When the Huffington Post website put out its shingle in 2005, Twitter was just a glimmer in the eye of a California programmer, and social-networking behemoth Facebook had just 1 percent of the users it does today. A sustainable business model for these much hyped startups is still out of sight. But they have a cunning plan: cash out while big corporate money still believes the venture can make money giving away free content. Arianna Huffington has done just that, selling her site to AOL for a cool $315 million.
The overwhelming majority of HuffPo's contributors are unpaid, but Arianna will walk away with a hefty portion of the millions doled out by AOL. As one contributor, comedian Andy Borowitz wrote, "My share of the Huffington Post sale, zero dollars, was a little disappointing." A joke, but many HuffPo contributors aren't laughing.
AOL, the dialup Internet provider once infamous for its unsolicited CD mailings, is again desperate to make it in media after a failed marriage to Time Warner. AOUs new CEO, Tim Armstrong, is aggressive about metrics like pageviews and ad clicks. Quality of content seems to be a secondary concern. …