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In Focus: How Breitbart Helped to Launch Huffington Post

“Andrew Breitbart, the hyperactive, charming, and divisive creator of Big Government and its sister sites who died today at 43, also served as the link between two of the dominant media forces of the last decade: The Drudge Report, which he helped run for years, and Huffington Post, where he was present — briefly — at the creation.

Breitbart’s role as Drudge’s right hand is well known; less public was his brief, memorable stint as one of four partners in the Huffington Post in 2005. It’s a story that hasn’t been told in great detail, but BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti, who also co-founded the Huffington Post with with the site’s namesake Arianna Huffington and media business figure Ken Lerer, recalled that period in an interview today.

Breitbart’s role later became contested — he brashly claimed total credit for “the plan,” which his former partners denied — but he was an unmissable presence in the Soho office that was for a time Huffington Post’s New York headquarters. There, for a month in the spring of 2005, he worked closely with Lerer (who is now Chairman of BuzzFeed), and Peretti, a graduate of MIT’s media lab, to launch the site.

“He taught us a lot of things early on,” Peretti said, recalling how Breitbart showed them key features of the media ecosystem. “He explained about looking at the British newspapers late at night because they would sometimes break news before the U.S. papers. He cared about getting links up seconds or minutes faster than other publications and was obsessive about that.”

Breitbart was also a font of ideas, not all of which made it into practice.

“He wanted every commenter to have to pay $1 to comment, and the dollar would go to charity but the user’s true identity would be authenticated through a credit card,” Peretti recalled, noting that the idea prefigures current attempts to authenticate identity online.

He also proposed “a phone number where celebrities could call in and leave voice blogs that would automatically appear on the site ,” Peretti recalled. “He wanted that built before launch, and launch was four days away.”

His creativity, as many who worked with him know, could be hard to contain.

“He was just incredibly difficult to have in the office – he was totally ADD and would jump from idea to idea. He would spend hours playing fantasy baseball during the day. He was incredibly good at fantasy baseball,” Peretti said, but then started talking to another Huffington Post employee about starting a fantasy baseball company amid the Huffington Post launch.

There were also also ideological tensions from the start….”

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