AOL (NYSE: TWX) has been reworking its content strategy yet again — BusinessWeek’s Jon Fine half-jokingly estimates the Time Warner unit is on its 72nd revamp since 2001 — this time with an eye towards politics. PoliticsDaily.com is the latest blog being rolled out by the portal’s programming unit, MediaGlow. From a conversation last week with AOL programming SVP Marty Moe, the site is a bit different than the series of blogs it has been rolling out this past year.
The site is being cast in the mold of a newsweekly magazine and daily paper, as opposed to quick, off-the-cuff blog posts. The company has tapped former NYT reporter Melinda Henneberger as its editor. The site has about 21 other journalists on its staff, including others from the NYT, WaPo, Chicago Sun-Times, NPR, Politico and US News & World Report. The staff is made up of a mix of full-time and contract staffers — which is notable considering AOL is in the midst of a 10 percent reduction in its overall workforce. No word on how much is being laid out in terms of salaries and health benefits. Moe did say that unlike past blog projects, staffers would not be paid per post.
More after the jump.
The introduction of PoliticsDaily is similar to the makeover that was given to FanHouse, the all-encompassing sports blog, which has been trying to look a bit more professional lately. With all the layoffs across the newspaper industry the past few months, Moe told me that AOL has been able to take advantage of a “once-in-era opportunity to hire the best people coming out of the newspaper industry over the next 18- to 24 months.”
– Making high-quality journalism pay: Despite AOL’s challenges with display advertising — ad revenues were down a worse-than-expected 18 percent last quarter — Moe contends that AOL has the wherewithal to support high-quality journalism as traditional media companies are forced to scale back: “Traditional media is focused primarily on managing costs right now. The bottom has dropped out for newspapers, and for magazines, it’s less so, but not much. There will be big brands that go away in both those areas. For online, the costs of entering this business is still fairly minimal by comparison to the print side.” While Moe noted that competitors like Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) and Google (NSDQ: GOOG) haven’t shown much interest in creating a spot for professional content, Microsoft’s MSN is only just getting started. In addition to politics, MediaGlow is planning still more professionally written sites. “We feel that by having these premium content sites in place over the next year, once the advertising market turns around, we’ll be able to take more of a share from those rebounding marketers’ dollars after others have disappeared or still getting up to speed.”
– Next step, syndication: While they try to ignore the distractions, Moe and other executives are now focused on establishing a syndication strategy for PoliticsDaily. Asked about possible partnerships with NYTimes.com, which has been more open to aggregation lately, or to sites like Politico, which has been crafting an ad network of politics news, Moe said the company is open to talking with anyone, but there are no deals pending yet. “We can fit anywhere, the stuff on PoliticsDaily will likely be seen as complementary to what others are doing.”