AOL and Huffington Post merger: The rapid rise and sale of Arianna Huffington's Post.

Media criticism.
Feb. 7 2011 1:30 PM

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The rapid rise and sale of Arianna Huffington's Post.

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I'd say the same thing about the Huffington Post—and have. While I rarely go there except to sample the Washington reporting of Ryan Grim and Arthur Delaney, its success and $315 million payout speak to the power of journalism to reinvent itself. Combined with the sale of Associated Content to Yahoo last year and the successful IPO of Demand Media last month, it may also indicate that the market for search-engine-friendly content has peaked. As the Wall Street Journal's Shira Ovidepoints out today, AOL is the place that paid $850 million for the social-networking site Bebo in 2008 and then sold it in 2010 for "a small fraction" of that price. (AOL's current CEO, Tim Armstrong, arrived after the company bought Bebo.)

By the Journal's reckoning, the purchase of HuffPo amounts to a confession by AOL that Armstrong's "content-first strategy" wasn't working and that he was assigning content strategy duties to Huffington. "Get it? Huffington Post is taking over AOL," Ovide writes.

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The problem with media acquisitions is that they're hard to make work. The clash of cultures, HuffPo's startup mentality vs. AOL's makeover philosophies, may undo the Armstrong-Huffington marriage. Also, will the Huffington Post be as fleet now that it's part of the AOL system? And to reprise what I wrote back in 2005, does Huffington have the skills needed to run a corporate ship? Will she be undone by a not-yet-launched site even more pop- and SEO-oriented than hers? I'd make a guess, but as my earlier column proves, I'm a terrible prognosticator.

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No article about the Huffington Post's skills at repurposing copy is complete without citing the Oct. 13, 2008, New Yorker profile of Huffington by Lauren Collins. Collins writes:

Her synthetic gifts have, at times in her career, raised questions. Her Maria Callas book prompted accusations of plagiarism from a previous biographer of Callas; the case was settled out of court. Lydia Gasman, now an emeritus art history professor at the University of Virginia, says that Huffington's Picasso biography included themes similar to those in her unpublished four-volume Ph.D. thesis. "What she did was steal twenty years of my work," Gasman told Maureen Orth in 1994. Gasman did not file suit. (Huffington denied both allegations.)

Repurpose your favorite Huffington anecdote in e-mail to me: slate.pressbox@gmail.com. And watch my Twitter feed for further new-media discoveries by @noreenmalone. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

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Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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