Arianna planning “citizen journalism” expansion at AOL

posted at 2:55 pm on February 8, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Greg Sargent scores an interview with Arianna Huffington, who got $315 million in a sale of Huffington Post to AOL as well as complete control of AOL’s content.  She has plans for that power, Sargent reports at the Washington Post.  She hopes to turn AOL into a center of “citizen journalism” in advance of the 2012 elections:

Arianna Huffington is planning to use AOL’s infrastructure to launch a major expansion of citizen journalism in advance of the 2012 presidential campaign, she tells me in an interview, sharing new details about her vision of expanded political coverage in the wake of the merger with AOL.

Huffington described her plan as “Jeffersonian,” and she says she plans to use AOL’s Web site Patch.com, a network of sites that cover local news at the granular level, as a vehicle for expansion modeled on HuffingtonPost’s 2008 “Off the Bus” coverage. “Off the Bus” made a splash when candidate Barack Obama was caught on tape suggesting that economically distressed voters are “bitter” and “cling to guns or religion,” and if Huffington has her way, she will oversee a massive increase in such coverage next year.

“We are going to dramatically accelerate this in 2012,” said Huffington, who discussed the idea on a conference call yesterday with Patch.com employees. “We will have thousands and thousands of people covering the election. Covering the Repulicans. Covering the Democrats. Just being transparent about it.”

Howard Kurtz reports that the HuffPo’s readers aren’t terribly thrilled with the corporate buyout:

Within hours after the merger was announced, Huffington Post readers had even made a game of one-upping each other with metaphors that conveyed the depth of their despair about the sale. “This feels like walking into my credit union only to find out it was bought by Bank of America,” one said. “[It’s] like Carol Channing taking over for Fergie in the Black Eyed Peas. Legendary, but past the expiration date by about 10 years,” another lamented. A user with the tech analogy might have been the closest to the broader sentiment: “It’s like Friendster buying Facebook.”

Readers were concerned about what they almost unanimously perceive to be AOL’s conservative bias (the deeply political undercurrent of the comments raises the question of whether The Huffington Post might have a Silent Majority too cowed to post). But some expressed faith in Arianna Huffington to continue to represent liberal values. “She’s proven herself to be a defender of progressive thought and her work in that realm gives her all of the capital [she deserves] to move this site in the direction that she deems best,” one wrote. Others were even optimistic that the AOL partnership might expand the site’s reach: “Maybe a long shot, but still, with the promise of more local areas reached, HuffPost will enter some of these red enclaves and bring a little blue in there.” One commenter said they hoped AOL might fund more investigative journalism.

“Funding” investigative journalism is probably not in the cards for a couple of reasons.  First, Kurtz briefly notes the controversy over the Huffington Post’s economic model of getting most of their content for free, paying only a few writers, mostly celebrities, for their content.  The push for “citizen journalists” sounds like more of the same.  That can’t please the current roster of paid journalists at AOL’s Politics Daily, whose value at the remade AOL will drop rapidly as free content floods the site.

In fact, less than two years ago, Politics Daily dumped most of its blog-friendly writers in a shake-up designed to create a professional, balanced image for AOL content.  Politics Daily editor Melinda Henneberger told me at that time that AOL wanted to present a solid journalistic tone, and that it had hired established journalists for that purpose:

Henneberger wants AOL-PD to reflect “traditional journalistic values” and “absolutely” a traditional journalistic model.  This isn’t ideological; she wants opinions, when they get published, are “well supported, well written” and worked through the editorial model.  There are “a million places” where you can get the alternative, but she wants a “respectful” dialogue.  They want a news/opinion magazine, not a blog, in the same model as Newsweek or Time, but built for the on-line audience rather than just as the website for a print-directed periodical.

AOL will be launching more of these on-line sites; they want to be the new model for journalism.  Henneberger called it a “preservation society”, half-joking.  They will be sending a reporter to Afghanistan to cover the war, and AOL wants to establish itself as a vanguard of the new economic model for the traditional journalistic model.  Staffers have to commit to the traditional journalistic model and practices to be a part of AOL-PD, Henneberger says, in order to build their credibility as the next iteration of journalism.

Huffington has signaled that the journalistic paradigm is now essentially dead at AOL — and at least some of the journalists there are not happy at all to see it.  Some resentment has been expressed at falling under the editorial control of a political activist rather than a traditional editor, according to one source close to the situation.  The fear among the current stable is that Arianna Huffington will transform AOL into a base for her political activism, and that fear is not limited to the center-right writers currently employed there.  Matt Lewis has already left for the Daily Caller and wrote his valediction at Politics Daily, expressing his discomfort at the U-turn taken by AOL:

PD remains a unique place on the Web, where diverse and often nuanced opinions are welcomed and encouraged — and where civil debate over incredibly serious (and occasionally trivial) political ideas and news takes place on a daily basis.

But while I have loved my tenure at PD, recent news that AOL had acquired The Huffington Post — and that Arianna Huffington would become editor in chief of many AOL sites — alarmed me.

I’ve met Ms. Huffington exactly once — on the set of “Nightline’s” election night coverage. She could not have been kinder. Additionally, I have even authored an article or two for her site (on tech issues) over the years. This is all to say that I have no personal issue with Ms. Huffington, and that I am not a “Huff-hater.”

However, writing a guest post is different from working for someone, and it occurs to me that AOL has vastly underestimated the public perception (I would argue the accurate impression) that Huffington is a far-left liberal.

Obviously, I am more than happy to write for a mainstream news outlet where differing opinions are allowed to flourish, but I am less comfortable with the notion of being permanently affiliated with an overtly left-of-center (sometimes activist) outlet.

Secondly, there probably won’t be much cash left for funding any journalism projects.  The size of the buyout will come close to tapping out any AOL capital that could possibly be used for such a purpose.  Normally, buyouts are predicated on a multiple of revenue that goes from 36 to 60 months, or from eight to twelve times annual earnings (profit rather than revenue) for Internet properties.  Reuters wondered about the financials of this deal:

The move, announced Monday, comes at a hefty premium. AOL is estimated to be paying 32 times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization for The Huffington Post, said Benchmark Co analyst Clayton Moran.

Similar content deals, such as Hellman & Friedman’s acquisition of Internet Brands in September 2010, typically go for eight to 12 times earnings, said Moran.

“AOL just spent 40 percent of their cash for very little near-term return,” said Moran.

AOL expects Huffington Post to generate around $10 million in profit before interest and taxes and see savings of around $20 million meaning it would be valued at around 10 times 2011 profits.

That would assume that revenue at HuffPo was somewhere close to $60 million a year or profits consistently at $25 million, both of which are possible but seem high, especially since HuffPo announced last year that it finally entered into an operational profit after several years in the red.  It will take AOL a long time to recoup this expenditure, and even longer if they can’t significantly add to their readership.  However, they can add to their profitability — by adding thousands of writers to contribute content for free, with thousands of new pages a year on which to sell ads.

AOL investors appear to share this skepticism about the venture.  As of this afternoon, AOL was trading near its 52-week low; it has dropped more than three dollars a share from a month-long high on January 27th, and down more than a dollar and a half since the HuffPo announcement early yesterday.  With its market capitalization dropping — now down to $2.2 billion, just seven times what Huffington got paid for the merger — money will be tight around the office for a very long time.


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Yep…she has 6,000 unpaid Writers At Huffpo… and she wants MORE FREE CONTENT… Bwahahahahahaha.. wonder if she is gonna take Barry’s Advice and let’em share in the 300 million….don’t hold ya breath

roflmao

donabernathy on February 8, 2011 at 2:59 PM

She hopes to turn AOL into a center of “citizen astroturf journalism” in advance of the 2012 elections:

darwin on February 8, 2011 at 2:59 PM

Hey Bloggers of Huff-Poo…. maybe it is time to “ask” for a raise?

upinak on February 8, 2011 at 3:00 PM

I can see the pieces now … “I’m a conservative, but I really think Obama is on the right path, blah, blah, blah”

darwin on February 8, 2011 at 3:01 PM

Huffington described her plan as “Jeffersonian,”

Paling around with a white, racist, misogynistic, rapist slaveholder is no way to endear yourself to your Leftist buddies, Arianna.

Bruno Strozek on February 8, 2011 at 3:01 PM

AOL runs Demand Media, which uses offshore piece-rate journalists to write keyword-rich fluff to get search engine ranking. Huffpo looks like an attempt to undercut the offshore people with free labor.

pedestrian on February 8, 2011 at 3:02 PM

Yeah. She gets umpty-ump million, the people who create her content (mostly) get nothing. She sold it out from under them, and she thinks new indentured servants are going to line up for a piece of that action?

I
think
not.

S. Weasel on February 8, 2011 at 3:05 PM

I suspected — Oh boy, it all makes sense now … go back and look at the Comcast deal, the government forced that the local news carry propaganda. So here comes Huff and here citizen journalism propaganda outfit.

The left never ceases to amaze in their deviousness.

tarpon on February 8, 2011 at 3:06 PM

So, AOL, how did that whole Time-Warner merger work out for you?

I do have a Netscape email account. I go to AOL for that and to get tv listings. This isn’t going to increase my traffic there.

rbj on February 8, 2011 at 3:06 PM

The more I read, the more this sounds like a cluster. But AH has surprised me before and the progressives are, well, ideological and probably not likely to stray from AH.

Bruno Strozek on February 8, 2011 at 3:01 PM
I don’t know what you are talking about Bruno, most of those terms are ok with today’s left. They won’t come out and say they are ok but by their actions it is apparent.

ORconservative on February 8, 2011 at 3:07 PM

“Citizen Journalism” code word for “Librul”

Sven on February 8, 2011 at 3:08 PM

The crazies have taken over the asylum.

portlandon on February 8, 2011 at 3:09 PM

Ah, AOL. Was pretty fun back in the day actually. ’96-’97.

I used to love Metasquares, fun game.

I still have my original email. I check it about once a year.

I do love the stories calling Zsa Zsa an entrepreneur, though. I didn’t realize that word was translated to gold digger.

reaganaut on February 8, 2011 at 3:10 PM

her first web address out of the box today was something about getting more sleep and health or something…?..

*groundbreaking* i know//

ted c on February 8, 2011 at 3:11 PM

The danger I see is this: casual web browser sees an “article” about Obama on AOL. That person doesn’t know who Huffington is or that AOL is now HuffPo. But he reads about how wonderful Obama is doing and how mean those Republicans are. Since it’s AOL, it must be true since AOL is a large, well known respected website. Rinse and repeat about 100,000 times in 2012.

angryed on February 8, 2011 at 3:11 PM

Yep…she has 6,000 unpaid Writers At Huffpo… and she wants MORE FREE CONTENT… Bwahahahahahaha.. wonder if she is gonna take Barry’s Advice and let’em share in the 300 million….don’t hold ya breath

roflmao

donabernathy on February 8, 2011 at 2:59 PM

Maybe they should unionize. Give ‘em a couple decades and they could destroy AOL/HuffPo the same way they destroyed the US auto industry.

Scrappy on February 8, 2011 at 3:12 PM

i remember AOL dialup at the house back in the day.

sucked!…

ted c on February 8, 2011 at 3:12 PM

If the old adage that a Conservative is just a liberal that has been mugged, we may have a whole bunch of Reagan-style conversions in the offing.

Give it some time. Huffington getting that kind of money is a patently absurd business decision that will certainly cause both entities to fail in due course.

And we’ll all be the better for the reduction in hate.

turfmann on February 8, 2011 at 3:13 PM

Wait…Wait…Time-Warner bought, no that’s not right, AOL took over Time-Warner to get the content generated by Time-Warner, and Time-Warner got a presence on the web…or something..

Now you are saying that AOL generates it’s own content? and Huff-n-Puff wants to turn AOL into a public blog where anyone can post thoughtful analysis of current events? So AOL is going to be a blog platform like WordPress, or LiveJournal, or Blogspot?

So I go over to AOL.com and it looks ..uh..looks so ah juvenile.

So just how long has the teeny-bopper set been politically aware and interested is scoring free stuff from Obama’s stash?

Skandia Recluse on February 8, 2011 at 3:13 PM

I’m sorry, this is just toooooo funny

Epic fail before it even launches

cmsinaz on February 8, 2011 at 3:14 PM

Citizen Journalism = Free Content

kevinkristy on February 8, 2011 at 3:15 PM

“This isn’t ideological; she wants opinions, when they get published, are “well supported, well written” and worked through the editorial model…”

Really…?

Arizona shooter a tea-bagging, Rush Limbaugh listening, Sarah Palin supporter!!!

Seven Percent Solution on February 8, 2011 at 3:16 PM

Citizen journalism = “You guys out there write stuff for us and we will collect the ad revenue.”

Bishop on February 8, 2011 at 3:19 PM

I guess we’ll find out now if Arianna is as big a fan of redistribution of wealth as are the politicians she supports. My guess is, no.

RBMN on February 8, 2011 at 3:19 PM

Check out page two of this article from Instapundit. Guess who else is considered ripe for the purchase?

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/7732124/aol_buys_huffington_post_hopes_readers.html?cat=15

Cindy Munford on February 8, 2011 at 3:21 PM

Oh..Politics Daily you say, ok…so let me look …

uh..hah…uh-hah-hah…hahahahahahahahahahahahha..snort, gasp..oh my.

Skandia Recluse on February 8, 2011 at 3:23 PM

I get the feeling AOL doesn’t understand this whole blog thingee and thought it was buying Facebook for news.

How funny will it be when they realize they bought the editorial team of Air America making online posts to a bunch of burnt out grey haired hippies, some college kids and a few fat bald techies who live in their mom’s basement, eat cheese balls, playing Warcraft in their tighty whiteys.

Alden Pyle on February 8, 2011 at 3:23 PM

Is Arianna now considered part of the big corporate media and evil corporations….the things the left hate the most.

tommer74 on February 8, 2011 at 3:25 PM

The New AOL = Arianna On the Left. A huge infusion of cash for the sinistrophere (opposite of the dextrosphere, which is rather decentralized with blogs like HotAir).

Arianna’s “citizen journalists” (Kossacks) will have a huge audience, until some clear-thinking AOL customers realize they’ve been had, and run for cover on Yahoo or Google.

Steve Z on February 8, 2011 at 3:26 PM

AOL = Suicide by Huffpo.

joejm65 on February 8, 2011 at 3:28 PM

Wow. And here I thought AOL couldn’t improve on their cr@ppy service and free-CD-spam.

Dark-Star on February 8, 2011 at 3:29 PM

AOL = Buy Newsweek for $1? Nah. Buy Huffpo for $315 million? Sure…

joejm65 on February 8, 2011 at 3:30 PM

Does anyone here use AOL for anything besides free e-mail addresses? Nah, didn’t think so…

joejm65 on February 8, 2011 at 3:32 PM

This says it all, doesn’t it? Talk about capitalist exploiters. She’s got hers and now wants more sacrifice from the proles. Do it for America you fools. First Mike Moore, like any good socialist, is in a rowe over unpaid windfall profits on his movie, and now Zsa Zsa calls for shared sacrifice. ROTFL Will the lefty useful idiots ever wake up?

JimP on February 8, 2011 at 3:33 PM

Cindy Munford on February 8, 2011 at 3:21 PM

The burning question…will AP unmask himself?

d1carter on February 8, 2011 at 3:39 PM

She should look for more progressive talent at insane asylums.

csdeven on February 8, 2011 at 3:39 PM

No matter how she packages it, bullshit is still bullshit.

GarandFan on February 8, 2011 at 3:39 PM

Remember when Ariana Huffington and Peggy Noonan were two of the prettier conservatives around? Now they both make me wretch, and I’m not talking about their looks…

pugwriter on February 8, 2011 at 3:40 PM

This says it all, doesn’t it? Talk about capitalist exploiters. She’s got hers and now wants more sacrifice from the proles. Do it for America you fools. First Mike Moore, like any good socialist, is in a rowe over unpaid windfall profits on his movie, and now Zsa Zsa calls for shared sacrifice. ROTFL Will the lefty useful idiots ever wake up?

JimP on February 8, 2011 at 3:33 PM

You think touching those roots every week is cheap????

Blake on February 8, 2011 at 3:42 PM

Citizen journalism = “You guys out there write stuff for us and we will collect the ad revenue.”

Bishop on February 8, 2011 at 3:19 PM

From each according to their ability and to her according to her needs.

pedestrian on February 8, 2011 at 3:42 PM

HOUSE VOTES NEXT WEEK TO BLOCK OBAMACARE FUNDS

Its up on Drudge

Geochelone on February 8, 2011 at 3:46 PM

Does this mean that Soros has a hook into AOL?

(I wonder if he shorted AOL if front of this agreement…)

Freddy on February 8, 2011 at 3:46 PM

If you see something, say something.

BobMbx on February 8, 2011 at 3:56 PM

“You’ve got Hatemail”

BobMbx on February 8, 2011 at 4:00 PM

Hey lady!!!!

/

Act your age.

hillbillyjim on February 8, 2011 at 4:05 PM

HotAir made it into New Media’s coverage of the deal:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkwrYiP6dck&feature=player_embedded

Hilarious as always.

pedestrian on February 8, 2011 at 4:08 PM

d1carter on February 8, 2011 at 3:39 PM

No, it’s most of his charm, that and annoying commenters.

Cindy Munford on February 8, 2011 at 4:12 PM

pedestrian on February 8, 2011 at 4:08 PM

Awesome link.

hillbillyjim on February 8, 2011 at 4:13 PM

pedestrian on February 8, 2011 at 4:08 PM

That must have been AP chasing Arianna.

Cindy Munford on February 8, 2011 at 4:15 PM

That must have been AP chasing Arianna.

Cindy Munford on February 8, 2011 at 4:15 PM

She does have some similarities to a robot, but not Japanese-robot-awesome enough.

hillbillyjim on February 8, 2011 at 4:17 PM

hillbillyjim on February 8, 2011 at 4:17 PM

They were certainly kind in their depiction.

Cindy Munford on February 8, 2011 at 4:21 PM

They were certainly kind in their depiction.

Cindy Munford on February 8, 2011 at 4:21 PM

Very.

hillbillyjim on February 8, 2011 at 4:22 PM

I don’t know how that last

blockquote

got

in

there

.

Oops.

Damn, I miss the old Hot Air.

VENT especially.

hillbillyjim on February 8, 2011 at 4:24 PM

Cindy Munford on February 8, 2011 at 3:21 PM

The burning question…will AP unmask himself?

d1carter on February 8, 2011 at 3:39 PM

When that WikiLeaks story broke I thought somewhere among those documents lay the true identity of Mr. Pundit.

But alas, we will probably find out where Bin Laden is hiding before the notorious masked blogger gets unmasked.

Geochelone on February 8, 2011 at 4:24 PM

But alas, we will probably find out where Bin Laden is hiding before the notorious masked blogger gets unmasked.

Geochelone on February 8, 2011 at 4:24 PM

Has Percy B. forsaken us?

hillbillyjim on February 8, 2011 at 4:31 PM

Blake on February 8, 2011 at 3:42 PM

LOL!!!!!

JimP on February 8, 2011 at 4:35 PM

Cindy Munford on February 8, 2011 at 3:21 PM

Thanks for the link, Cindy. So, we are all “unique visitors”. Who knew?

JimP on February 8, 2011 at 4:41 PM

WOW, I hear all of the Un-Paid Contributer to Ariana Huffington Blog feel they should have been paid something when she sold. I know that most of them were and are dedicated Leftest who fully believed that everything Capitalism and the Right is what is wrong with the United States. First I find it funny that they suddenly want a PROFIT from their work. Second I think it is absolutely rib splitting funny that they found that they had spent five years providing the Blog with capital that SHE just cashed in. It turns out the she was a CAPITALIST all the time and USED them to increase HER capitol in her bank account.

old war horse on February 8, 2011 at 4:45 PM

d1carter on February 8, 2011 at 3:39 PM

No, it’s most of his charm, that and annoying commenters.

Cindy Munford on February 8, 2011 at 4:12 PM

LOL

d1carter on February 8, 2011 at 4:48 PM

I’m working up a t-shirt now -

“I got screwed by Arianna, and all I got was this stupid winger t-shirt!”

mojo on February 8, 2011 at 5:03 PM

Arianna planning “citizen journalism” expansion at AOL

Ditzkrieg?

hillbillyjim on February 8, 2011 at 5:09 PM

I’m working up a t-shirt now -

“I got screwed by Arianna, and all I got was this stupid winger t-shirt!”

mojo on February 8, 2011 at 5:03 PM

I love it.

old war horse on February 8, 2011 at 5:29 PM

The one thing that would make this perfect would be for AOL/HUFFPO to merge with Current TV!

Waaaaaahhhh!!!

Moose Dung on February 8, 2011 at 5:47 PM

JimP on February 8, 2011 at 4:41 PM

The bright spot is that we’ve been called worse.

Cindy Munford on February 8, 2011 at 5:55 PM

She’s a disgusting communist hack but fits right in with AOL.

rplat on February 8, 2011 at 5:56 PM

It will work. You have thousands of people who will write for free just so they can see their name “in print”, for bragging rights. Not that different from THIS site after all. You have a couple of paid guys, and everyone else works for free. This is the future folks.

SunSword on February 8, 2011 at 6:13 PM

Cindy Munford on February 8, 2011 at 5:55 PM

LOL. So true, Cindy.

JimP on February 8, 2011 at 6:22 PM

Arianna planning “citizen journalism” expansion at AOL

Ditzkrieg?

hillbillyjim

a little dark, but not bad. !

audiculous on February 8, 2011 at 6:31 PM

Remember when Ariana Huffington and Peggy Noonan were two of the prettier conservatives around? Now they both make me wretch, and I’m not talking about their looks…

pugwriter

didn’t you think that Dan Quayle was prettier?

audiculous on February 8, 2011 at 6:33 PM

I read Matt Lewis’ piece at PD. Someone please tell what an “iconoclastic consrevative” is? What conservative beliefs is Matt trying to overthrow? What does Matt believe? What’s his credo? I liked him when he was at TH. Since then he has seemed to reflect more of an inside the beltway point of view. Maybe I missed his red meat columns. So, does anyone know? Guess I’ll check out The Daily Caller on a regular basis for awhile to see what all the “iconoclastic conservatives” have to say. This isn’t a euphemism for RINO is it?

JimP on February 8, 2011 at 6:57 PM

Who plays her in the inevitable biopic?
Sean Penn?

Stephen M on February 8, 2011 at 7:11 PM

“Citizen Journalism” code word for “Librul”

Sven on February 8, 2011 at 3:08 PM

Hold on – wasn’t this the original model for HotAir? When Malkin was doing daily video updates here, I seem to remember a HotAir channel called ‘Citizen Reporter’ or… something like that.

HeIsSailing on February 8, 2011 at 8:14 PM

Ariana needs to update her look – she’s too old to pull that one off.

Meow!

disa on February 8, 2011 at 9:24 PM

Huffington described her plan as “Jeffersonian,”

Paling around with a white, racist, misogynistic, rapist slaveholder is no way to endear yourself to your Leftist buddies, Arianna.

Bruno Strozek on February 8, 2011 at 3:01 PM

Wrong Jefferson, Bruno. She meant George Jefferson, cause she be movin on up and all dat wid dat big payday.

BigAlSouth on February 8, 2011 at 10:43 PM

This woman is Trash. Nothing more nothing less just trash.

sheebe on February 8, 2011 at 11:43 PM

Citizen journalism translates to free content. Kinda like…comment sections.

curved space on February 9, 2011 at 6:23 AM