AOL buys Huffington Post, kills quality content as we know it

Once again, AOL makes a questionable purchase of a major website. Cringely can't wait to see how this one turns out

AOL is back, baby. And by "back," I mean back to being ridiculous. Its latest move: buying The Huffington Post for an astounding $315 million. This comes some four months after swallowing up TechCrunch for a more modest $25 to $40 million.

Yes, that's right. In yet another content acquisition, AOL is merging with Arianna Huffington's Franken-site. It's like a lefty Wal-Mart for online news -- they sell a little bit of everything there.

[ Also on Cringely voices his doubts on another questionable AOL purchase in "AOL swallows TechCrunch -- but can they keep it down?" | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

Breathlessly, L'Arianna writes:

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 think Tim already ate the mushrooms -- the magic kind that make you believe if you tie a bedsheet around your neck and jump off the roof you'll glide like Superman. In a company-wide memo, he writes:

We are taking another major step in the comeback of AOL. Today we are announcing that we have agreed to acquire The Huffington Post, one of the most exciting, influential, and fastest growing properties on the Internet. We believe in brands, quality journalism, [italics added] and the positive role of communities in the world—The Huffington Post shares our values and the combination of the two companies will create the premier global and local media company on the Internet.

Arianna calls the AOL-HuffPo marriage "a merger of visions," and she's right. Their shared vision: churn out as much crap as humanly possible for pennies, and hope readers and advertisers stick to it.

Last week Business Insider's Nick Carlson got his hands on a leaked copy of "The AOL Way," Armstrong's chilling blueprint for the company's content-driven future. Here's one small snippet: Last month, the average piece of content on AOL cost $99 to produce, garnered around 1,500 pageviews, and generated approximately $135 in ad revenues. By March, AOL will be paying $84 per post, which will be tweaked by a search-engine-optimization bot to reach 7,000 readers and generate $160 in revenue. And each AOL editor will be expected to crank out 5 to 10 pieces of "quality journalism" per day.

(Quantity, quality -- those "q" words always confuse me too.)

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