Notes on the HuffPo Acquisition Announcement

by David Miller Feb 7, 2011

At 12:01 am Sunday Night / Monday morning, Huffington Post published an announcement entitled AOL Agrees to Acquire the Huffington Post.

1. Upon reading, my first two thoughts were (a) “how much?” [$315 million], and (b) “why AOL, seems like a brand steadily losing relevance.”

2. I felt alienated while trying to parse the marketing language of the announcement, which was laced with rhetorical elements that “suggest” more than they actually “tell.”

(a) Take for example, the headline, “AOL Agrees to Acquire. . . .” A cleaner, more natural and transparent headline would be “AOL to acquire Huffington Post. ” This is what thousands of people are emailing or saying in offices right now (“Hey, did you hear AOL is acquiring HuffPO?”) because that is what happened (or is supposed to happen) in concrete reality. But the writer / editor of this headline was faced with a double bind. He or she needed to (a) state the fact that an acquisition agreement had been reached while (b) “presenting” this fact so that it looked like HuffPo was in no way subservient to or had less power than AOL. Therefore it’s written / implied that AOL now “agrees to” HuffPo’s terms. There are subtle but complex rhetorical constructs at work here that probably make the logic of this headline fallacious (note for example that the writer / editor could have re-phrased the headline so it read “HuffPo Agrees to AOL Buyout Terms”) but I don’t really want to think about it anymore. It’s just a weird fucking phrase, Agrees to Acquire.

(b) Tim Armstrong, Chairman and CEO of AOL: “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.”

Note readers being commodified as “consumers” and the usage of buzzword “next-generation” and consider if any websites, brands, or companies you consider to be “next-generation” actually use the term “next-generation.”

(c) Arianna Huffington: “This is truly a merger of visions and a perfect fit for us.”

I’m not sure if it’s technically possible for “visions” to be “merged.” One’s vision is inherently one’s own. If it’s a “vision for” a company or brand, then this is an abstraction and as such cannot be “merged” in concrete reality. Presenting the financial / company merger (in concrete reality) as an abstraction obfuscates the “deal” / gives it an apparently “happy face.”

3. It seemed strange / “telling” / incongruous that immediately after the nut-graf there was a full-width ad for Americal Apparel’s “Winter Must Haves.”

4. The announcement stated that the merger was “a seminal moment in the evolution of digital journalism and online engagement.”

It seems like a “marketing language slam-dunk” but kind of a flail in concrete reality to consider your own maneuvers to be “seminal moments” in history.

5. All of this said, I don’t really care that HuffPo was acquired (as I wasn’t a reader), nor do I use AOL. I recognize it as a stoke for (a) AOL’s brand, and (b) Arianna Huffington’s cash flow.

6. But at the same time, I’ve been aware of HuffPo’s economic model vis-à-vis not paying travel bloggers for their work and believe this practice undercuts the “evolution of digital journalism.”

7. Besides the marketing language, what bothered me the most about this announcement was the first comment from Ariana Huffington:

HuffPost is on the cutting edge of creating news that is social and brings with it a distinctive voice and a highly engaged audience. In this case, 1 + 1 = 11. Far from changing our editorial approach, our culture, or our mission, this moment will be, for HuffPost, like stepping off a fast-moving train and onto a supersonic jet. We’re still traveling toward the same destination, with the same people at the wheel, and with the same goals, but we’re now going to get there much, much faster.

I get the part about moving faster, but to me speed isn’t the bottom line of “creating news.”

Any thoughts on this? Reactions?

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