Last night, while most of us were feasting on chips, seven-layer dip and the latest Super Bowl commercials, Arianna Huffington was announcing that progressive “news” site Huffington Post was purchased by AOL for $315 million dollars.
When announcing the deal on her site, Arianna Huffington, said she will become president and Editor in Chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, which will include her properties and the many of the AOL collection of sites and would control news content for the AOL network.
In an instant, AOL greatly expands its content offerings and reputation of its news organization, which is crucial for its strategy to move away from selling the dial-up service. That dial-up service was, for many Americans, their initial entry into the internet experience, for others it contributed a stack of free CD for doorstops, stopping tables from shaking, and even creative art projects.
Along with all of that cash (which presumably will not be paid in old AOL CDs) the deal gives Huffington control of all of AOL’s News content which means an opportunity to expand the reach of the Post’s progressive-slanted news and columnists message twelve-fold:
When Kenny Lerer and I co-founded The Huffington Post in May 2005, we had high hopes. But even we would have been hard put to predict that less than six years later we would be able to announce a deal that now makes it possible for us to execute our vision at light speed. AOL is an online pioneer that engenders great trust among its 250 million global users. HuffPost is on the cutting edge of creating news that is social and brings with it a distinctive voice and a highly engaged audience.
Reach however is only part of the story. The deal allows Huffington to distribute the Post’s progressive content without the progressive label. When people read news content from the “Huffington Post” they know what they are getting: news and opinion from the progressive point of view. Now that same news and opinion can be recycled and distributed across the internet under the “politically neutral” name of AOL.
AOL’s reach into the news world goes much further than the sign-up screen, Politics Daily, etc. I contend that the most significant news property that will be controlled by the Huffington Post’s progressive machine is the least known, Patch.com.
Patch is a network of 500+ “hyperlocal” websites covering 800 communities which combines national/regional information with local community news editors filing stories and updating community-specific within the communities they serve. As of today the Patch network is concentrated mostly in the larger states.
Having spent five years in the hyper-local media business, as marketing director of the company that produces newspaper-distributed magazines such as American Profile, I can assure you that what this kind of media loses in terms of mass national audience it gains in believability and reader interest.
What drives this heightened interest is the fact that these sites contain editorial written by “next-door neighbors,” cover High School Football games Jr. played in, local weather, store-openings and other announcements. Local news affects people’s lives today. On a national basis people may be interested in what is going on in Egypt, but their lives are more directly effected by the announcement on their local Patch site that “garbage pick-up day” is moving from Tuesday to Wednesday.
Why is this important? As former speaker Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local.” Now consider the Patch network combined with AOL’s vast databases local attitudes, purchases etc. During national and state campaigns, Huffpo’s biased editorial can be written and distributed according to the specific issues concerning that specific area. A small town in Long Island can get a story pushing the progressives work on cap and trade, while a West Virginia coal mining town, whose lives depend on the coal industry, can get a story about what the progressives are doing to help Unions. And that’s not all, local elections will have coordinated opportunities for progressive messages that support the preferred candidate.
Arianna Huffington has already announced Patch and its election value is a big part of her plans:
Remember my New Year’s resolution? It’s coming true — and it’s only the beginning of February. Let’s go down the checklist: Local? AOL’s Patch.com covers 800 towns across America, providing an incredible infrastructure for citizen journalism in time for the 2012 election, and a focus on community and local solutions that have been an integral part of HuffPost’s DNA.
Its true that AOL will give Arianna Huffington’s progressive news organization a wider berth both nationally and worldwide. But be aware, the expanded progressive reach created by the Huffington sale is only a small part of the story. It is the small, the hyper-local that will eventually be known as the big part of the deal.