AOL: Digital journalism without the burden of legacy infrastructure
August 7, 2009 8:52 AM   Subscribe

Almost three years ago, AOL started on a path towards being a "low-cost producer of high-quality content at scale" when they purchase Weblogs, Inc. in late 2006. At the beginning of 2009, AOL count[ed] more than 75 sites in its publishing portfolio and plans to add 30 more in the coming year, all gathered under Media Glow. AOL currently has approximately 1,500 content-writing staff, around 1,000 of those people are working full time for AOL, the rest are freelancing. That's twice the number from a year ago, and AOL has set the goal of doubling or tripling the total by next year. The TechCrunch article states that these writers include former journalists at BusinessWeek, New York Times, USA Today, ESPN, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Consumer Reports, Condé Nast and scores of regional and national newspapers and magazines. In an interview, Marty Moe, SVP of AOL Media, said: "Principally, we have none of the legacy costs associated with producing print publications, for example. We don't own printing presses, or fleets of delivery trucks. We don't have the elaborate editorial structures geared to producing products over a printing press." (via)
posted by filthy light thief (24 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
For me, the biggest evidence of this is FanHouse. All the sports journalists too controversial for mainstream media and fired either due to budget cuts or controversy ended up here. Namely Jay Marriotti and Kevin Blackistone.
posted by seandq at 8:54 AM on August 7, 2009

Queue the "AOL? I didn't even know they still existed!" comments.
posted by nitsuj at 8:57 AM on August 7, 2009

posted by stresstwig at 8:59 AM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

Queue Cue
posted by nitsuj at 8:59 AM on August 7, 2009

Jay Mariotti is too 'controversial' for main stream media? I thought he was just an idiot.
posted by spicynuts at 9:00 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

The money shot at the end: “We encourage as many of our competitors [Murdoch] to put their content behind a paywall as possible,” said Moe, laughing....
posted by bonehead at 9:04 AM on August 7, 2009

Regarding spicynuts' comment, you're right. Here's his resignation. I got confused with Ozzie Guillen's use of a gay slur towards him and made up controversy from that, I presume.
posted by seandq at 9:06 AM on August 7, 2009

In other news, Time Warner split off AOL in May 2009. Although AOL's operations make money, its operating profit of $150 million in the first quarter marked a 47 percent drop from the same period in 2008.

When Google agreed to pay $1 billion for its 5 percent stake in late 2005, the investment pegged AOL's market value at $20 billion. This past January, Google estimated its investment had plunged by more than 70 percent, leaving AOL with a market value of about $5.5 billion.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:08 AM on August 7, 2009

Jay Mariotti is too 'controversial' for main stream media? I thought he was just an idiot.

I'm pretty sure "controversial" and "idiot" are synonyms these days.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:14 AM on August 7, 2009

Am i the only one who doesn't get this "AOL?" Why would I want to hear about what people had for breakfast??
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:22 AM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

For me, the biggest evidence of this is FanHouse.

On this (and nothing to do with Mariotti), a friend of mine was asked a few years ago by FanHouse to take his weekly college football pick'em blog post onto FanHouse. It's been popular enough that even after they replaced the bloggers for his conference with laid off sportswriters, they kept him on to write it and cover his favorite team in the conference.

It's that last part that's interesting -- they're collecting the scraps from the newspaper layoffs to essentially build a network of beat writers for college football on the cheap. ESPN has been buying high and getting decent (but expensive) talent, while AOL is buying low and improving coverage. Looks like the long tail to me.
posted by dw at 9:39 AM on August 7, 2009

AOL is buying low and improving coverage. Looks like the long tail to me.

With some larger sites (including and to carry some of the weight.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:46 AM on August 7, 2009

If you haven't been following along, Google just sold it's AOL stake back to Time Warner, for $283M or a 70% loss on the investment. (Unsaid is the value of the AOL search and ads deal they got. Really, the capital loss is just a small tax bonus to a great deal for Google.)

AOL also hired Tim Armstrong away from Google to be their CEO in March. Tim ran the sales business in Google/US, building it from very early on.

They're definitely trying to reinvent AOL (again). I think there's room for a corporate-run content business with smart ad negotiations.
posted by Nelson at 10:12 AM on August 7, 2009

I used to work in online advertising and I can confirm that advertisers love these sites as they are hyper demographic targeted, super safe content, plus they have networked the entire ad-networks of all of Time Warners existing properties plus their new ventures (,, ect..) PLUS who would have thought, but AOL Homepage ( gets ~50 Million views a day, which equals about $300,000-500,000 in ad cost for a full day for only the 300x250 ad.
posted by wcfields at 10:17 AM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

I wonder how many people remember the "early days" of AOL, back in 92-94 or so, when the service's most compelling feature after 'pretty icons' was reams of content written by people who cared about stuff/knew about stuff.

At the time, they got knowledgeable people on board to write tutorials, host Q&A chats, moderate roundtables with authors, and so on. Pre-internet pre-flat-rate, offering people free hours or a much-lusted-after 'Overhead Account' was enough to keep the pipeline full. Slowly but surely, they started pulling more and more publications onboard to supply original content, which worked pretty well until the Internet really started taking off. Time Magazine, for example, moved from AOL to their own web site and the writing was on the wall.

It's interesting to see that they're still pursuing a similar model (albeit in a slightly different way).
posted by verb at 10:41 AM on August 7, 2009

I got an AOL dial-up CD in the mail last week.
posted by Night_owl at 11:45 AM on August 7, 2009

i'm waiting for compuserve to stage their comeback.
posted by snofoam at 1:27 PM on August 7, 2009

I heard they're rebranding as "The L"
posted by buriednexttoyou at 2:24 PM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have enjoyed tvsquad for a while now, but I am massively turned off by the copious amount of flair (sidebars, footers, headers, blah) that the WeblogsInc sites have, so I wrote a custom stylesheet to remove everything but the blog post text and comments. It makes the site so much more enjoyable.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:56 PM on August 7, 2009

I wonder how many people remember the "early days" of AOL, back in 92-94 or so

Fuck that noise, I remember connecting to Quantum Link using my Commodore 64 and a 300bps modem back in 1986!

That's 0.0366210938 KB/second for you whippersnappers out there

I wonder what Steve Case thinks of all this, haven't heard his name mentioned in a long while.
posted by furtive at 6:06 PM on August 7, 2009

And the only reason I joined Q-Link was so that I could play Club Caribe which was an online avatar game based on Maniac Mansion's SCUMM system. Stick that in your World of Warcraft!
posted by furtive at 6:10 PM on August 7, 2009

Back then the mighty kilobyte was too much to handle so the unit of choice was CPS (characters per second.) I too had a C=64 with a 300 baud modem, but things really only took off for me when I got a 2400 baud modem and a PC. Woo, 235 CPS with zmodem!
posted by Rhomboid at 7:28 PM on August 7, 2009

Ah... and bangpathing emails across FidoNet... good times. good times.
posted by hippybear at 7:56 PM on August 7, 2009

Strange as it may seem to those of use who remember AOL as the Great Satan of the Internet, this seems to be quite an astute move on their part. DW, filthy light thief, Nelson, wcfields, and verb are right - they're picking up the traditional media scraps, long tail outliers, and affiliated 2nd-best 'current best things', and building an on-line position - where print media are failing in trying to move themselves over.

Very clever...
posted by Pinback at 8:47 PM on August 7, 2009

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