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When HuffPost Met AOL: "A Merger of Visions"

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Headlined to H4 2/7/11

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From Huffington Post

I've used this space to make all sorts of important HuffPost announcements: new sections, new additions to the HuffPost team, new HuffPost features and new apps. But none of them can hold a candle to what we are announcing today.

When Kenny Lerer and I launched The Huffington Post on May 9, 2005, we would have been hard-pressed to imagine this moment. The Huffington Post has already been growing at a prodigious rate. But my New Year's resolution for 2011 was to take HuffPost to the next level -- not just incrementally, but exponentially. With the help of our CEO, Eric Hippeau, and our president and head of sales, Greg Coleman, we'd been able to make the site profitable. Now was the time to take leaps.

At the first meeting of our senior team this year, I laid out the five areas on which I wanted us to double down: major expansion of local sections; the launch of international Huffington Post sections (beginning with HuffPost Brazil); more emphasis on the growing importance of service and giving back in our lives; much more original video; and additional sections that would fill in some of the gaps in what we are offering our readers, including cars, music, games, and underserved minority communities.

Around the same time, I got an email from Tim Armstrong (AOL Chairman and CEO), saying he had something he wanted to discuss with me, and asking when we could meet. We arranged to have lunch at my home in LA later that week. The day before the lunch, Tim emailed and asked if it would be okay if he brought Artie Minson, AOL's CFO, with him. I told him of course and asked if there was anything they didn't eat. "I'll eat anything but mushrooms," he said.

The next day, he and Artie arrived, and, before the first course was served -- with an energy and enthusiasm I'd soon come to know is his default operating position -- Tim said he wanted to buy The Huffington Post and put all of AOL's content under a newly formed Huffington Post Media Group, with me as its president and editor-in-chief.

I flashed back to November 10, 2010. That was the day that I heard Tim speak at the Quadrangle conference in New York. He was part of a panel on "Digital Darwinism," along with Michael Eisner and Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen.

At some point during the discussion, while Tim was talking about his plans for turning AOL around, he said that the challenge lay in the fact that AOL had off-the-charts brand awareness, and off-the-charts user trust and loyalty, but almost no brand identity. I was immediately struck by his clear-eyed assessment of his company's strengths and weaknesses, and his willingness to be so up front about them.

As HuffPost grew, Kenny and I had both been obsessed with what professor Clayton Christensen has famously called "the innovator's dilemma." In his book of the same name, Christensen explains how even very successful companies, with very capable personnel, often fail because they tend to stick too closely to the strategies that made them successful in the first place, leaving them vulnerable to changing conditions and new realities. They miss major opportunities because they are unwilling to disrupt their own game.

After that November panel, Tim and I chatted briefly and arranged to see each other the next day. At that meeting, we talked not just about what our two companies were doing, but about the larger trends we saw happening online and in our world. I laid out my vision for the expansion of The Huffington Post, and he laid out his vision for AOL. We were practically finishing each other's sentences.

Two months later, we were having lunch in LA and Tim was demonstrating that he got the Innovator's Dilemma and was willing to disrupt the present to, if I may borrow a phrase, "win the future." (I guess that makes this AOL's -- and HuffPost's -- Sputnik Moment!)

There were many more meetings, back-and-forth emails, and phone calls about what our merger would mean for the two companies. Things moved very quickly. A term sheet was produced, due diligence began, and on Super Bowl Sunday the deal was signed. In fact, it was actually signed at the Super Bowl, where Tim was hosting a group of wounded vets from the Screamin' Eagles. It was my first Super Bowl -- an incredibly exciting backdrop that mirrored my excitement about the merger and the future ahead.

By combining HuffPost with AOL's network of sites, thriving video initiative, local focus, and international reach, we know we'll be creating a company that can have an enormous impact, reaching a global audience on every imaginable platform.

Remember my New Year's resolution? It's coming true -- and it's only the beginning of February. Let's go down the checklist: Local? AOL's Patch.com covers 800 towns across America, providing an incredible infrastructure for citizen journalism in time for the 2012 election, and a focus on community and local solutions that have been an integral part of HuffPost's DNA. Check.

Original video? AOL's just finished building a pair of state-of-the-art video studios in New York and LA, and video views on AOL have gone up 400 percent over the last year. Check. More sections? AutoBlog, Music, AOL Latino, Black Voices, etc, etc, etc. fill gaps in HuffPost's coverage. Add all that to what HuffPost is doing with social, community, mobile, as well as our commitment to innovative original reporting and beyond-left-and-right commentary, and the blending will have a multiplier effect. Or, as Tim and I have been saying over the last couple of weeks: 1 + 1 = 11.

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 am deeply grateful first of all to Kenny, whose insights and vision were instrumental to what we created together, and who will continue to give me advice and wisdom in the years to come. This deal would also not have been possible without Eric Hippeau, who together with Greg Coleman and his great sales team, monetized what HuffPost had created. Thank you to our truly amazing tech team, led by our CTO Paul Berry, and our passionate and gifted editorial team, led by our editor Roy Sekoff, who has been there since before Day One, and our managing editor Jai Singh. Their great work can now continue on a much bigger platform. And, of course, thank you to our HuffPost community, whose engagement, enthusiasm, loyalty, and support have been the foundation of HuffPost's growth.

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com

Arianna Huffington is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, a nationally syndicated columnist, and author of thirteen books. She is also co-host of "Left, Right & Center," public radio's popular political roundtable program, as (more...)
 
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The majority of the material on the Huffington Pos... by Ned Lud on Monday, Feb 7, 2011 at 2:18:36 PM