AOL (NYSE: AOL) CEO Tim Armstrong said from the stage at paidContent 2011 that the company was within days of closing its $315 million deal to acquire The Huffington Post and the official word came this morning via a terse SEC filing — and a celebratory announcement that the new Huffington Post Media Group has six new journalists. (That includes Michael Calderone from Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) News, a hiring first unveiled Thursday by Arianna Huffington during the same interview.) The hirings, some high profile, back up Huffington’s emphasis on journalism, but come against a backdrop of uncertainty for AOL employees awaiting news of layoffs.
The original merger announcement projected $20 million in “synergies” — acquisition-speak for redundancies AOL execs believed could be identified and removed as part of the merger. In the most basic sense, that means people with roles that duplicate or are deemed no longer necessary. Armstrong admitted Thursday during our interview that layoffs were coming but provided no specifics. Over the last few days, rumors have surfaced about the AOL India operation taking a hit; an AOL spokesperson declined to comment.
Huffington personally stands to make about $20 million; she told me last month that she will take 25 percent of her payout in AOL stock. The merger agreement itself won’t be filed until AOL reports its earnings for the quarter.
In addition to Calderone, whose hiring caused an instant stir, as Senior Media Reporter, the new Huffington Post Media Group journalists include Trymaine Lee (New York Times), Senior Reporter; Michael McAuliffe (New York Daily News),Senior Congressional Reporter; and Jon Ward (The Daily), Senior Political Reporter, along with two more junior — Bonnie Kavoussi, “about to graduate from Harvard,” as business reporter, and Unigo founding editor Lucas Kavner as entertainment reporter. Huffington stressed the value of mixing senior journalists with energetic newcomers when she described the atmosphere for journalism from the stage at TheTimesCenter Thursday. Hiring away from other publications, particularly competitors, is a time-honored tradition of making a statement, showing that people are eager to work for the new or changing fill-in-the-blank. Ward has hopped from Tucker Carlson’s The Daily Caller to The Daily to AOL/HPMG in a matter of months.
Still questions: The outlines of a new structure already are in place, following a series of moves kicked off by the deal signed at the Super Bowl a month ago. David Eun, president of AOL Media, opted to leave following the acquisition that put Huffington in charge of all content at AOL. He wasn’t interested in managing the business side only. Instead, Jon Brod, Armstrong’s longtime colleague in his investment efforts and co-founder of Patch, is COO of the new media group, which now includes Patch. Brod had been president of local, mapping and AOL Ventures; he keeps the latter. Think of it as an editor and publisher setup, with Huffington having the say over everything editorial and direct involvement on the business side, while Brod manages the P&L and operations, reporting to both.
Less clear, despite the weeks of Huffington’s candid shots from transition meetings and integration sessions between the two operations: which AOL editors, managers and journalists actually will be part of the team and at what levels. Huffington said Thursday she plans to leave the brands like Engadget and TechCrunch alone but what does that mean for HuffPo’s technology section? There’s significant overlap in a number of other areas, especially politics, When I suggested several weeks ago that she might leave AOL’s Politics Daily in place, or use something similar, as a sort of neutral brand without the same ideological baggage as the Huffington Post, Huffington said she didn’t see the need for a separate political news space. On the other hand, PoliticsDaily.com has a number of high-profile seasoned political journalists in place, including Melinda Henneberger, Editor in Chief, and Walter Shapiro.
Higher up, AOL only recently hired Jon Dube to head news; Dube has held senior roles with ABC (NYSE: DIS) News.com, CBC and MSNBC (NSDQ: CMCSA). Huffington already has Editor Roy Sekoff (who manages the vast blog network from LA), Managing Editor Jai Singh, Executive Editor Nico Pitney, Tim O’Brien, recently hired away from the NYT as national editor, Executive Business Editor Peter S. Goodman, and more.