AOL snaps up Huffington Post for $315 million: Now what?

Arianna Huffington to oversee entirety of AOL editorial operations

 AOL-buys Huffington Post

So Huffington Post is the latest online media star to be swept up into AOL's expanding infotainment galaxy.

Good for Arianna Huffington, as she proved her detractors (me among them) dead wrong.

Good for Huffington Post's investors, who stand to make out swimmingly in this deal.

Good for HuffPo readers?

That remains to be seen, but count me among the skeptics.

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Part of that skepticism is grounded in AOL's history, of course. Part of it is born of having experienced on multiple occasions in my previous work for a local newspaper the arrival of (relatively) deep-pocketed new ownership; even the honeymoon periods don't last that long.

And, finally, part of my skepticism comes from the fact that I've never been much of Huffington Post fan, despite being the type of target reader -- a liberal political junky -- that makes up the bulk of its audience. AOL is going to make it better?

But HuffPo's 25 million unique monthly visitors and AOL's $315 million say I'm wrong. We'll see.

Meanwhile, here's a sampling of what others are saying.

From the New York Times:

Arianna Huffington, the cable talk show pundit, author and doyenne of the political left, will take control of all of AOL's editorial content as president and editor in chief of a newly created Huffington Post Media Group. The arrangement will give her oversight not only of AOL's national, local and financial news operations, but also of the company's other media enterprises like MapQuest and Moviefone.

By handing so much control over to Ms. Huffington and making her a public face of the company, AOL, which has been seen as apolitical, risks losing its nonpartisan image. Ms. Huffington said her politics would have no bearing on how she ran the new business.

That's unlikely and also beside the point. Imagine if instead of Arianna Huffington, AOL had handed the editorial reins to Bill O'Reilly? And what will be the reaction if being under AOL's umbrella drags HuffPo's editorial voice to the center (also known as the right)? There's definitely a damned-in-they-do, damned-if-they-don't dynamic at play here.

A Wall Street Journal writer buttresses the point (inadvertently, I think) while taking a swipe at AOL CEO Tim Armstrong:  

The Huffington Post deal also is essentially Armstrong's mea culpa that his own content-first strategy wasn't working. The solution is to buy HuffPo and essentially turn over its own content strategy to HuffPo and its founder, Arianna Huffington, who will be assigned to integrate the combined companies' news and information websites, Huffington Post and AOL content websites. Get it? Huffington Post is taking over AOL.

Can't you hear Rush howling?

Others see great promise in the deal. From a Bloomberg report:

"With this acquisition, Tim Armstrong is well on his way to transforming AOL into an online editorial-based content company," Shahid Khan, chairman and chief strategist at MediaMorph Inc., a New York-based digital media-tracking service, said in an interview. "HuffPost gives AOL a very compelling, affluent, educated young audience. It further strengthens AOL's overall editorial abilities with Arianna in charge."

Andrew Sullivan expresses a sentiment that springs to my mind every time we read about an attempt to sustain journalism as a viable business:

I'm not that familiar with the whole of AOL's media empire. But I'm very curious to see how this plays out, and hopeful that it will be a success. The same goes for The Daily and the merger between The Daily Beast and Newsweek (full disclosure: I've written for every enterprise named in this post save The Daily.) Everybody is trying to figure out what model is going to make money on the Web - it's an exciting time to be in media, and every venture is another data point.

There are plenty of eyebrows being raised about that $315 million price tag. Pre-market traders this morning were seemingly unconcerned.

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