Huffington Post/AOL: It’s AOL/Time Warner all over again

Two troubled companies make a risky deal hoping it'll solve all their problems. Sound familiar?

Topics: Media Criticism, AOL, Huffington Post,

A late Sunday night in winter and the surprise announcement of a big merger, with Kara Swisher one of the key people breaking the news: No wonder the Huffington Post/AOL announcement last night gave veteran tech and media-biz reporters a flashback to 2000 and the colossally ill-fated AOL/Time-Warner deal.

The events are similar in another way: Despite all the CEO happy-talk about synergy, we are once again watching two companies in trouble taking a big gamble that the other will solve its problems.

People think of Huffington Post as the leading popular liberal-Democratic news site. Huffington is now at least suggesting that the progressive point of view isn’t a part of what she’ll be pursuing at AOL. “Ms. Huffington said her politics would have no bearing on how she ran the new business,” says the New York Times story. Really? This strikes me as strange, disingenuous, and about as credible as Roger Ailes claiming that Fox is not a partisan-driven institution.

You Might Also Like

One possibility is, Huffington is just saying what the corporate script requires and actually the plan is to position AOL as a sort of Democratic alternative to Fox News/Drudge — which I think would be a really interesting move. I have to assume Arianna has big TV ambitions; I have yet to meet a new-media empire builder who didn’t secretly yearn to do an Ailes (or an Oprah).

The other, more likely possibility is that this whole thing is about the money, the investors needed to cash out, HuffPo’s numbers weren’t looking good enough for an IPO, and Huffington is basically improvising. She’ll spend a couple years at AOL and then move on. This means that, in 2011, Huffington Post will be playing the same role in relation to AOL that AOL played in relation to Time Warner back in 2000: selling itself at the top of a market bubble, pocketing the profit from a sale that couldn’t be earned from customers, and leaving a bigger, older company with all the headaches.

I was one of the few outspoken skeptics of Time Warner/AOL back in 2000. This time around there are more — see Om Malik, who looks at some numbers; Dan Lyons, who’s funny; and Ken Auletta, who views the deal as AOL CEO Tim Armstrong’s “hail Mary pass.”

Having all this company in doubt gives me a little pause. Maybe Huffington and Armstrong will prove a great team: The queen of low-cost SEO-driven content paired with the guy who built the Google ad machine that made SEO-driven content pay. But I still think this union is unlikely to end well. AOL remains a generic blandness factory when it comes to journalism. Huffington’s brand could change that; far more likely, it will just dissolve into the corporate miasma. 

Salon co-founder Scott Rosenberg is director of MediaBugs.org. He is the author of "Say Everything" and Dreaming in Code and blogs at Wordyard.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>