Late on Monday, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who’s recently ended a radio show that made a run at Rush Limbaugh’s audience and advertisers, announced that he’d be starting a new website, titled Huckabee Post, seemingly in imitation of the publication named for the once-conservative, now-liberal Arianna Huffington. There’s been no shortage of conservative publications starting up in recent years, and one of the big questions for Huckabee will be how he positions himself relative to other outlets. But if Huckabee, after an attempt to out-compete Limbaugh, has found that he craves some sort of mainstream recognition, these are three questions he’ll have to answer if he wants to figure out how to become a true counterpart to Huffington, right-leaning but not so much so as to disqualify himself from mainstream access and a mainstream audience.
1. Will Paid Reporters Generate Enough Content? If Huckabee craves a broad audience rather than a narrow one, starting by hiring reporters rather than marquee commentators is a good place to start. The Craigslist posting for the job asks for reporters who “are expected to turn in articles daily, work on a tight deadline, be comfortable in a digital newsroom, be flexible and adapt quickly to changing situations, have good news judgment, be hardworking and self-motivated, and multi-task. Huckabee Post is a new and exciting online news publication covering news on politics, US, international, media, sports and other general news.” Conservative bona fides are listed nowhere, though three or more years experience in journalism is. We’ll have a clearer sense of what kind of outlet Huckabee Post will be once we find out what sort of editors it has hired.
But more to the point, is reporting enough to keep the new site afloat. Huffington Post brought in traffic in the beginning not just with reporting, but by recruiting a high-profile roster of contributors, and letting a huge range of people post on the platform. Not all of that content was high-quality, but when one of the contributors hit bit, like James Franco’s musings on pop culture, or Alec Baldwin’s response to his MSNBC suspension, to name some recent examples, the approach could pay off. Huckabee doesn’t really seem to be in a position to recruit celebrities, or mainstream commentators, and if he brings in too many conservatives as contributors, it might give Huckabee Post an ideological cast that runs counter to its hopes of mainstream credibility. The question will be whether simply hiring reporters for a small mainstream news site with an undisclosed budget or editors is enough to make it break through.
2. What Will The Tone Of The Reporting Be? Plenty of conservative news publications hire reporters. Some of those reporters are good! But there’s a difference between framing your reporting as points-scoring, and framing it as dedicated to the story. If you want to be credible as a broad-based news organization, you have to be willing to report out the story even if it leads a place you wish it didn’t. In the early days of Huckabee Post, the site’s ability to break news consistently, and to break news with a broad range of consequences, will be key to understanding what kind of organization it wants to be, and what kind of organization it has the capacity to be.
3. How Will the Site Differentiate Itself From Other Outlets? In terms of positioning itself relative to other conservative outlets, the fact that Huckabee Post apparently intends to cover entertainment and sports seriously might make it different from sites like the Daily Caller, which intervenes in those areas mostly to troll for click-bait, rather than to do criticism or industry reporting, or the Free Beacon, which publishes interesting culture criticism, but doesn’t have a dedicated critic or sports reporter on staff. The Breitbart group of publications includes Big Hollywood, which is a mix of criticism and aggregated entertainment news, but it’s a points-scoring operation, rather than a dedicated group of critics who cover the subject matter comprehensively. And the site tends to prioritize politics over art, which probably makes sense given their context, but isn’t exactly general interest. Huffington Post recently laid off some great entertainment reporters, but it does employ serious critics like the great television writer Mo Ryan and do mainstream entertainment aggregation.
Other than that, there are any number of ways in which Huckabee Post might identify voids in the current market and decide to fill them. Is there a need for serious, but intellectually rigorous, conservative investigative reporting to rectify the embarrassments like 60 Minutes’ Benghazi episode? Will Huckabee Post try to cover Capitol Hill with the same vigor as Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo. Like Buzzfeed, will it hire reporters overseas, but with a focus on things like trade, rather than women’s rights? There’s room for Huckabee Post to find its place and be a serious news organization — if that’s what Huckabee and his collaborators want.