The Huffington Post is soon to be under new management, as will most of the news sites under AOL‘s purview, including Engadget, TechCrunch, and more: In a Super Bowl eve shocker, HuffPo and AOL jointly announced that AOL will be acquiring the Huffington Post for $315 million cash some time in the first or second quarter of 2011. Arianna Huffington, who has led the mega-aggregator site as it has ballooned to reach an audience of more than 25 million visitors per month, will become the editor-in-chief of a new thing called the Huffington Post Media Network, which will encompass “all Huffington Post and AOL content, including Engadget, TechCrunch, Moviefone, MapQuest, Black Voices, PopEater, AOL Music, AOL Latino, AutoBlog, Patch, StyleList, and more.”
That’s right: MapQuest is about to become super liberal.
In all seriousness, from the press release:
The transaction will create a premier global, national, local, and hyper-local content group for the digital age–leveraged across online, mobile, tablet, and video platforms. The combination of AOL’s infrastructure and scale with The Huffington Post’s pioneering approach to news and innovative community building among a broad and sophisticated audience will mark a seminal moment in the evolution of digital journalism and online engagement.
The new group will have a combined base of 117 million unique visitors a month in the United States and 270 million around the world**. Following the close of this transaction, AOL will accelerate its strategy to deliver a scaled and differentiated array of premium news, analysis, and entertainment produced by thousands of writers, editors, reporters, and videographers around the globe.
“The acquisition of The Huffington Post will create a next-generation American media company with global reach that combines content, community, and social experiences for consumers,” said Tim Armstrong, Chairman and CEO of AOL. “Together, our companies will embrace the digital future and become a digital destination that delivers unmatched experiences for both consumers and advertisers.”
So what does it all mean? Well, AOL, by far the bigger of the two, has been in a slump of late, with poor fourth quarter earnings; considering that roughly 40% of the company’s earnings still come from an ever-dwindling pool of dial-up subscriptions, AOL is in need of a turnaround. Meanwhile, the Huffington Post, which reportedly turned its first profit last year, has been growing like a weed, thanks to impressive web savvy, a stable of sharp reporters and celebrity columnists, and a massive underclass of unpaid writers churning out content. Elizabeth Spiers writes that she is “not optimistic that throwing in HuffPo will add actual clarity to AOL’s editorial strategy,” but it will without a doubt add mass. AOL and Huffington Post execs supposedly set upon the motto that “One plus one equals 11!”, implying a synergy between the two brands and its activation this year.
There’s cause for readers of online news to be nervous about the merger: The Huffington Post has a mixed record covering science, most notoriously in its tacit support for the anti-vaccination movement and in furthering simplistic mind over matter-type claims to the effect that all empirical science is an illusion. Engadget is a crown jewel of tech news that’s tough for any spot on the Internet to match, and it will hopefully not be tarnished by this, which is a realer threat than fears of left-wing politicization or SEO grey goo. As Paul Carr wrote on TechCrunch, “Arianna Huffington’s genius is to churn out enough SEO crap to bring in the traffic and then to use the resulting advertising revenue – and her personal influence – to employ top class reporters and commentators to drag the quality average back up. And somehow it works. In the past six months journostars like Howard Fineman, Timothy L. O’Brien and Peter Goodman have all been added to the HuffPo’s swelling masthead, and rather than watering down the site’s political voice, it has stayed true to its core beliefs.”
Still, this is a bold and quite possibly necessary move for AOL and a sterling opportunity for The Huffington Post, which will trade in its indie cred for deeper pockets and enormous reach. Oh, and lots of money. At that, Steve Case, AOL’s co-founder and former CEO, sounds a cautionary note: “AOL to Buy Huffington Post; Tim Armstrong says ’1 + 1 will equal 11′ … Really? That wasn’t my experience.”
Thinking of making a “You’ve Got Mail” joke? AOL and Arianna already did it for you: