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As it turns 5, should the Huffington Post be counted among the nation’s powerful media?

The Huffington Post recently marked its 5-year anniversary. The online news site and information aggregator now attracts more than 13 million unique visitors a month. That is not a typo. 13 million. More than the Washington Post or USA Today.

Do such numbers qualify “HuffPo” as a member of the powerful media club?

In a recent interview, founder Arianna Huffington described how her site slowly adopted the journalistic attributes commonly expected from her mainstream media counterparts.

“When we launched The Huffington Post, we were worlds apart. There was the legacy media that were very, very skeptical about blogging, or the future of online media. And there were the startups like The Huffington Post. Now The New York Times is doing a lot online. They’re doing a lot of great things online. And we are hiring more and more reporters.”

You know who else is hiring journalists in droves? AOL. The former web portal now employs more than 500 journalists. Not to be left behind, Yahoo is rushing to add to its newsgathering ranks as well. Each site gets millions of hits from a public with a seemingly insatiable appetite for information.

When I recently posted HuffPo’s online viewship on Facebook, a former Northeast Ohio journalist criticized the site for its news aggregation, culling the Web for stories to capture, repurpose and post.

“After all the hours and money we put into putting something original on our website, it’s considered a success when someone else takes it for free and puts it on their website,” said this editor, who works for a national media organization.

My former colleague’s frustration is genuine and understandable. Mainstream media pay their staff to produce the majority of quality journalism in this country. But his point doesn’t address the new dynamic that is emerging. Everyone and anyone can aggregate stories off the web, repackage them and sell the result. That is one of the reasons the universe of media is growing, not shrinking.

Add to the aggregation model the growing number of media utilizing submitted articles from citizen journalists and the nearly limitless supply of bloggers (present company included) and our nation’s total of news sources is in the millions. That is an encouraging, and scary, thought for those who value robust, yet fair and accurate debate of the issues.

“Those of us who recognize that the traditional tenets of journalism — fairness, accuracy, fact checking — need to prevail and be supplemented by all the new technical tools and the new citizen engagement are also going to survive and thrive,” Huffington predicted.

So, should the Huffington Post be counted among the most powerful of media?

Perhaps a better question is, who will be next to join the HuffPo in this once exclusive club?

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