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Insider Interview: Sarah Kelsey from The Huffington Post Canada

Written by Michelle Kalman on November 27, 2012

Sarah Kelsey is the Style Editor at The Huffington Post Canada. Her work has been featured in some of North America’s top publications including the Globe and Mail, National Post and ELLE. She's the style correspondent for Global Television and has a segment called 'Sarah Says' on Global's The Morning Show where she highlights new and cool products and things to do in Toronto. She's also a regular speaker on media relations and journalism at conferences, universities and colleges.

How long have you worked in media and what has been your career path to get to where you are today?  

I’ve been in the media for about nine years, and my path to working as the Style Editor at The Huffington Post Canada has been anything but a straight line. I’ve done everything from work at magazines to helm the assignment desk at CTV Toronto. I’ve tried my hand at being a freelance writer (which I still do occasionally) and dabbled in being a reporter (in fact, I’m currently an on-air correspondent for Global; I even have my own segment ‘Sarah Says’). There was even a brief stint in public relations at rock-it promotions.  

'The content has to always be available to users in real time. The news doesn't wait until you get to your desk or home from the office.'

The Huffington Post is a digital only brand that competes with national dailies that have print components. Describe how an online (only) newspaper is positioned in today’s mixed media world.  

As an online only brand, The Huffington Post operates in the same arena as most of the national dailies that also have print components. Where we may differ is we compete for the digital audience exclusively, we may target a larger audience base; at the same time, a national daily is targeting readers on multiple platforms.  

How does The Huffington Post content differ from online magazine content?  

It’s hard to generalize, however, the sourcing at The Huffington Post Canada is not necessarily different from that of an online magazine. We work with a team of editors, bloggers and contributors as a collective to create engaging and original content. Being an online news site, however, requires we respond in a timely fashion to breaking news stories. Our newsroom is a fast-paced environment. You have to be accurate and in the know all of the time. We do our best to balance service pieces and features with the daily news items The Huffington Post has become known for. As a team, we focus on the issues and topics that are current to our readers; we’re constantly updating our stories and sites to provide readers with the most up-to-date info on important events.  

What are some of the benefits of working on a digital brand?  

Responsiveness. The Huffington Post Canada is known for its ability to provide readers the world over with accurate information about important news events as they happen and unfold. We’ve become a trusted news source in Canada – The Huffington Post [Global] is currently the largest national news site in comparison to our key competitors the Globe and Mail, National Post sites and the Toronto Star  –  reaching a record 3.9 million monthly unique visitors in Canada*.  We have offices in Toronto, British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec, which allows us to respond with first-hand accounts to news in various regions of the country.  Digital media is also multi-faceted. We can tell a story in words, images, videos, with Tweets, Facebook posts, etc. And we tell our stories – and the stories of Canadians – on multiple platforms: the web, on mobile devices and via social media networks. We keep our readers engaged and informed.   

What (if any) are some of the challenges (or aspects you miss) of not having a print offering?

I don’t think there are any, really. The way we present the news – across multiple platforms, on the web, on mobile devices, on social networks – is just as tangible as a newspaper… It’s just more portable.  

What are the more popular/most visited items in the section you manage?  

I handle style, and because The Huffington Post Canada reader comes to the site for general news as a start, any style news pieces do well (for example, new designer collaborations, TIFF red carpets, red carpet events from Hollywood, etc.). It also goes without saying that celeb fashion/beauty content does well. Everyone wants to look and feel their best – or to feel A-list – even if they don’t live in a fab mansion in Hollywood. The Royal Family, especially Kate Middleton and Prince William, are hot and staple features for our site. As is service content related to holidays and seasons. We have a good mix of news stories and features that keep our readers coming back for more.  

How important is video for your site and what are the behaviors of your viewers with video content?  

Video is a very important component on our site – it’s integrated into all areas of The Huffington Post Canada. We see an average of 1.5 million video views per month and because we’re so engaged with our readers in this department, it’s a great way for us to visually tell a story to our readers**. A picture can speak a thousand words, which is why I think, for any news outlet to succeed, video has to be an important pillar in their news-telling strategy.

'As a team, we focus on the issues and topics that are current to our readers; we're constantly updating our stories and sites to provide readers with the most up-to-date info on important events.'

How is the mobile version of The Huffington Post different and is your mobile readership on the rise? Can you share any stats?  

Mobile is an important extension for The Huffington Post Canada. The content has to always be available and easily accessible to users in real time. The news doesn’t wait until you get to your desk or home from the office. So the same deep content is available on an optimized site for mobile phone and on apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, iPad and now Windows 8 for desktop and tablet. AOL mobile apps include brands such as about.me, Autoblog Canada, The Huffington Post, Mapquest, Moviefone and many more. The mobile experience differs from the web only in the way that the content is presented. The key to the mobile experience is easy access to the information that a user’s looking for. So all Canadian content from the web is available on mobile devices along with sharing and commenting functionality, galleries and video – we present it in a format that everyone can read on a smaller screen. And our mobile traffic continues to grow. This year, there’s an average of over 27,000 users per month on iPhone and almost 14,000 on iPad. Downloads in 2012, thus far, total 104,584**. We have big hopes that The Huffington Post Canada Windows 8 app will drive that number even higher.

How has Pinterest changed your daily mandates in terms of new content?  

We use Pinterest to interact with our readers and to see what they’re reading about and what types of content interests them. So, basically, we treat Pinterest like Facebook, Twitter or blogs – news sources and outlets we can use to learn more about The Huffington Post Canada reader. From there, we can create engaging content that will appeal to them. We also do our best to pin as often as we can, especially from the image-heavy areas, like Style and Living.   

Can you share any social media successes that have stood out for your brand?  

We have seen significant growth on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook for The Huffington Post Canada. We currently have (combined) 65,000 Facebook fans and more than 46,000 Twitter followers with a highly engaged and active community of followers. Built on a highly social DNA, The Huffington Post leverages the power of social networking to allow readers to share content across various platforms. Our users are highly engaged, influential and social so there is a value to content that is being shared. Comments to date are over 570,000 with the average comments per week reaching upwards of 18,000. Further, we are seeing over 2 million social actions per month, which is a great amount of engagement.

*comScore Inc., Total Canada, Home and Work. Sept 2012. [E] Huffington Post Global compared to [P] The Globe And Mail, [M] Toronto Star, [S] National Post Sites. 

**AOL Internal Numbers  


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