02/08/2012 11:36 EST | Updated 04/09/2012 05:12 EDT

Huffington Post launches distinct Quebec edition of online news outlet

MONTREAL - Arianna Huffington launched Quebec's very own edition of the Huffington Post on Wednesday, making Canada the first country to have two versions of the online news website.

The American new-media mogul believes the province is distinct enough to have its own Huffington Post.

"For us to be able to cover Canada properly, we need to also cover Quebec — with its own identity, its own culture, its own language and its incredible vibrancy around creativity," she told reporters in Montreal after addressing a business luncheon.

The speech was part of Huffington's media blitz in the city to promote the launch of the French-only Le Huffington Post Quebec.

"We promise that Le Huffington Post Quebec is going to be all in French and is going to be all about the things that matter to Quebecers in terms of culture, identity," Huffington told around 500 people during a 25-minute speech to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations.

The company, which opened the news site in 2005, says its Quebec website will be a powerful collaborator with the HuffPost's eight-month-old Canadian venture.

The provincial venture has already had to deal with one distinct headache.

The company's Quebec edition made headlines recently when several left-leaning politicians and activists who had signed on to write blogs for free reportedly quit amid controversy. The free blogs drew criticism that the contributions would weaken local journalism and drive down worker salaries.

On Wednesday, Huffington called this issue a misunderstanding about the interactive character of the Huffington Post, and blogging in general.

She said that millions of people around the world author opinion blogs for free, including contributors to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

"This is just the nature of the Internet," said Huffington, who delivered an invitation to business leaders in the crowd — from the microphone — to write blogs for the outlet.

"People who want to express their views, who want to be heard, will use any platform. I was on multiple radio shows this morning, I'm here with you because you're providing me with a platform to express my views — you're not paying me."

This wasn't the first time the company's use of free bloggers has created a dispute.

AOL bought the Huffington Post last March for US$315 million — a deal that prompted one of its bloggers, Jonathan Tasini, to sue the companies for not paying freelance contributors while earning financial benefits from their work.

Tasini's suit, filed last April on behalf of the company's 9,000 writers and other content providers, seeks at least $105 million in damages.

The Quebec publication already has 120 bloggers in its stable, said editor-in-chief Patrick White.

The first-ever edition of Le Huffington Post Quebec featured blog posts by lawyers, activists and even Haitian President Michel Martelly. It also contained original work by a handful of journalists.

White predicted the venture would take off in Quebec much like it did in English Canada, where he said the Huffington Post started attracting more unique visitors than the National Post's website a couple of months ago.

"Our objective is to offer the best of the web to Quebecers regardless of where they come from and allow them to share and comment," White said before introducing Huffington at the luncheon.

Communication experts say while it's too early to know whether Huffington Post will succeed in a small market like Quebec, the website's success elsewhere has already triggered change among traditional media in a province that has lagged behind when it comes to online innovation.

"It's shaking up the media landscape (in Quebec) a little bit," said Colette Brin, a communications professor from Universite Laval in Quebec City.

"It pushes other media to do better, to be a little bit more proactive in their use of the web."

Le Huffington Post Quebec is the company's second foreign-language operation.

It follows a French edition unveiled in Paris last month, a version that is expected to share content with the Quebec edition. After launching Huffington Post Canada last year, Huffington went on to start a UK version. Others are planned for Spain, Italy and Brazil.

She said Wednesday that the response in Canada has so far been a pleasant surprise.

"The most surprising thing has been how willing people are to participate and engage, even though there are still people who don't understand the nature of our platform."