Monday, February 7, 2011

Don't Exactly Understand Why I Feel Sad About AOL Buying Huffington Post

In this revolutionary time for journalism, when resourceful on-line journalists have the opportunity to write freely without corporate influence; when it is possible for independent sources of news and information to multiply and find new readership on the Internet; it came as a surprise that one of the most successful and influential independent Blogs is about to become part of a corporate giant.

I heard it on the NPR News while in my car this morning: AOL has purchased the popular and influential News Blog The Huffington Post for over $300 million. 

As soon as I could stop driving and get to a computer, I logged onto the HuffPost site and  read Arianna Huffington's essay  about the purchase.

As if in anticipation of the misgivings of the vast network of readers and contributors who are the heart of the Huffington Post, Huffington stressed the following:  "Far from changing our editorial approach, our culture, or our mission, this moment will be for HuffPost like stepping off a fast-moving train and onto a supersonic jet. We're still traveling toward the same destination, with the same people at the wheel, and with the same goals, but we're now going to get there much, much faster." 

I tried to make sense of my own fearful reaction to the news, which was based more on instinct than on any real evidence that the merger would result in censorship of content or potential loss of independence for the site.

I have been reading Huffington Post for almost two years.  It is a welcoming and fertile on-line environment for provocative thought and expression, unlike anything else in the media.  Visiting the site, for me, is like being part of a civilized, intelligent group of thinkers, where being Liberal is embraced, where enrichment and dialog prevail, free from corporate corruption and conformity. 

Besides, on a very personal note, it was the Huffington Post, specifically "The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging", that finally convinced me to begin this Journal.

To hear that that place, where I feel comfortable to think and express myself, was being "taken over" by a corporate giant, reminded me of other mergers I had experienced in my career.  I felt like I was about to be left out in the cold, no longer safe, no longer completely trusting of the leadership who allowed it to happen.

Then, I felt unsure about these misgivings.  I had no proof that the Post would begin to skew right to maintain a larger readership; or that advertising on the Post would be more aggressive at the expense of actual content; or that AOL would somehow use the registered commenters on the site for market research or more dubious purposes; or even that there would not be real benefits to the site and its readers from the additional resources.

Still, I had to ask myself how much faster the Post needed to get where it wanted to go?  What rules would  be imposed governing content, comments, and bloggers?  What would HuffPost need to sacrifice to come in line with its corporate "parent"?  Where would it need to draw the line to appease corporate ownership?  How much would the Post be influenced by profits?

Judging by the comments of thousands to Huffington's essay and to the press release from AOL and Huffington Post, an overwhelming number of contributors are afraid, angry, and determined to leave the site, convinced that HuffPost has sold out.

Perhaps the most telling statement that the Post might become first and foremost a profit-generating arm of AOL, is this statement from Tim Armstrong, chairman and CEO of AOL: "The acquisition of The Huffington Post will create a next-generation American media company with global reach that combines content, community, and social experiences for consumers.  Together, our companies will embrace the digital future and become a digital destination that delivers unmatched experiences for both consumers and advertisers."

Consumers. Advertisers. 

I suppose I should have more faith, take a wait and see attitude.  I suppose if I were approached by an Internet giant and offered millions for my "Reinvention" Journal, I would have a hard time ignoring it.  But I also admit that it would certainly forever change the freewheeling and satisfying experience I have of putting it together every day.

What do you think about all of this?


  1. You know, as a print journalist, it's sort of encouraging to see some print media outlets embracing the future of web media and news blogging, but I see where you're coming from. Seeing as though finding a job in print journalism is increasingly difficult with each "citizen journalist" blog that pops up, as someone with a degree in journalism (bought and paid for), I'm glad that professionalism and legitimate news sources can still be relevant. Oops - sorry to harsh your sentiment. It's just a very personal predicament! :)

  2. Luke, I think you and I may be actually on the same wavelength. I guess I thought that if site like HuffPost were absorbed by a major corporation, it would offer FEWER opportunities for journalists and for intellectual freedom...Then again, I am reacting to a gut feeling I have from an outsider's perspective, with no actual evidence. I appreciate your comments, and would enjoy knowing whether you think the AOL/Huffington merger will actually be a boon to print journalism.