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Former HuffPo CEO Eric Hippeau on the future of media

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Published on Jun 17, 2014

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Eric Hippeau comes from a long line of journalists. He sounds French, loves America, and cut his teeth as an editor at an English-language paper in Brazil. But you may know him better as one of the few who has found a way to deliver popular content online and make money doing it. He sits on the board of the Huffington Post and served as its CEO leading into its acquisition by AOL. These days, he spends his time in the venture capital world in New York. Eric sat down with Jason at the Code Conference in Southern California. If you care at all about the future of media and journalism, do not miss this interview.

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Highlights:

0:50 How did you get into the media business?
2:03 EH: I got a job as a photojournalist. My father was an executive at UPI. I'm actually a 5th-generation journalist. It's kind of the family business. I was studying at the Sorbonne and left on a one-way ticket to Brazil where my parents were living.
4:30 EH: I ended up the editor-in-chief of this daily newspaper.
9:26 EH: Pat McGovern asked if I was interested in starting Computer World in Brazil. And we started editions in every major country in Latin America.
11:14 EH: I was ready to leave Brazil, and I told Pat [McGovern] I was coming to the US. And IDG had InfoWorld which needed to be repositioned because the PC had come out.
14:02 JC: Did you know the PC would be huge?
14:13 EH: We saw that it was an amazing productivity machine. The pace of change is much faster today. But it was the first time that we saw this rapid pace of change.
16:15 EH: So InfoWorld is repositioned. Throughout this period the folks at Ziff Davis were calling me and asking if I'd go work for them. Bill Ziff called me and said, 'We'd like you to be the publisher of PC Magazine.'
17ish LOTS of plane noise
18:36 JC: There was no world wide web yet.
19:09 EH: We had all these programs that we'd publish and people could retype in Basic. And then we were actually the first to publish them as downloads. One day Verizon just shuts us down because they said there was unusual traffic on the line, it doesn't sound like voice. I said, no it's data!
23:17 EH: Then the browser came and you could actually visualize it.
27:00 JC: So you're responsible for getting Masa into Yahoo. And Masa's responsible for getting Alibaba into Yahoo. So in a way all the money Marissa gets from Alibaba is thanks to you.
28:40 EH: You could argue Geocities was the very first social network.
28:56 JC: So you did a bunch of years of investing.
35:00 JC: Did you sell HuffPo too early?
37:42 JC: Why are you not afraid of content? Why is a good business?
38:02 EH: This is what I never understood about Yahoo, they ask, are we a content company or a technology company. Why can't you be both? We build technology companies that also require content.
39:46 JC: Why is it the golden age of content now, do you think?
40:00 JC: The criticism of content now is that it's schlocky or lower quality?
40:28 EH: Who is that arbiter of that, what is good? You do some of the cat pictures, you do real journalism.
41:29 EH: We have a field reporter in Ukraine, in the line of fire.
41:46 JC: Whose idea was it to mix the cat pictures with the Ukraine? I would not as a publisher go this direction.
42:30 EH: Jonah Perretti. Buzzfeed is well over 150m uniques. Because of the scale, it doesn't take much of a fraction of that audience to have more people reading the news on Ukraine on your platform over any other platform.
44:00 JC: If you were running it, would you send the New York Times in the direction of 'which Game of Thrones character are you?' quizzes?
44:40 EH: The big lesson for anyone in the content world is repurposing doesn't work. The way you tell the story is different.

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