Job: founder, editor-in-chief, Huffington Post
Industry: digital media
2008 ranking: 47
Arianna Huffington is the founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, which is evolving from a liberal blog into a fully fledged, self-styled "internet newspaper".
Huffington is influential not just in the size of her audience – the site had 6.7 million unique users in the US in May 2009, up 42% year on year, according to Nielsen – but in positing a model for the future of news provision at a time when cash-strapped media outlets, not least newspapers, are fighting for their existence. Huffington said the future was neither traditional media, nor digital – but both.
"I firmly believe in a hybrid future where old media players embrace the way of new media – including transparency, interactivity and immediacy – and new media companies adopt the best practices of old media, including fairness, accuracy and high-impact investigative journalism," Huffington told members of the US Senate.
And she warned: "The future of quality journalism is not dependent on the future of newspapers."
Our panel was divided over Huffington's position in this year's MediaGuardian 100. "She has had a great year and is now a very serious player," said one panellist. "Her influence has waned, everyone is doing a blog now," said another. But few of them match the reach and influence of the "HuffPo".
The Greek-born millionaire socialite established the Huffington Post with Kenneth Lerer in 2005, two years after her unsuccessful bid to be elected the governor of California. She was beaten by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
A leftwing antidote to the rightwing Drudge Report, her site built its influence and reputation on the back of an army of citizen journalists, one of whom memorably recorded Barack Obama criticising "bitter" working class Pennsylvanians in the run-up to last year's presidential elections.
Hard-pressed newspaper executives could be forgiven for having missed it, but Huffington said we lived in a "golden age" for news consumers. She said newspapers should not be attacking news aggregators such as her own – blamed for depriving advertising revenues from traditional media – but developing new models based around online advertising, foundation-supported investigative journalism and search engines for new revenue.
To this end she announced a not-for-profit arm that would fund investigative journalism out of public and foundations' donations, beginning with a $1.75m fund to pay for 10 full-time reporters. "In the two biggest stories of our recent time – the war in Iraq and our financial meltdown – investigative journalism did not fulfil its mission," she said.
But will the Huffington Post do any better? Critics have questioned the site's $100m-plus valuation, saying it faces the same problem as any other media outlet, new or old – how to turn content into worthwhile revenue. They have also queried whether its journalistic standards are keeping pace with its increasing size and influence.
But the venture capital money continued to pour in last year and it opened the first of its network of local US sites in Chicago with just one paid writer. It is the first of between 10 and 20 similar ventures planned over the next few years, with a New York office due to open la