AOL’s acquisition of the Huffington Post firmly entrenches AOL as a journalistic media endeavor eye-to-eye with Gannett, Murdoch and, gasp, the other newspapers. What is strikingly different about Huffington Post is that content is sourced from celebrities – politicians, actors, college professors, locals – and not from the ivory news desks that still embody the fifth estates of NY Times and WSJ. It’s a schizoid tabloid, with entrepreneurs reporting about Davos right next to a photo of Lady Gaga. The articles are compelling because they are sourced socially from people you may know or want to know, not reporters. They’re like Arianna’s friends.
Reshaping AOL’s local initiative Patch.com
AOL makes a smart move by placing Arianna as head of content to reshape the culture of its local publishing initiative Patch.com. AOL has come under fire for lacking a scalable business model where sparse online traffic for each Patch city are limited by the size of each community. Its critics see Patch as replicating the tired local publishing model by hiring editors, and more difficult, building a local ad revenue base from scratch. HuffPo made content social, and Arianna’s challenge is to re-engineer Patch.com so they are mini-HuffPo’s with news sourced by locals known to the community.
Up to now, deals sites have been strictly deals sites. Patch has the opportunity to create social local news vehicles that engage the community in a way the staid newspaper hasn’t done. Deals via AOL’s deals engine Wow can be integrated as part of this social fabric that will make venturing to a local “deals site”, or even an online newspaper’s coupon zone redundant. This is the best case scenario for AOL’s local play; I frankly think the runway for AOL’s local expansion is too ambitious and capital intensive to see the immediate returns that shareholders wants. There’s already a precedent to locally crowd sourced news in Examiner.com that highlights the problem with sourcing consistent good content at the local level.