It was a chilly Wednesday when the MS in Publishing students arrived at 229 West 43rd Street, the headquarters of Buzzfeed, HuffPost, and Complex networks, but we were warmed by our excitement. Upstairs, we were received by the Head of Operations, Marta Rodriguez, and Operations Associate, Alexandra Niforos, who were incredibly sunny and genial in their welcome. They ushered us into a conference room to be greeted by HuffPost's Editor-in-Chief, Danielle Belton, who led us on a tour of their offices.
We walked through bright and light-filled workspaces, meeting rooms (each named after a renowned hip-hop album), and studios, where some of our favorite online series, such as "Hot Ones," are filmed. She regaled us with stories of her celebrity encounters and mentioned how surreal it can be to run into famous people at work. Between the spacious environment, the quirky decor, which included a large, golden throne, a bookcase loaded with sneakers, portraits of musical icons, and an office ice cream machine, Complex HQ cemented itself as maybe the coolest office I have ever had the pleasure of visiting.
Danielle led us to a presentation space and invited us to sit on the tiered seating. She spoke about her life, the experiences that molded her, and the winding path her career has taken, which ultimately brought her to her current position, in which she said she could not be happier. Danielle took an interest in journalism at a young age, and though she initially dreamed of becoming a humor columnist (just like her childhood idol, Dave Barry), when she enrolled in Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, she decided to pursue a degree in journalism. Eventually, she even served as the Editor-in-Chief of the college newspaper.
After graduating, Danielle returned to her hometown of St. Louis and founded a political pop-culture blog called The Black Snob. The blog took off, opening up new opportunities, including high-profile interviews, appearances on television programs, and job offers. Danielle ultimately joined The Root, where she rose to Editor-in-Chief, until 2019, when she was offered the position at HuffPost. Danielle was proud to inform us that HuffPost is historically a women-led organization. She is the third of three people to ever hold the position of Editor-in-Chief, all of whom have been women.
Danielle shared a typical day (spoilers: many meetings!) and gave a bit of insight into the culture of collaboration at HuffPost. Collaboration, not competition! As Editor-in-Chief, Danielle puts her writers first. She respects their boundaries and gives them the space to be creative. “For writers to do their best work, they need to have freedom,” Danielle said.
For the next segment of the town hall, Belton was joined by three HuffPost staff members: Kristen Aiken, the Head of Life and Commerce; Erin E. Evans, the Senior Editor of Culture; and Noah Michelson, the Head of HuffPost Personal. Each one gave us a brief bird’s-eye view of the work they do at HuffPost before addressing questions raised by the students. Throughout the session, the speakers discussed everything from advice for people starting out in the media industry, to striking a balance between facts and opinions in their writing, to the impact of social media on digital publishing.
As our visit to the HuffPost office drew to a close, we were able to take a picture with Belton, Aiken, Evans, and Michelson. We were also gifted water bottles bearing the HuffPost logo and ice-cold cans of seltzer.
This opportunity to meet HuffPost staff members will undoubtedly be a memorable experience for me and the rest of our group. It was a privilege to meet seasoned professionals who are clearly passionate about their work and so open to sharing their knowledge. In a time when the digital media publishing industry seems so unstable and volatile, knowing that there are people like Belton, Aiken, Evans, and Michelson doing great journalism is a massive source of comfort for those of us dreaming of building our own publishing careers.
Kate Borbon is an MS in Publishing student. Originally from the Philippines, she has previously worked in digital media and marketing but aims to become a book editor and published author. She enjoys historical dramas, going to the gym, and drinking (way too much) coffee.