AOL Buys HuffPo for $315m, Keeps Arianna In Charge

February 7th, 2011 9:22 AM

A pair of updates below the fold.

AOL News announced Monday that it has chugged the Kool Aid and put Arianna Huffington in charge of the new Huffington Post Media Group. AOL will pay $315 million for the site, making it the blogosphere's largest ever acquisition.

Decisions to name Huffington president and editor in chief and to brand the new company with the Huffington Post name suggest that AOL has fully embraced a leftist spin on the news.

The Associated Press reported Monday morning:

The acquisition announced early Monday puts a high-profile exclamation mark on a series of acquisitions and strategic moves engineered by AOL CEO Tim Armstrong in an effort to reshape a fallen Internet icon. AOL was once the king of dial-up online access known for its ubiquitous CD-ROMs and "You've got mail" greeting in its inboxes.

Perhaps just as important as picking up a news site that ranks as one of the top 10 current events and global news sites, AOL will be adding Huffington Post co-founder and media star Arianna Huffington to its management team as part of the deal.

After the acquisition closes later this year, Huffington will be put in charge of AOL's growing array of content, which includes popular technology sites Endgadget and TechCrunch, local news sites and online mapping service Mapquest…

In a blog post about the deal, Arianna Huffington praised Armstrong's vision for AOL and said they were on the same page as they discussed their ambitions for online news. "We were practically finishing each other's sentences," Huffington wrote about their discussions. She wrote that the deal was signed at the Super Bowl in Dallas, which she and Armstrong attended.

If it wins expected regulatory approval without any hitches, the deal will likely close in late March or early April.

So will Arianna's views and those of her site spill over into AOL's content? It seems likely. Ed Morrissey shares some of the concerns mentioned above the break:

The editorial arrangement seems like a strange decision. AOL has been careful to give the impression of political balance in their news and opinion offerings on line. Putting a political activist like Arianna Huffington in charge of all AOL content will upend that balance, and might have a significant number of subscribers and readers heading for the door. The end result might be less a combination of the two readerships and more of a replacement of AOL’s community with that of the HuffPo.

Another strange decision, related to the first, is to rebrand AOL’s content with the Huffington label. Arianna has done a great job over the last few years in building her brand in the blogosphere, but AOL has one of the oldest and most widely known brands in computing. Perhaps renaming the content group with the Huffington label was an attempt to keep the partisan direction of HuffPo from damaging AOL’s brand, but if the content shifts under Arianna’s leadership, that won’t help at all.

Huffington is not known for her subtlety. It's hard to see how a news operation with her at the helm would be anything but stridently leftist.

*****UPDATE: As of roughly 10:20 AM, AOL shares are down 2.5 percent (h/t Romenesko).

*****UPDATE 2: Bill Jacobson at Legal Insurrection offers this bit of ironic insight:

It always amazed me that HuffPo bloggers (not the handful of well paid staffers, but the great unwashed) thought they were so special by being allowed to blog at HuffPo, when in fact they were being treated as unindentured servants. They were able leave, but they were working for free to help Arianna build a business.

Who knew that the website devoted to a living wage and moral imperatives actually manged to get liberal bloggers to work for free to make money for the boss-lady and her investment banking investors.

There's a sucker born every minute....