Forces of Culture: Oprah’s Book Club and The Huffington Post

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey and Oprah’s Book Club

Oprah Winfrey‘s life story reads like the classic American dream, a tale from rags to riches. Born into poverty in Mississippi, Oprah became the most successful talk show host as well as one of the richest and most influential women in the world. She’s also known for being a philantropist, a producer, and now the owner of her own T.V. network. I think, however, that one of her biggest contributions to culture was starting Oprah’s Book Club in 1996  on her already very popular talk show, the Oprah Winfrey Show.  Each month Oprah and her team of editors selected a new novel to read and discuss on the show, introducing a total of 70 books in 15 years. In June 2012, Oprah started a new book club called Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 as a partnership between O: The Oprah Magazine and the new Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). You can see it on this link:

We live in an era multimedia sensory overload; an era in which reality T.V. has overtaken the networks and there’s little room–or time–for quality fiction. Oprah’s Book Club has been a force of culture, bringing into the limelight the “high culture” genre that usually has the least readership: literary fiction, including two of Jonathan Franzen‘s novels, The Corrections and Freedom and Jeffrey EugenidesMiddlesex. It has also stimulated an entire grass-roots culture of neighborhood book clubs, where friends and neighbors meet regularly, face to face, to discuss literature, socialize and catch up on their lives. I’m including below a link to Oprah’s Complete Book Club List:

Arianna Huffington and The Huffington Post

Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington‘s life isn’t a classic immigrant tale from rags to riches, since she comes from a well-off family with powerful connections. Her life is nevertheless the very inspiring success story of a woman who made the most out of the opportunities she had in life.  Named by Forbes Magazine in 2009 as one of the most influential women in media, Arianna Huffington was a very popular political commentator and syndicated columnist during the 1990’s. But her crowning achievement is founding The Huffington Post in 2005. The online media blog has thrived and expanded internationally, to include Le Huffington Post in France, Huffington Post UK, Huffington Post Canada and Huffington Post Quebec. Just as Conde Nast Publishing  and Hachette Publishing  have expanded with several magazines in Eastern Europe, including my native country Romania, I’m hoping that The Huffington Post will as well.

Discussing all aspects of art, entertainment, politics, crime and culture, the highly successful online blog was recently acquired by AOL in February 2011 for a whopping 315 million dollars. Part of The Huffington Post‘s enormous success stems from Arianna Huffington’s pull and connections with wealthy investors. To offer just one notable example, in August 2006, SoftBank Capital invested 5 milliion dollars in the company. However, its success can also be attributed to the high quality of its articles and the popularity of its over 9000 contributors. Without question, The Huffington Post gathered some of the best bloggers in every field it features. Moreover, the blog has not merely adapted, but also stayed one step ahead of the curve in its use of technology, recently introducing “vlogging“–or video blogging–which is taking off and making journalism even more multimedia and interactive.

It is remarkable, yet not surprising, that The Huffington Post is faring better than more traditional newspapers, such as The New York Times, which has been experiencing a steady decline in advertising revenue and was obliged starting March 2011 to start charging for online subscriptions (via instituting a “paywall,” which began paying off by the spring of 2012). The Huffington Post’s quality of journalism is excellent, selected from a very large pool of contributors who are some of the best and most popular in their domains. Because of the variety and quantity of its articles, The Huffington Post also avoids cliquishness (as much as possible in a networking-driven domain). Its guest contributors are often selected because they’re already successful bloggers with mass appeal. However, whether you regard the popularity of blogs over more traditional print journalism as a positive development or not, it’s clear that it’s the wave of the present and maybe also the future. Blogging has changed the publishing industry, particularly journalism, just as the travel industry has been changed as a result of people booking their flights online. Arianna Huffington saw into the future of mass media communication and made it our present. In terms of content, The Huffington Post treads perfectly the balance between reaching a general audience and engaging, well-written pieces. It offers culture with a mainstream appeal: the only kind, I believe, likely to make a big impact in our times.

Claudia Moscovici, Literature Salon

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