AOL and HuffPo: A Marriage Made on Wall Street

Let us not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

The marriage of AOL (nee America Online) and the Huffington Post (HuffPo) has everything – the Grecian beauty, a mighty titan brought to its fiscal knees, a public thirst for human drama midst economic and technological chaos.  The coupling puts an irresistible human face on mergers, buy-outs, and the sorting out of chain of command.  The unfolding saga illustrates the tension between medium and message that has plagued humankind before and since Marshall McLuhan gave it a name in the bygone 60’s.   And the anticipated role of Arianna of HuffPo affords content the dignity and status it has so long deserved.

AOL, the suitor known only by its nondescript acronym, has floundered in the fiercely competitive digital arena.  Since its separation from fab;ed Time-Warner in 2009 AOL has launched vigorous forays into blogs on such irresistible topics as music, sports, and popular culture.  AOL has tried selling local and display advertising and embraced the promise of Patch.  Still the charms of AOL have failed to woo sufficient users – the fickle fools – to pay the bills.  In spite of its fiscal financial flaw, or because of that flaw,  AOL was at the ready to put $315 million on the line to acquire HuffPo.

HuffPo clearly comes with a substantial dowry including expertise and experience with social media – As Goldstein and Rainey note in Envelope, an LA Times publication: “Friends can use Facebook and Twitter to find out what friends are reading. It’s not uncommon to find stories replayed on HuffPo getting far more traffic than they did at the originating site, though links connect to the same source.´  Still, the piece de resistance offered by HuffPo is the public presence of Arianna Huffington who is no doubt better known than the content of her digital newspaper.   In spite of its popularity HuffPo has been severely chastised for straying from the path of journalistic virtue.  Though recent editorial changes have generated an infusion of original content created by professional journalists on staff, HuffPo still suffers from the charge that it has begged and borrowed just too much content.

As voyeuristic observers of the unfolding drama we who care deeply about the players are drawn to conjecture.  Can the digital pioneer AOL make a profit on ts $315 million investment?  Can HuffPo maintain its integrity and meet the insatiable content demands of its users without risking its avowed commitment to quality journalism and commentary.  Jesse Singal writing in The Angle offers a cautionary note:  “With Huffington taking over day-to-day editorial operations of the AOL/HuffPo behemoth, the question becomes whether she can graft some sort of personality or soul into AOL, or whether the endless pressure to produce page views at the expense of quality and tone will win out and further adulterate both brands.”

My fervent hope is that Arianna Huffington will hit the ground running by setting priorities that favor high quality content — then ordering mugs and t-shirts that paraphrase the Clintonian mantra:  “It’s the content, stupid.”

And yet, as the Bard, ne’er at a loss for words, reminds us::

“Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.”

(William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116)








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