — And Share It, Too

Huffington Post Bets People Will Read Good News — And Share It, Too

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The Huffington Post is one of the most popular news websites in the country. It has 117 million unique visitors every month. As it nears its 10th birthday though, the site's buzz has been eclipsed by other players - Vice, BuzzFeed, Vox. And now, as NPR's David Folkenflik reports, the Huffington Post founder and namesake is announcing a new focus.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Arianna Huffington can be very calm in person, but her effect can be like that of a human whirlwind, spinning off big ideas that can alter the direction of the news organization that bears her name. Her latest...

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ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: How do we really tell the full story and show our leaders and our viewers, you know, the full picture? Because when The New York Times famously said, all the news that's fit to print, forgetting for the minute what's fit to print, we are not showing people all the news, and it's time we do.

FOLKENFLIK: Huffington is unveiling today in this story a new initiative that she calls "What's Working" and she's designating to it new teams of reporters and editors scattered across 15 countries.

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HUFFINGTON: Our decision not to show all the news and to focus mostly on that bad news, crises, rapes, mayhems, is having real consequences. We talk a lot about copycat crimes. How about if we actually put the spotlight on solutions and what is working, and generate copycat solutions?

FOLKENFLIK: Not coincidentally, this new focus could prove to be good business, too. Jonah Berger is a professor who studies how social influence works at the Wharton School of Business and he's the author of the book "Contagious: Why Things Catch On."

JONAH BERGER: There's an old news adage that if it bleeds it leads. So yeah, you know, if you turn on the 6 o'clock news, here's some terrible thing happening in the world.

FOLKENFLIK: Berger and a colleague reviewed six months' worth of the most-emailed stories from The New York Times, and they found negative stories don't always prove viral.

BERGER: There are certainly negative emotions we share when we're angry or when we're anxious that does encourage us to pass things on. But on average, we share more positive stuff than negative stuff. And part of the reason is we just realize that what we share affects how other people see us. We want to put others in a good mood rather than a bad mood. We want to be seen as Positive Pollies rather than Negative Nellies.

FOLKENFLIK: Huffington's staff has drawn upon Berger's writings. She's intent on making sure original Huffington Post content continues to dominate Facebook and other social media platforms through viral sharing. The Greek-born author created the Huffington Post a decade ago on the back of two big elements - famous bloggers and relentless aggregation of stories from elsewhere, on politics, pop-culture - you name it. Original reporting really came later. So did a Pulitzer. Choire Sicha says he initially underestimated the Huffington Post. Sicha was twice-editor of the news and gossip site Gawker.

CHOIRE SICHA: We thought this site was a joke. It was mainly about Arianna Huffington getting John Cusack to write about whatever was on his mind. I still don't take it very seriously, but, you know, as a business it's actually a pretty monster entity and it's also read by a really, really, really large number of people.

FOLKENFLIK: Sicha says the move is a return to the site's roots, given its focus on new-age health remedies and spirituality. It's also in keeping with Huffington's latest book "Thrive," about fulfillment beyond fame and fortune, not that she hasn't earned a fortune and not that she doesn't mix with the famous - she does. The Huffington Post will continue to aggregate the news and offer original stories, video and photo galleries, including shots of celebrity cleavage. That said, Huffington promises to put true financial muscle behind this priority. Dropping the Associated Press, she says, will free-up several million dollars a year to put behind it.

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HUFFINGTON: I believe that human beings - all of us - are a mixture of good and evil, if you want, and that the more we can encourage the better angels, it's like strengthening a muscle - the more that will be the dominant behavior.

FOLKENFLIK: Today the University of Southern California's journalism program is announcing a partnership with the site. Its editors will work with student reporters on stories specifically about good news and constructive solutions. David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.

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