While the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers hashed it out last night during Super Bowl XLV, arguable the most unlikely merger was being ironed out between The Huffington Post and AOL. The Huffington Post, co-founded by my Ms. Arianna Huffington, has built itself from a charming political blog into one of the most visited international news websites.
Who knew AOL was still trying to be relevant? Most people are unsure of exactly how to categorize AOL. Are they a media, communications, internet or technology company? AOL has been struggling to keep its’ own obscurity at bay, while The Huffington Post has seen tremendous gains and a cult-like following of engaged and opinionated readers.
AOL has surprisingly partnered with The Huffington Post in an unforeseen sale worth $315 million to make the new Huffington Post Media Group, of which Ms. Huffington will become the president and take responsibility for every avenue of content for AOL and its sizeable stable of sites that include the technology blog site TechCrunch and Mapquest. I know Ms. Huffington is smiling all the way to the bank, but for how long? She has made a huge risk that I’m not sure will pay off. Substance is what has made The Huffington Post what it is: a charming site with pertinent information and incredible content that readers can actively participate in. The Huffington Post represents a distinctive voice in a national discussion on politics, business and even entertainment. AOL represents a struggling and declining community that has seen better days.
What will the conversation be like now? Expanding into a large media group, as seen many times over, is a blow to the quality of independent news coverage and editorial input. Media conglomerates only water down what they aim to provide. Journalistic freedom and depth will be the first to go as the HuffPost must offer original content for a new and expansive readership that was never attached to the HuffPost voice. With the political slant of The Huffington Post juxtaposed with the essentially politics free stance of AOL, there has to be a compromise that may be seen as foreign to viewers on each side and could drive them away. Ms. Huffington will have to fill the gaps and satisfy a dying legion of AOL users while maintaining the respect of her original readers.
It will be a challenge for The Huffington Post to shed its’ political tinge and become relatable to the masses. Ms. Huffington, an unabashed political pundit, could possibly become a divisive and alienating force for a company that needs the right blend of ingredients to make the recipe work. No longer can The Huffington Post only cater to their engaged niche market. The new view of The Huffington Post Media Group must be broader, which will inevitably spell disaster. Journalism and even opinion that is predominantly guided by monetary expectation and goals can only fail. How long until this occurs? I’m not sure, but I bet regret is soon to follow.