Blog Post

@ AADigital: Arianna: Paywalls Only Work For Special Content, ‘Weird Porn’

Life is pretty good at AOL (NYSE: AOL) these days, including the use of three “resting rooms” that the newsroom has dubbed “NapQuest,” Arianna Huffington told AdAge‘s Ed Lee at the close of the AdAge Digital conference. It sounds like staffers will need it, as AOL wants to put more emphasis on showing up at the office and working. Reacting to this week’s news about freelance dismissals, AOL is promoting its professionally reported content, Arianna said. At the same time, the company is incorporating The Huffington Post’s “hybrid” model of unpaid contributors and established editorial talent that the blog site is bringing to its new parent.

“Let’s address this ‘paid vs. unpaid’ notion,” Arianna said. “There are two completely different buckets; there are people working full-time, people who have a special expertise. We’re building that platform and then, anyone who wants to use that platform to share their content, we allow them to do that. The budget is still there; we’re just converting freelancers into full-time staff.”

AOL will not completely shut off the freelance spigot, she added, saying “We’ll still use paid contributors, but the emphasis of the newsroom will be on professional, paid journalists.”

Lee then brought up Arianna’s ongoing debate with New York Times editor Bill Keller. She suggested that the hybrid model of HuffPo, plus AOL’s hyperlocal network Patch, allows the company to focus more sharply at the effect of national issues at the local level. “I want to know how the government shutdown will effect people at the local level,” she said, adding that AOL HuffPo plans major local coverage of the 2012 presidential campaign.

As for the NYT’s paywall, she finds it too complicated. “The more news outlets go for paywalls, we believe it’s better for us, because we’re betting on free and ad-supported,” she said. Arianna then came up with the afternoon’s big laugh line: Unless you’re offering very special content or weird porn, people are not used to paying for news and opinion.”

Another subject that comes up is that HuffPo’s DNA is as a left-wing news site. She identifies herself as a liberal, she says, but says that the site has other voices, like Newt Gingrich and Joe Scarborough. Primarily, she insisted that HuffPo’s approach doesn’t necessarily reflect her politics and that issues that are regularly regarded as “lefty” resonate beyond pedestrian political labels. “You might think that being against the war in Afghanistan might be a left-wing notion, but opposition is across the political spectrum,” she said. “If we just treat news as a ‘left wing’ issue, we wouldn’t have as much reach as we do.”