Some of Arianna Huffington’s most-devoted users are livid about the sale of their favorite news site to AOL, according to a Daily Beast survey of their commenters. We reveal why they’re so ticked. Plus, Howard Kurtz talks to Arianna Huffington about why the merger will be her “last act.”
Along with robust traffic, leftward leanings, and unpaid bloggers, The Huffington Post has earned a reputation for involved users, who leave comments by the dozen, the hundred, or the thousand on even the most arcane stories. Little surprise then that Arianna Huffington’s announcement Monday that her beloved site would be sold to AOL for $315 million drew nearly 7,000 comments within the first 24 hours.
Gallery: 13 Biggest Media Quakes
So how did these users, collectively, feel about the deal? Pretty lousy, it turns out. The Daily Beast took the temperature of The Huffington Post community by wading through those comments, and randomly selecting 500 that expressed a clear opinion for or against the sale, taking care to avoid counting repeat commenters and also pulling data from all times of the day. From this large sample, a whopping 81 percent (405) opposed the acquisition in terms that ranged from confused to pessimistic to, most frequently, downright livid. Only 19 percent (95) were optimistic, though many of those were far closer to neutral.
“We made HuffPost and we are being abandoned,” one aggrieved reader wrote. “They will aim for the center. That’s where the big money is.” Another added: “Corporate greed and intelligent analysis don’t merge.” Others couldn’t even bear to read the news: “I have no interest reading about yet another monopoly creation and the slow erosion of diversity in terms of news sources.”
Within hours after the merger was announced, Huffington Post readers had even made a game of one-upping each other with metaphors that conveyed the depth of their despair about the sale. “This feels like walking into my credit union only to find out it was bought by Bank of America,” one said. “[It’s] like Carol Channing taking over for Fergie in the Black Eyed Peas. Legendary, but past the expiration date by about 10 years,” another lamented. A user with the tech analogy might have been the closest to the broader sentiment: “It’s like Friendster buying Facebook.”
Readers were concerned about what they almost unanimously perceive to be AOL’s conservative bias (the deeply political undercurrent of the comments raises the question of whether The Huffington Post might have a Silent Majority too cowed to post). But some expressed faith in Arianna Huffington to continue to represent liberal values. “She's proven herself to be a defender of progressive thought and her work in that realm gives her all of the capital [she deserves] to move this site in the direction that she deems best,” one wrote. Others were even optimistic that the AOL partnership might expand the site’s reach: “Maybe a long shot, but still, with the promise of more local areas reached, HuffPost will enter some of these red enclaves and bring a little blue in there.” One commenter said they hoped AOL might fund more investigative journalism.
“It’s like Friendster buying Facebook.”
But the optimists were vastly overshadowed by the wails of betrayal. Not only is AOL a greedy media conglomerate like all the rest, they said, but it’s one that died way back in another era of the Web. “I don't have a phone line close to my computer!” one reader quipped. Responding to Huffington’s praise for AOL’s “off-the charts” brand recognition, another said, “AOL has ‘off the charts notoriety for failure to innovate. There is no name in cyberspace with more negative baggage.” Other commenters set about finding AOL a new slogan. One suggested, “AOL, the Internet for people who don’t know what the Internet is.”
• Arianna Huffington: This Is My Last ActIn between their eulogies for the site some claimed they would no longer be visiting, Huffington Post readers traded tips about how to cancel their accounts, made guesses as to how long they could keep themselves away from their tight community of commenters, and pitched suggestions for alternate Web hangouts. Talking Points Memo, Salon, and AntiWar.com were popular suggestions. One took a more humorous approach: “I think we should all move over to FoxNation and cause all of them to have aneurysms.”
David Sessions researched and wrote this story, in collaboration with Lizzie Crocker, Josh Dzieza, and Caroline Linton.