Has the Huffington Post hit the big time?

Is the surprise sale of the Huffington Post to AOL a sign that blogs can make the big time? Or is it more a case that comely newcomer of modest means hopes that getting hitched to a struggling media tycoon will help her to face an uncertain digital future?

Following the money leads to no clear conclusions. On the one hand, the $315 million deal – the highest price paid to date for a blog-based website – is a tidy sum for a pet project started by Arianna Huffington and Kenneth Lerer just five years ago. At first sight, it seems to be a sign of a trend that everyone wants to see: where innovative journalism leads, the finance will follow.

Yet, with each party struggling in different ways, the union is clearly a gamble for both sides. Despite having 25 million monthly visitors, the HuffPo only went into profit last year, while AOL has been struggling to maintain its revenues and credibility for some time. It remains to be seen whether combining HuffPo’s reach with AOL’s corporate infrastructure will translate into a digital media model that is sustainable in the long term – and one that doesn’t compromise the liberal, internationalist stance that has made the HuffPo what it is.

Highlighting the implications for quality journalism in the Los Angeles Times, Tim Rutten thinks not.

And, with the HuffPo’s reputation built on the labour of unpaid bloggers and a controversial practice of linking freely to outside content, some of the contributors to its success may be quietly wondering when they will get their share in this new media universe. One unpaid contributor declares his hand here. And this prolific New Yorker is positively revolting.

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