What I wouldn't do to be a fly on the wall at that first AOL editorial meeting where TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington goes head-to-head with his new boss, Arianna Huffington.
AOL, which has been aggressively beefing up its editorial content under the leadership of CEO Tim Armstrong, announced late Sunday that it was buying the Huffington Post in a $315 million mostly cash deal and was naming Huffington the president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group within AOL, which includes well known Engadget and, Arrington's baby, TechCrunch. The news was first reported by Kara Swisher, who pens the Boomtown blog on All Things Digital. In a press release, Armstrong said:
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. Together, our companies will embrace the digital future and become a digital destination that delivers unmatched experiences for both consumers and advertisers.
As for the naming of Huffington to the top content job, Armstrong said:
Arianna is a singularly passionate and dedicated champion of innovative journalistic engagement, and a master of the art of using new media to illuminate, entertain and enhance the national conversation. Arianna is a remarkable person and she will continue to create remarkable outcomes for the combined company.
Huffington, in the statement, said:
We are fusing a legendary and powerful new media brand with a vibrant, innovative news organization, known for its distinctive voice, a highly engaged audience, an expertise in community-building, and a track record for demystifying the news and putting flesh and blood on the data while drawing our audience into the conversation.
It's a bold - and pricey - move for Armstrong, who was brought in as CEO nearly two years ago to beef up the company and perhaps make it more attractive for a suitor. Last May, at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in New York, Armstrong went on stage to declare that the next phase of the Internet was about content and four months later, on a San Francisco stage of the same conference, he and Arrington were side-by-side again to announce AOL's acquisition of TechCrunch. Terms of that deal weren't announced but various reports put a $25 million price tag on it - less than 10 percent of what Huffington reportedly grabbed.
Swisher reported that the deal between AOL and Huffington Post was finalized late Sunday afternoon and that the boards of directors for both company and shareholders of the Huffington Post had approved it. Swisher also scored an exclusive sit-down chat with the two in Dallas on Sunday, just before the Super Bowl. She describes the two as being "jovial that the whirlwind deal, begun in November, actually worked out so quickly."
The news came as a late post-Super Bowl surprise to pretty much everyone except for Swisher, whose blog post was filled with details, background, history and even the official press release and Armstrong's internal memo to employees. That's quite the contrast of the post published on TechCrunch, which was thin on details and landed about 20 or so minutes after the Boomtown post - and had to rely on the press release for details.
The move is being characterized by some bloggers as a snub to Arrington, a tough-to-get-along-with kind of blogger who has reportedly had some, um, creative differences with folks at other Team AOL blogs, notably Engadget. The buzz is that Arrington - who is supposed to hang around for at least three years - won't make it through this year with Arianna calling the shots.
The deal is expected to close later this quarter or early in the second quarter