NEW YORK ― Lydia Polgreen, a New York Times associate masthead editor and editorial director of NYT Global, has been named editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post.
Polgreen, 41, will succeed Arianna Huffington, the news site’s namesake co-founder who left the company in August to launch Thrive Global, a company and website focused on health and wellness.
In an interview, Polgreen said it was difficult leaving the Times, where she spent nearly 15 years, but that the role at HuffPost was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“I feel like we’re living in a moment right now where media has to fundamentally rethink its position vis-a-vis power,” she said. “I think that the election of Donald Trump and the basic difficulty that the media had in anticipating it tells us something really profound about the echo chamber in which we live, the ways in which journalism has failed to reach beyond its own inner limits.”
Polgreen described HuffPost as a “truly great global, progressive news platform,” though not in a purely political sense. She said the site has the “potential and the possibility of really meeting this populist moment that we’re living in and meeting people where they actually are.”
“The DNA of The Huffington Post is fundamentally progressive, but I think that has a really capacious meaning and comes to include so many of the things that motivated not just the people who were rah rah Bernie or who voted for Hillary Clinton, but also many, many people in the United States who voted for Trump, who have fundamental concerns about the way the country is moving and the future,” she said.
Originally launched in 2005 as a progressive alternative to the Drudge Report, HuffPost has grown into a Pulitzer Prize-winning news and opinion site boasting 17 international editions, including its most recent launch in South Africa.
Polgreen has extensive international experience, including serving as the Times’ West Africa bureau chief, South Asia bureau chief and Johannesburg bureau chief, where she covered major events such as the death of Nelson Mandela. She has also served as deputy international editor and helped oversee the launch of The New York Times en Español. In April, Polgreen became editorial director for NYT Global, part of a $50 million investment to grow the paper’s reach into multiple international markets.
Polgreen described how growing up in West Africa, she remembered “watching history unfold and feeling profoundly unconnected.”
She expressed optimism about today’s “hyperconnected world,” even amid concerns about how social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook contribute to cheapening discourse or damaging the news business. “I can’t help but be excited about the possibility of telling stories of the world to the world,” she said.
Politico described Polgreen as a Times “rising star” in a 2015 profile that noted how she combined old-school journalism chops with a forward-looking digital perspective not tethered to the paper’s print legacy. She had also emerged, Politico noted, as “one of Twitter’s most prolific commentators on the state of the media in the digital age.”
In taking over the reins of HuffPost, Polgreen inherits a website in transition from its founding roots. Arianna Huffington served as the site’s only editor-in-chief and oversaw the sale of the site to AOL in 2011 for $315 million. In July of this year, AOL parent Verizon agreed to buy Yahoo for $4.8 billion in a still-pending acquisition.
When Huffington departed this summer, editorial control of the site was left to a committee of top editors and Jared Grusd, the company’s CEO. Since then, there has been some turnover in the ranks. Liz Heron, the site’s executive editor and a member of the leadership committee, resigned this past October.
Grusd reiterated in an interview Tuesday that HuffPost’s goal remains to inform, entertain, inspire and empower its audience. In selecting a new top editor, he sought someone who could bring vibrancy to the job of continuing that mission.
“What I saw in Lydia very uniquely is somebody who is mission-driven, somebody who believes in values,” he said, “and very specifically, the deep authentic values of journalism and the role of journalism in today’s marketplace.”
During a Tuesday all-hands meeting introducing Polgreen to the newsroom, Grusd said a tearful Huffington told him over the phone that the site “could not have chosen a better, more capable, more fearless leader to replace her.”
Polgreen said she was “incredibly humbled” to be standing in front of HuffPost’s staff.
When traveling around the world on behalf of the Times, she recalled people in every location saying they read HuffPost. “If you think about the fact that this place was started in 2005, and you have that kind of reach, that’s actually a miracle.”
Polgreen said both the election of Donald Trump and the “wave of intolerance and bigotry that seems to be sweeping the globe” in its aftermath were stunning. And HuffPost, she said, has an “absolutely indispensable role to play in this era in human history.”
“When I say human history, I don’t take that lightly,” she said. “I think that just as there were moments when the Washington Post or The New York Times or the Times of London during World War II had a huge mission, we, too, have a huge mission. And that is to listen, to report, to tell stories, to seek out the stories and voices that aren’t being heard, even ones that might feel uncomfortable to us.”
“I just think that this group of people and this platform have so much to contribute to the betterment of humanity,” she added, “and to much greater journalism.”