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NEW YORK – Arianna Huffington will resurrect the Shadow Conventions to parallel the Republican and Democratic national conventions in Tampa, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C., later this summer. The Shadow Conventions – and the presidential election in general – will be a defining event for HuffPost Live, the streaming network set to launch later this summer with 12 hours of live streaming programming five days a week.
HuffPost executives have yet to finalize participants for the Shadow Conventions, which Huffington along with a handful of nonprofit and interest groups first launched during the 2000 presidential election. In 2000, the series of grassroots events organized as an alternative to the highly scripted national political conventions, counted Sen. John McCain (whose bid for the Republican nomination had already been torpedoed), Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Jesse Jackson, Warren Beatty and Huffington Post bloggers Bill Maher and Harry Shearer among the participants. As in 2000, the Shadow Conventions will take place in the same location as the RNC and DNC conventions. But this time, they will all be streamed live.
Announced last February as Huffington Post Streaming Network, HuffPost Live has been called cable news on the Internet. And certainly many online and print news organizations including The New York TImes, Wall Street Journal and Newsweek/Daily Beast have already expanded into original video. But Roy Sekoff, a founding editor of Huffington Post who has been spearheading the streaming networks, says “it’s not CNN.” There will be no breaking news alerts, rote coverage of big events or roundtables featuring the usual media suspects.
“We’re not a news network. We’re conversations about the news,” he says. “And we’re not doing television talk. We want to have real conversations. What we’re going for is the most social video experience anywhere.”
HuffPost Live will bring its extremely active community of users – HufingtonPost.com generated 54 million comments in 2011 – into the video conversation.
“We’re bringing the community front and center in everything we do,” says Sekoff. “That’s been the biggest evolution since February. I think that’s where we realize our game is. So everything we’ve done from a design standpoint, from a philosophical standpoint is to do just that because that’s one of our great value adds.”
But Sekoff cautions that HuffPost Live will not be Chatroulette, either. The 100-person HuffPost Live newsroom – which is being constructed at parent company AOL’s headquarters in New York (there will also be a studio at AOL in Los Angeles) – will include producers tasked with screening prospective participants.
“We’re not letting just anybody who walks in the door on,” says Sekoff. “All of our segments will be really well produced.”
The New York studio will have multiple stations including a sofa, a staple of late-night talk shows, to facilitate organic conversation. And Sekoff hopes to leverage the partnership with AOL to seed HuffPost Live with the kind of A-list guests that are featured on AOL’s popular “You’ve Got …” short form video series.
Meanwhile, Sekoff and his team are close to filling out the HuffPost Live employee ranks. They’ve auditioned over 250 people for on-air positions and have already hired several host-producers.
“We wanted to get a real mix of people who have worked in traditional media and who have not worked in traditional media,” he says. “And the people who have worked in traditional media, we wanted them to be tired of that and ready to turn it on its ear.”
HuffPost Live host-producers include Ahmed Shihab-Eldin (formerly of Al Jazeera English), Alicia Menendez (political commentator and daughter of Robert Menendez, Democratic senator representing New Jersey), Columbia professor Marc Lamont Hill, Australian political satirist Josh Zepps, Jacob Soboroff (who covered the GOP presidential primary for MTV News), Huffington Post Supreme Court correspondent Mike Sacks and most recently, Abby Huntsman, the middle (and most telegenic) of Jon Huntsman’s three daughters. And Huffington Post’s famous bloggers, such as Alec Baldwin, James Franco and Ricky Gervais will have what in company nomenclature is called a “hall pass,” meaning they can stop by the HuffPost Live studio (in person or via video) any time they want. Asked if he’s reached out to any of the site’s famous regulars, Sekoff says: “We’ve got time for that. We’ve been focused on the build and making sure the technology is really kick-ass and the apps are really great.”
“We’ve hired people from CNN, MSNBC, Reuters, The Onion, Al Jazeera, ABC,” he adds. “Almost everybody that we’ve hired has left a good job to join us.”
Asked why he didn’t hire all three of the erstwhile GOP presidential candidate’s daughters, Sekoff cracked: “We didn’t think they would all fit on the couch.”
Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com; Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie
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