Last night at Guardian News & Media's internal Future of Journalism conference, Arianna Huffington revealed that her Huffington Post property is planning to expand into local news. Initially, the site will launch an edited news aggregation site (similar to the main Huffington Post web site) localized for the US metro area around Chicago, Illinois. The site will be managed by a single editor to start. "We are aspiring to be a newspaper in that we want to covering all news [sic], not just the political blogging the way we began," Huffington said to the conference attendees.

Launched three years ago in May of 2005 as a politics-focused celebrity group blog, the Huffington Post has since grown up -- a lot. It added original reporting in November 2006, has taken $10 million in venture financing over 2 rounds, has expanded beyond politics to cover media, business, the environment, and other hot button issues, and is the most linked to blog on the web according to Technorati. Now HuffPo wants to taken on local newspapers.

That makes sense given that analysts have predicted that local ad spending will jump 48% this year to $12.6 billion. The majority of those ads will be search advertising, but clearly, local information is hot with consumers. We've written about the rise of hyperlocal information on ReadWriteWeb before -- Huffington and company are seeking to take advantage of this trend. They want to turn the Huffington Post into a national, virtual newspaper group -- think Gannett or McClatchy but completely online.

And that makes sense, too. A comScore study that we reported on in March revealed that 38% of those between the ages of 18 and 24 are unlikely to read a physical newspaper during a typical week, but non-news readers are still voracious consumers of news. They just get their news online -- and not just from traditional newspaper sites.

"Non-newspaper readers are a particularly important segment to reach because they are heavier than average news consumers - they just prefer to consume it in a digital format," said comScore executive vice president Jack Flanagan. "That they are receptive to print, TV, and Internet news brands indicates a broad opportunity online, but the brands that will ultimately win over these key news consumers are the ones that successfully integrate cutting edge digital content with high quality journalism." Clearly, that is a message that HuffPo gets -- their tag line is "The Internet Newspaper: News Blogs Video Community," and Arianna Huffington said last night that much of their venture funding will go toward building out a team of reporters. Last year they hired BBC reporter Elinor Shields to become the sites managing editor.

However, the Huffington Post is an edited aggregator -- a team of editors oversees the site and specifically decides what links get space on the sites, writes headlines by hand, selects images, etc. Last year I wrote for a competitor to the Huffington Post in the political news blogosphere, and from first hand experience I can tell you that it is hard work to gather and post news links and manage original and wire content. It will be interesting to see if HuffPo will be able to scale their local strategy to compete with automated local news aggregators like Outsite.in and YourStreet (our coverage).

Image credit: jdlasica