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Arianna Huffington casts her Net ever wider. Arianna Huffington's life reads like a salacious Vanity Fair profile, the contradictions of her power splayed out on every glossy page, inviting controversy. She's a millionaire who built her Huffington Post online media empire - sold to AOL a year ago for $315 million - on the unpaid work of more than 9,000 bloggers, one of whom is now suing on their behalf for one-third of the value: $105 million. She was a conservative commentator in the 1990s who recycled herself as a freethinking independent (with strong liberal views) for the 21st century. She was married for a decade to a Republican congressman, Michael Huffington, who turned out to be bisexual and started campaigning for gay rights. Author of a dozen non-fiction books, she has been accused of plagiarizing passages for three of them (including biographies of Maria Callas and Pablo Picasso). Since last November, she's being sued by two consultants who say she stole the Huffington Post idea from them back in 2004 (it launched in 2005). What else? She's a woman who has come from far, has hobnobbed with the greats and is known by the company she keeps. A brief sketch of her career arc gives an idea of the distance travelled. Born in Greece (née Stasinopoúlou); educated in England (Cambridge University); longtime lover of the late British journalist Bernard Levin (who was twice her age and, for a spell, a fellow follower of the Indian mystic Rajneesh); a New Yorker since the early 1980s and U.S. citizen since 1990; political TV comedy writer in the 1990s who worked with Al Franken and Bill Maher; unsuccessful indie candidate for California governor in 2003; parent (with her ex, Michael) of two daughters, both now in their early 20s. These days, Huffington is in expansion mode, spreading her media brand - a blend of original reporting and aggregated news and opinion from websites all around the world - to Canada, Europe and beyond. With a staff of 200 employees and its thousands of bloggers, HuffingtonPost.com gets 35 million unique visitors a month, more than the New York Times. Huffington Post Canada, the service's first foreign edition, launched online last May and, with its staff of 20 and bloggers ranging from David Suzuki to Conrad Black, has a monthly audience of more than 1.8 million. A British edition launched last July, Le Huffington Post launched in France last week, Le Huffington Post Québec launches Wednesday, a Spanish edition will begin the third week of March and an Italian one in April. There are also negotiations to start three other foreign editions this year, in Germany, Brazil and Turkey. Huffington, 61, will be in Montreal Wednesday for the launch of the French-language service here. And, true to form, she'll arrive amid a bit of controversy. As The Gazette reported this week, about a dozen Quebec luminaries - politicians like Louise Harel and Pierre Curzi, intellectuals like Normand Baillargeon, environmental activists like Steven Guilbeault - had been lined up to blog for Huffington Québec but have now withdrawn their offers to write for free. Some said they were too busy, but the reason most gave was that they preferred to be paid for their work. When I caught up with her a week ago after the launch in France, Huffington was in a typically upbeat mood, deflecting criticism in her distinctive Greek accent and nasally voice that boomed down her BlackBerry line from Davos, Switzerland. She was attending a supper of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship on the eve of the annual meeting of global leaders at the World Economic Forum. I began by asking Huffington what she plans for the new Quebec site. How will Huffington Post Québec be different from Huffington Post Canada or Huffington Post in France? Every different province or country will be rooted in the culture of the province or country, edited by local journalists. Of course, we are going to be able to leverage the French site and translate stories that are of local interest, like the U.S. election, and lifestyle stories that are more universal. We now have 50 sections in the U.S. and whether it is in style or women or books or parenting, the whole point of the site is very much to embrace the country or the province - in this case, embracing Quebec and the Québécois and what they love. And what do the Québécois love? Do you know? There's isn't just one thing - it's a very varied community. Am I right about that? Yes, but we have certain preoccupations here that are different from the rest of Canada's. Yes, of course, and the Québécois want to read about their own politicians, which is why among the many bloggers we've recruited there's Pierre Curzi (note: who in fact has since bowed out), Yves-François Blanchet, Jamie Nichols, actors like Charlotte Laurier, Évelyne de la Chenelière (note: who has also bowed out), Micheline Lanctôt, musicians. So you know, part of it is hearing from their own people and part of it is addressing their own preoccupations. You're travelling a lot these days? I am, but I think it's worth it. This is the year for us to grow internationally and it's really exciting to be in each country as we launch. We've launched Canada, which is doing incredibly well; we're launching in the U.K., then there's Spain in maybe the third week of March, then Italy in April. We're still talking with Germany, Turkey and Brazil - we don't have finalized partnerships there, but we are in conversations. Tell me about the HuffPost business model - as an aggregator and also producer of original content, including nonpaid bloggers - and what that means for journalism in the 21st century. Well, first of all, the Huffington Post is now both a journalistic enterprise and a platform. You know, we started by doing a lot more aggregating, but now we have almost 400 professional full-time journalists - reporting, breaking stories. We are here, for example (in Davos), with our executive business editor (Peter S. Goodman), who has done some of the best coverage in the States around poverty and how this is impacting the Republican primaries; when we had our political reporter covering the primaries in South Carolina, (Goodman) was covering what was happening with the issue of downward mobility there, which has been one of the issues that hasn't been adequately covered, the fate of the middle class. So what I'm saying is that we don't just do the conventional reporting that we have to do, the bread and butter, covering what everybody's covering, like the State of the Union, or in the case of Quebec, I'm sure covering the Plan Nord, the plan to exploit natural resources in northern Quebec. Whatever the Arianna Huffington issues of the moment are, we'll have to cover them obsessively, because they're of tremendous interest. But we'll need to go to the big issues, and stay on them, and basically generate interest in them. That's what we've done with series like Beyond the Battlefield, which covers the state of the returning vets from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. So my point is that to describe the Huffington Post as just an aggregator now is just behind the times. You plan to have seven employees in Quebec. Will that grow over time? Of course. You know, when we launched the Huffington Post (U.S.) in May 2005, we had five staff. So the whole goal is to start small and grow, become profitable and attract advertising. In our case, that doesn't just mean advertising based on CPMs (cost per mile, or 1,000 visitors), but sponsorships, like an entire section we have now with Johnson & Johnson on global motherhood, and sponsorship of a good-news section, and sponsorship of a video series on social responsibility and, since the launch in France, sponsorships by L'Oréal and Orange. It's a different model. Our content is free, we don't have any plans to charge for anything, but the advertising that we bring in now moves way beyond the usual CPM model. How do you avoid the two coming too close together: sponsorship and what you're actually covering? Well, obviously that is very important and the key here is transparency. If we have a section that is sponsored, it transparently says so; there is no mixing up of the content, so no one is left in any doubt as to whether the section is sponsored or not. Tell me about yourself. Did you ever imagine you'd be flying around the world as a journalism executive? You mean when I was growing up in Athens, did I ever think one day I would become a blogger and that one day the Huffington Post would grow and make more babies around the world? No, I don't think so. Don't forget, I was pretty old when we launched the Huffington Post; I had already written a dozen books; I was 55 and now I'm 61. It shows that it's never too late to get involved with the Internet - or any start-up. What electronic devices do you use? I'm a BlackBerry addict. At the moment I have four BlackBerrys in front of me, because I have one for every provider for where I travel. I'm calling you on one. And of course, I have an iPad. But the one I really depend on is my BlackBerry. I have to send you a piece I wrote on the time I lost my BlackBerry in the Mediterranean. It fell into the sea. You just launched in France. How did the appointment of editorial director Anne Sinclair (ex-TF1 TV news host and wife of disgraced ex-International Monetary Fund managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn) go over with the media there? Oh, actually, amazing. We were all surprised by how positive the reception was at the press conference, where there were 260 journalists and two dozen cameras and television cameras. She's a professional journalist with tremendous cachet in France, and she herself had developed the business strategy of TF1 when she was there in the 1990s, and then had her own blog during the 2008 presidential race. Beyond that, I think there was something else that we were surprised by: If you go to her Facebook page in France, there are all these dozens of women who, even before we launched, came on her page and went (apropos of the DSK scandal): "Go, Anne, it makes it easier for us to get up after an ordeal and get back into the arena." Very often, especially for women, after a setback or a defeat or whatever it is, we want to hide ourselves under the covers. She instead has entered the arena again and been passionate and incredibly dedicated to learning everything and being involved in every aspect of the launch. You seem to have a knack for finding high-profile people to work for you. Is that part of the secret of your success? Well, we have high-profile people and we have thousands of people nobody had heard of before. And that's another thing that I love: being able to provide a platform to people who may already have their own blogs but who can cross paths with us and amplify their voices. A lot of the blogs we have in France now are people like Catherine Cerisey, who's tracking her own struggle with breast cancer, and suddenly this is getting all this traffic that is attracting attention to her own story. Arianna Huffington will launch Le Huffington Post Québec with a news conference Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. at the Gault Hotel in Old Montreal; she'll be joined by her Quebec editor, Patrick White, and two top executives of parent company AOL Canada. From noon to 2 p.m., she'll attend a luncheon at the Fairmount Queen Elizabeth Hotel and speak on How Social Media Are Transforming the World; the event is organized by CORIM (Montreal Council on Foreign Relations); tickets start at $75 and advance registration is required; for more details, visit http://www.corim.qc.ca. A WINDOW ON LE HUFFINGTON POST QUÉBEC Owned by: AOL Huffington Post Media Group Language: French Headquarters (until April): 24th floor of 1000 de la Gauchetière St., Montreal Editor: Patrick White Staff: 7 Freelancers: 15 Bloggers: 120 Some who will blog for free: Charlotte Laurier, Claude Carignan, Louis Bernard. Some who decided not to blog: Louise Harel, Jean Barbe, Évelyne de la Chenelière Launch date: Wednesday Expected audience: 200,000 unique visitors per month Percentage of Quebecers who have never heard of Huffington Post: 82 (November 2011 poll) Sources: Huffington Post, The Gazette Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Arianna+Huffington+casts+ever+wider/6101339/story.html#ixzz1lQYt06nG