LONDON - I am delighted to be in London today for the first Huffington Post launch outside of North America: Welcome to HuffPost UK.
Britain has always held a very special place in my heart. I started (and finished) college here. I started (and finished) my first serious love affair here. I didn't move away from my childhood home in Greece as much as I moved to Britain. What started the whole thing was a magazine article on Cambridge I saw as a teenager. I looked at the photos and instantly set my heart on studying there. Everyone thought I was crazy -- except my mother, who completely supported my dream and helped make it a reality. Cambridge was a transformative experience for me. When I arrived, I was a classic fish out of water -- and one who spoke a different language, to boot. But, emulating the Brits I saw around me, I forged ahead, and quickly adapted. I loved what ended up being the decade I lived in the UK, at Cambridge and then in London.
In so many ways, my time in Britain set the course for the rest of my life -- leading all the way, in fact, to the creation of The Huffington Post in May of 2005. My time at the Cambridge Union helped me overcome my fear of public speaking -- and of my thick Greek accent. Becoming president of the Union was the start of many things -- including my first book, as it was a Union debate that brought me to the attention of Reg Davis-Poynter, the British publisher who offered me a contract and set me on the path to becoming a writer. And my London years were shaped by my seven-year relationship with Bernard Levin -- the ending of which was major enough to propel me not only out of the relationship but out of the country. And so it was on to America and the next phase of my life.
And how did Britain also play a key role in the evolution of The Huffington Post? It was July 7, 2005, two months after we'd launched. I was drinking my morning coffee and reading my paper copy of the New York Times, which had a front-page photo of Londoners celebrating the city's winning bid for the 2012 Olympic Games. It was literally yesterday's news. In the meantime, HuffPost not only had the bombings as our news splash but our London-based bloggers weighing in with of-the-moment reactions, bringing home the power and immediacy of real-time, social news.
And these lessons have gone on to become the defining traits of our approach to delivering news, entertainment, opinion, and information. At the core of everything we do are engagement, connection ("social"), and a commitment to real-time coverage.
We are arriving here in the midst of a rich and thriving media culture marked by great innovation. The Guardian's decision to further its commitment to "open journalism" is particularly exciting, as is the masterful use of storytelling to shine a light on important issues, as demonstrated by the Independent's recent piece on the UK's "threatened, isolated, under siege" modern working class.
We look forward to spotlighting and linking to such great stories, driving traffic to them, and fueling conversations around the issues they raise.
The explosive growth of online social networking has fundamentally changed how we consume media. News and entertainment are no longer something we passively take in. We now engage with news, stories, videos, and slideshows -- we react to them, add to them, talk back to them, and share them. In short, content has become social -- and, on HuffPost, our sections have become digital water coolers.
Our goal is to give our readers a one-stop shop for all the information they need to know -- whether we're reporting on it, curating it from the best sources around the world, or our bloggers are weighing in with their takes on it. All delivered in real time, on every platform (don't forget to download our smartphone and tablet apps!), and using every possible medium.
And we make it easy for you to be able to not only consume what we are offering, but also become an integral part of the stories we are telling by sharing them, liking them, commenting on them, tweeting them, or posting them on Facebook.
At the same time we're embracing the best of the new -- immediacy, transparency, interactivity -- we also embrace the best of the old: fact-checking, accuracy, fairness, and an emphasis on storytelling.
Ever since I read Benjamin Disraeli's classic novel Sybil when I was at Cambridge, I've loved writers who are able to use storytelling to put flesh and blood on statistics and a human face on numbers -- writers who use their gifts and their passion to touch hearts, change minds, and have an impact on our world.
Disraeli wrote Sybil in 1845 as a wakeup call about the horrible state of the British working class and the danger of England disintegrating into "two nations, between whom there is... no sympathy... as if they were inhabitants of different planets." The book became a sensation, and the outrage it provoked propelled fundamental social reforms.
In the 19th century, Disraeli's weapon against the social wrongs in his county, his vehicle for the stories that would arouse his countrymen's common humanity, was a novel. In the 21st century, new media, social platforms, and the explosion of camera phones are arming a new generation of storytellers with new ways of bearing witness to the world around them. In many countries, the revolution may not be televised -- but it will be blogged, tweeted, posted on Facebook, uploaded to YouTube... and, of course, covered on The Huffington Post.
And though the methods for telling our stories may have changed since Disraeli's time, the dangers of disintegrating into two nations are once again all too real. Part of The Huffington Post's mission from the beginning has been to shine a light on the underreported stories of the struggles of working families. And we plan to continue that mission with HuffPost UK, as well.
Part of that will mean chronicling the ongoing story of David Cameron's "Big Society" initiative. In virtually every Western democracy, as trusted institutions of every kind have failed the people, new relationships between citizens and their governments are being worked out. What will this next stage of capitalism be like? Is the Big Society, as Ed Miliband has suggested, a "front for cuts"? Or is it an effort to forge a more robust civic life and a new politics of the common good?
As the Harvard professor Michael Sandel told the Telegraph, "I think it could mark the beginning of a new politics. Whether it will be is an open question. But this idea that markets and the state are NOT the only instruments of the common good -- I find that intriguing and well worth exploring."
And so do we. A big part of the conversation about how to go forward is actually to focus on where we've been. So we'll also be covering, for instance, the attempts by Simon Schama to help revitalize the teaching of history throughout Britain. "Ultimately, history delivers the kind of wisdom that teaches how to live most richly inside a human skin," he said in an interview with HuffPost's Joy Resmovits, running today.
When you're trying to figure out who you're going to be in the future, it helps to know who you've been in the past. "The seeding of amnesia is the undoing of citizenship," Schama writes. And that's because "serious history is about entering the lives of others." Which is another way of saying: empathy, connection, and engagement -- elements at the heart of what makes the Huffington Post what it is.
Part of this editorial vision is putting an end to seeing every issue through the tired frame of right versus left. There is nothing right or left about obsessively covering youth unemployment, or the struggles of working families, or the war in Afghanistan.
Our lifestyle coverage will also be informed by a clear editorial vision: a commitment to redefining success and happiness -- including highlighting ways in which we can "unplug and recharge," and everything you ever wanted to know about sleep (a personal obsession of mine!). The prevailing culture tells us that nothing succeeds like excess, that working 80 hours a week is better than working 70, that being plugged in 24/7 is expected, and that sleeping less and multi-tasking more are an express elevator to the top. Our coverage will beg to differ.
So these are some of the key strands that have always made up the HuffPost DNA -- and will be an integral part of HuffPost UK, which will feature HuffPost's signature blend of news, opinion, entertainment, community, and information -- tailored to British issues and perspectives.
Among the original stories by HuffPost reporters and editors we're featuring today: Tom Zeller looks into the debate on how urban air quality could impact the London Olympics; Michael Calderone examines the impact of British outlets on the U.S. media market; David Wood looks at how the drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan will impact British forces there; Will Alden looks at the explosion of credit card usage in the UK; Chris Kirkham reports on how the for-profit higher education industry is gaining a foothold in the UK; Margaret Wheeler Johnson weighs in on the negative impact of Britain's tabloid culture on women; Amy Lee profiles top UK tech CEOs to watch; and Peter Goodman writes about ShoeDazzle, an innovative company coming to the United Kingdom.
Another vital element of HuffPost UK will be our group blog -- a place where some of Britain's most creative and knowledgeable minds, some well-known and some not, weigh in on topics great and small, political and cultural, important or just plain entertaining. In short, everything that makes Britain such a diverse and unique country -- everything that is, to paraphrase Schama's phrase, peculiarly yours, as well as everything that is shared by our two countries.
Today's blog lineup includes posts from Jeremy Hunt on arts funding, Ricky Gervais on the 10th anniversary of The Office, Sarah Brown on the global advances being made in maternal mortality, Alastair Campbell on politicians navigating a Facebook and Twitter world, former Wham! manager Simon Napier-Bell on why art is the new rock and roll, Kate Garraway on being female and funny, Lord Weidenfeld on Syria's "sadistic cruelty," and Tracey Ullman on blogging for HuffPost and impersonating...well, me.
And, as we move forward, we intend to make you -- our HuffPost UK community -- a big part of the editorial mix, via your suggestions, feedback, and comments. In the U.S., HuffPost currently gets over 4 million comments a month -- and we are about to hit a real milestone: our 100,000,000th comment. Please register as a HuffPost UK user -- and join the conversation. In this time of transition, make your voice heard.
So welcome to HuffPost UK -- and please use the comment section on this post to let us know what you think.