Today host and magazine publishing doyenne Lisa Wilkinson has joined The Huffington Post Australia as editor-at-large, where she will write a column and provide editorial guidance to the website.

She will keep her Today gig but will help guide a team of 30 journalists (and numerous unpaid bloggers) at HuffPo, which will be edited by former News Corp editor and journalist Tory Maguire.

The model was largely in keeping with The Huffington Post‘s presence in its 14 other jurisdictions, with an iconic editor-at-large to help steer the ship, Maguire told Crikey this morning. “Lisa has so much experience in building an audience and understanding audience needs on different platforms. To have her on board is incredibly exciting. Not just for the publicity she brings, but for her insights — for getting to the heart of things.”

The site’s official launch is today, after it began publishing content during yesterday’s soft launch. About 14 journalists are so far on board — while all have the word “editor” in their titles, Crikey understands many will write stories. Another dozen or so are scheduled to come on board over the next few weeks. The launch is the result of a 51-49 joint-venture between HuffPo owner AOL and Fairfax, and HuffPo has poached very few staff from the Fairfax stable.

Many have come from News Corp — while journalists often move around between publishers, that is perhaps a little surprising for a website often billed as “progressive” or “left-wing”. But Maguire says that’s the wrong way to look at it. “[Founder] Arianna Huffington talks about HuffPo‘s coverage being beyond left and right,” she said. “What that means to me is that we want to look at issues from all angles — to look at how they affect individuals in their day-to-day lives.” She gives the example of looking at issues of work-life balance beyond the highly charged penalty rates discussion that dominates much of the rest of the media.

The Huffington Post joins a market already flooded with global media sites, as well as a very dominant local player in News Corp. With a starting team of 30, The Huffington Post is launching with fewer journalists than the Mail Online, but substantially more than The Guardian, BuzzFeed or Mashable. Like the Mail Online, HuffPo has ambitions to be the leading digital news site in Australia — a position currently held by news.com.au, which substantially lengthened its lead over rival smh.com.au in the most recent ratings survey.

Asked whether The Huffington Post has left expansion into Australia too late, Maguire says the Australian audience already exists — The Huffington Post already nets around 1 million Australian visits per month, even before a dedicated local team was in place. “We’re obviously a new player, and we have a lot of work to do. But that’s certainly not a reason not to do it.”

The Huffington Post globally has a focus on issues of work-life balance, going so far as to include a nap room in many of its offices (often fully booked for 20 minute blocks). But Crikey can reveal that, alas, HuffPo Australia’s Circular Quay digs in Sydney are so far bereft of such an innovation. “We don’t yet have a nap room in place, but I’m in favour of people taking time out to refresh their brain,” Maguire says, acknowledging that given her team has been eating a lot of cake in recent days perhaps a nap room wouldn’t go astray. Cake aside, no launch party is planned yet — the focus right now is on the significant logistical challenge of getting the site up and running.

The Huffington Post‘s launch team, not including Maguire and Wilkinson:

  • News editor Chris Paine began his career at the ABC, but comes to the Huffington Post after a brief stint at the Daily Mail and a longer stint at news.com.au;
  • News editor Nicolette Logue was most recently at Nine News but has spent most of her career at News Corp, as a reporter across politics and business at The Daily Telegraph;
  • Lifestyle editor Leigh Campbell was most recently a beauty director at Bauer;
  • Blogs editor Chris Harrison is a former News Corp property editor and award-winning author;
  • Aimee Rigas, the engagement editor, has worked at a range of Bauer Media women’s publications;
  • Video editor Tom Compagnoni has worked across video and photography at AAP;
  • Political editor Karen Barlow is a long-standing ABC political reporter, though she took redundancy as part of the Australia Network axing and briefly moved to SBS last year;
  • Senior associate editor Eoin Blackwell was most recently at AAP, and has been a foreign correspondent in PNG;
  • Associate video editor Emily Blatchford, who until recently was editor of IF (Inside Film) magazine;
  • Associate editor Josh Butler from the recently downsized Fairfax regional title the Illawarra Mercury;
  • Associate editor Cayla Dengate, who spent three weeks at mX before it was axed (she was at News Corp title the Manly Daily before that);
  • Associate editor Julia Naughton, currently a features editor at Cosmopolitan Magazine (joins the Huffington Post in a week); and
  • International editor Jacqueline Maddock, formerly of the ABC and Channel Ten, who is based in New York.

Peter Fray

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