Just about a year ago (11/11/11, to be exact), I was backstage at the OWN studios in Los Angeles with Sheri Salata, the network's president, referred to lovingly by Oprah as "The General." As Sheri prepared to oversee the TV/web simulcast of an episode of Oprah's Lifeclass, we chatted about how much the instant feedback loop provided by Facebook and other social media had added to the new series.
Later, I sat next to Sheri at the stage-side production table as she queued up incoming Facebook comments and guests joining via Skype for Oprah and her frequent co-host Iyanla Vanzant to interact with.
As I then watched Oprah effortlessly integrate her live audience with those joining online and via social media, I was struck by the realization that even though she'd been a dominant player on television for more than two decades, Oprah was, in fact, made for the Internet. She was about engagement and authenticity and connection long before the web discovered them. Oprah has always been about making connections, engaging her audience, and forming community -- all central parts of the online and social media experience. And I think Oprah saw it, too. After the webcast, she seemed truly excited about the instant and direct back-and-forth communication she'd just had with her audience -- even on deeply personal and painful issues, like the woman who Skyped in to talk about her addiction to a man who was abusive.
And since engagement is deeply embedded in the DNA of HuffPost as well, I'm delighted that, starting today, we're partnering with the Oprah Winfrey Network to bring some of Oprah's best content to the HuffPost platform -- a platform that just received its 200,000,000th comment. On the new HuffPost OWN section, we'll be working to enlarge and deepen the conversation on, as Oprah puts it, living our best lives.
And we will of course be reaching out across all demographics -- from teenagers to our Huff/Post 50 community. Conor White-Sullivan, our 24-year-old head of HuffPost Labs, summed up Oprah's appeal to all generations when he went to the Harpo studios in Chicago to watch her conduct a webcast for her Lifeclass series. "Oprah," he said, "is an engine of empathy. While I was sitting in that room I watched her create a safe space where people could pour their hearts out and share intimate details of their life with hundreds of thousands of strangers. I watched her seamlessly connect the live audience with the thousands of people tweeting or posting responses to their stories. A year after that trip to Chicago, it is a joy to see Oprah, one of the great American community builders, partner with HuffPost to help that community connect more than ever before."
For HuffPost and OWN, the common ground goes beyond our mutual commitment to social engagement. Just two months before I visited the OWN studios, Oprah sat down with Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg for a live chat. The revelations were honest, compelling and -- it has to be said -- a world away from what you might expect to hear from two male business leaders of similar stature. Running her own cable network was "a lot harder than I ever imagined," Oprah said. She recalled waking up in the middle of the night after The Oprah Winfrey Show ended its 25-year run and thinking, "Oh, this is what fear feels like." And she referred back to what Sandberg had told Barnard College graduates to ask themselves in her 2011 commencement address: "What would you do if you were not afraid?" That's the very heart of one of our core themes at HuffPost -- what does it mean to live fearlessly? We believe in it so much we have a dedicated section called Becoming Fearless.
HuffPost OWN will focus on the themes of self-empowerment, healthy living for the mind and body, relationships, and how to simplify our lives -- all seen through Oprah's unique perspective. Talking with Oprah after her interview with Sheryl Sandberg, I mentioned HuffPost's plan to launch a GPS for the Soul to help us course-correct and reconnect with ourselves. In fact, Oprah had been thinking about something similar and today, in her launch post, she writes: "More than ever we need to be in touch with our internal GPS -- the inner voice that knows right from wrong that's always guiding us true North. I want to use this fantastic web space to help point us there." And that's our intention, too, here at HuffPost -- to focus on what Oprah calls "our desire for something greater... to know the depth of our spiritual selves."
Don't miss today's stories, including a slideshow gift guide of Oprah's "Favorite Things" this holiday season, and tips on ways to live your best life, from identifying hidden causes of stress and exhaustion to optimizing your time at home and at work. There's also advice from Oprah's stable of experts, including Susan Cain on the secrets of super-successful introverts and sociologist Martha Beck on the power of laughter -- and, later this week, Eckhart Tolle on finding your peace and Deepak Chopra on what to do when you've been betrayed.
So check out HuffPost OWN. And since so much of the section -- and what Oprah does -- is about engagement, please use the comments section to let us know what you think.
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