09/15/2011 04:42 EDT | Updated 11/15/2011 05:12 EST

Arianna Huffington In Canada: Huffington Post Founder Says Canadian Media Need To Focus On Online

MONTREAL - Arianna Huffington says Canadian media companies should invest in digital platforms and not treat them as stepchildren to their print products.

The American online media mogul says that's a view U.S. news organizations have ignored in the past — to their detriment.

She recalled being told by journalists who broke a story at night that their editors would often decide to hold their scoop until the next day's newspaper so they could feature it on a front page.

Huffington said that story would have more clout if it were posted online immediately.

"If you have a story, print it," she said during her address to an annual convention of Quebec media firms. Huffington stressed that today's fast-paced world demands real-time information.

Huffington, who gave a speech and then took questions from the audience, complained that too many traditional media outlets treat their digital presence "as a stepchild."

As an example of how online has affected traditional media, Huffington asked her audience how many people had seen comedian Tina Fey do her famous imitation of former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Most of the people in the large hall raised their hands. Then Huffington asked how many had actually seen it when it was first broadcast on TV's "Saturday Night Live." Just a handful said they had, meaning most had noticed it on the Internet.

Huffington, who is a regular guest on U.S. talk shows, said companies shouldn't be shy about having a strong online presence.

"Promiscuity may not be good in a relationship but it's good online," she said.

Huffington, who has carved out a significant place as an opinion-shaper in the United States, held forth at length on how she started her Huffington Post site in 2005 and grew it to the point where it is now expanding worldwide. She continues to play a leading role, despite selling the organization for US$315 million to AOL.

After launching Huffington Post Canada earlier this year, she went on to start a UK version. Others are planned for Spain, Brazil, France and even Quebec.

She said there is a deep desire by people to be part of the world as it evolves and to participate in major events.

Huffington acknowledged that this can have a downside, such as rioters co-ordinating their activities during clashes in London a few months ago.

But she pointed out that many people who came out to clean up after the riots were also recruited online. She also cited the role of social media in rallying people in the push for democracy in the Middle East.

Huffington said that online communication is big because people are now seeking to connect with each other, often looking for ways to achieve personal happiness and success.

That desire to connect — and communicate — is reflected in the millions of comments posted online.

And she predicted this urge to connect will propel a desire for local news content on websites; she said people disillusioned by the actions of national politicians will be especially keen to improve their lives at the local level.

She also said smart media organizations shouldn't just put up pretty sites but should make them engaging through solid content and good writing and editing.

"If it doesn't encourage engagement, it belongs to the past," she said.

But she also said digital media companies can learn from the traditional news organizations in that they should provide fairness and accuracy in their reports and should carefully check their facts.

Huffington, who says she juggles three BlackBerrys, added that one of the big challenges ahead for people in the digital world will be how to get away from it, something she encouraged.

She said people need to connect with people offline as well as online and have to keep a balance in their life.

And that includes shutting off their devices or letting them charge in another room than where their owners are sleeping, for example.

Huffington said research has shown that people who snap awake in the middle of the night to check their electronic leashes have a less-satisfying quality of sleep when they go back to bed.

The Huffington Post creator says people should keep their daytime and nighttime lives separate.