Huffpost and AOL: Everything old is new again

by Karoli on February 7, 2011 · 10 comments

Faces of Blogher - Arianna Huffington
As a survivor of AOL mergers past, all I can say is “best of luck. To all of you.” I could have told you Arianna Huffington was in it for the money and little else, and you will now see a big shift from politics and news to entertainment and garbage. It’s been heading that way anyway.

via The Daily Beast:

No doubt Hippeau and Lerer and Huffington were drinking champagne last night, but the truth is, this deal is not a victory for either side. It’s a slow-motion train wreck and will end in disaster.

Listen to Nick Denton, who runs Gawker, which now becomes the biggest independent Web-based news outlet. “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,” he told me.

Denton insists he has no intention of ever selling Gawker, and he seems not-so-secretly pleased to see his opponents cashing out: “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?”

The myth of Arianna Huffington as populist progressive is just that — myth. She started out conservative, she was married to a rich conservative, and she came out of the marriage with plenty of money and was hunting for a niche. She found one in 2006 with the idea of a big aggregator, which was all the Huffington Post was at that time. As long-term readers will recall, I called her out in the very beginning for her faked, plagiarized posts, and though I softened my opinion of her later on, she has managed over the past two years to push me back toward my original thinking about her.

Even as she profited much from her book bemoaning the decline of the middle class, she was not paying writers for their content published on her site. $30 million of profit in 2010 made on the backs of the writers who published their content on the promise of prominence. I wonder how many of those same writers are really, really thrilled about the prospect of working for AOL for free. I’m guessing not many.

I will give her this: In 2008, she did a good job of providing a platform for true progressives to be heard, something the left wing really doesn’t have. We have a lot of great blogs and sites out there (some that even get decent traffic, like Crooks and Liars and Balloon Juice), but nothing aggregating them (certainly not memeorandum, who seems to tilt farther right every day) or highlighting great thinkers. So we all scratch for the ad dollars and donations where we can, and try to get by in the hopes that at some point there actually WILL be a site that can compete with the likes of some of these other blogs.

What I also find interesting is the reaction across the board to AOL’s acquisition. It seems to think Huffpost was purchased for content. I assure you, it wasn’t the content. There were other, cheaper ways to get the content. And it wasn’t the traffic or ad impressions. It was the community. Huffpost did a terrific job of building community around Facebook and Twitter integration, so that a post on that site could go viral almost immediately via linkage back and forth between the social sites and the main site. Comments sent to Twitter and Facebook. Facebook discussions sent back to the comments. Twitter mentions as well. Huffpost did this first and best, forcing other sites to follow suit. As a result, they were able to build a strong, thriving community with tentacles out to social networks, other blogs, and robust discussions.

Of course, back in the day before AOL was acquired by Time-Warner, their communities were their hallmark, for better or worse. AOL built itself on its community structure, and then pivoted to kill all the communities (including Time-Warner’s, like CNN interactive). After the inevitable decline, separation from the Time-Warner brand and (sort of) reinvention, AOL is on an acquisition spree, with Techcrunch, Engadget, and now Huffington Post. In all three cases, community was as much a part of the brand as content. In Huffington’s case, community really is more of the brand than content, given how much of their content is really aggregated from other sites or written for free.

So it’s full circle for AOL. First, kill the community. Suffer the inevitable decline. Then reconstitute it by acquiring already-robust communities. Everything old is new again, and as consolidation continues, those of us who remain independent voices will still be here to counter the corporate media that is now Huffington Post along with the rest of them.

On the upside, though…Mike Arrington now works for Arianna Huffington. I’ll bet we’ll be able to see the fireworks across California.

Update: Oh, this from Politico, direct from Arianna’s mouth:

“We don’t see ourselves as left,” she told POLITICO. “And I think it’s one area where news consumers are ahead of the media, because they know that continuing to see everything that’s happening as a right-left issue is missing what’s happening, and is also making it much harder for us to be properly informed.”

Some on the left worry that the sale to AOL could mean an end to HuffPost in its current incarnation — away from its roots in the progressive community, which were its first bloggers, commenters and readers, and toward a more middle-of-the-road posture, to make it more broadly appealing.

But Huffington insists that’s no change at all, and that the transition away from progressive politics has been underway for some time. In a conference call Monday morning, she pointed out that politics, once central to its brand, now makes up only 15 percent of traffic on the site, which has recently added sections dedicated to topics like college life and divorce.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0211/49006.html#ixzz1DJKEUYhb

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Willie Fife February 7, 2011 at 10:13 pm

AOL is like the BORG! thats all that need be said.

2 GN February 8, 2011 at 12:16 am

Not. surprised.

3 Dusty, Hells most vocal bitch. February 8, 2011 at 12:29 am

Good commentary Karoli! I like your take on this. HuffPo lost my interest quite a while ago. Lindsey Lohan isn’t news that I am interested in.

4 OsborneInk February 8, 2011 at 1:28 am

Arianna shared armpit-cooties with Newt Gingrich. That’s all I needed to know; unfortunately, I was *IN* California for Mike Huffington’s expensive Senate race and then his coming-out after the loss, so the image of Arianna as wingnut conservative was burned into my mind long before she had a website.

5 Don Formica February 8, 2011 at 2:41 am

A perfect union, two former titans of the internet now both are irrelevant.
In related news Compuserve and Newsweek to be purchased by TMZ.

6 Anonymous February 8, 2011 at 6:14 am

Hahaha. I got some choice words for the idiots who attacked me during the health care debate for daring to suggest that Arianna Huffington wasn’t a friend of progressives.

7 Anonymous February 8, 2011 at 7:07 am

Finally the truth comes out! So, this icon of progressives left, who is routinely trotted out by the MSM to criticize President Obama for not being progressive enough, now tells us : “We [the Huff Post] don’t see ourselves as left….” I am glad that I never bought into her fake progressivism because I remembered how she aggressively championed, along with her fellow right wingers, the impeachment of President Clinton.

8 Nancy February 8, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Thanks for saying what I’ve known for years. Huffington is but one thing — an opportunist.

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