Monday, February 07, 2011
I've done a couple of phone interviews today and of course fielded a metric ton of e-mail looking for my reaction to the AOL-Huffington Post merger announced with great fanfare this morning.
To listen to Arianna explain it, the purchase of HuffPo by a company that's struggling for an ounce of cultural and technological relevance will align the new media stars; to listen to the reaction of the HuffPo peanut gallery, AOL will be nothing but an albatross around the neck of the site, watering it down politically until it's drowned altogether. The fear is that AOL, which almost since its inception has represented the doof-proof path of least resistance to the internet, will systematically crush the independent spirit of the Huffington Post under an avalanche of cookie-cutter banality. There are commenters already lamenting the fact that Arianna "sold out." News flash: If you think that, you seriously need to pull your head out of the clouds. Arianna Huffington has always been one thing above all else: a businesswoman. And her business just hit the jackpot to the tune of 315-million dollars. It's spectacular news for her and even better news for Roy Sekoff -- who's the unsung hero at HuffPo and an all-around terrific guy -- but what AOL's mothership status means for the future of the left and center-left's only real internet powerhouse is anyone's guess.
In a memo this morning that I have to assume went out to all the HuffPo contributors, Arianna talked about how the input of those who helped to make the site what it is today -- what made it worth this multi-million dollar buyout -- will continue to be valued as the new mega-media venture begins. For the moment anyway, we have no choice but to take her at her word; after all, she's apparently been doing something right all this time.
Of course given AOL's track record when it comes to mergers, this whole debate could be academic anyway. And the really big question still remains: Will Arianna's stable of bloggers continue to line up knowing that they're writing for a corporate media behemoth like AOL -- and that while they're working for free, Arianna just saw a 315-million dollar payday?
(On a personal note, I'll continue to contribute to HuffPo for a number of reasons -- my respect and admiration for both Arianna and Roy Sekoff being one and the fact that I cross-post my material here, often submitting it to Huffington as an afterthought, being another. But given my history, look for whatever I contribute from here on out to be decried by the HuffPo regulars as being the product of AOL's conservative puppet-mastery. Should be entertaining. Oh, and someone pointed out this little bit of irony today: The company that was once part of the company that fired me for blogging is now the owner of the site that I was blogging for when I got fired. And the circle of life continues.)
(Adding: Great quote from Gawker's legendarily idiosyncratic CEO Nick Denton -- who just became the last man standing in the independent media empire game -- on the AOL-HuffPo deal. As expected, he's appropriately barbed: "I’m disappointed in the Huffington Post. I thought Arianna Huffington and Kenny Lerer were reinventing news, rather than simply flipping to a flailing conglomerate. AOL has gathered so many of our rivals -- Huffington Post, Engadget, Techcrunch -- in one place. The question: Is this a fearsome Internet conglomerate or simply a roach motel for once lively websites?" No one can ever claim Denton minces words.)