After a raft of layoffs and departures that followed AOL’s $315 million acquisition of The Huffington Post in February, Arianna Huffington is hiring a bunch of new editors to reset the combined entities’ newsroom as the company tries to fend off criticism that its work is built on automation and unpaid writers.
The top hires are former CBSNews.com executive editor Neil Katz, joining as executive editor to run the HuffPo Media Group newsroom with Nico Pitney following the recent departure of Jai Singh to Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO), and ex-Salon editor and writer Lori Leibovich, who is being brought in to oversee and reconstitute the company’s women’s lifestyle content as women’s editor. At the same time, Saul Hansell, the former NYT tech reporter who joined AOL (NYSE: AOL) in Dec. 2009 to run AOL’s freelance management system Seed, is moving to the HuffPo Media Group to edit the unit’s “big news pages” projects.
The “big newspages” idea has been used by the HuffPo informally in the past, in connection with major news stories like the Japanese earthquake. The idea is to bring together various news stories that makes it easy for interested readers to quickly reference — and to keep them on the site longer. In an interview with paidContent, Huffington said that the combined entity needs to do a better job of organizing and presenting the news of the day.
Overall, though, these moves are about HuffPo putting its stamp on the former AOL News operation, a process which has proved somewhat messy and confusing in recent weeks. “We’re in the middle of rebuilding the content operation and we’re moving as fast as we can,” Huffington said.
Over the next few weeks, AOL’s multicultural sites, such Black Voices, will also get a major overhaul. “The goal is for every site to have a distinct identity, which wasn’t necessarily the case before,” she said. She also plans to launch a news channel devoted to baby boomers.
Seed is a different animal and an area that was decidedly out of HuffPo’s mix. As a freelance aggregator, Seed falls into the uncomfortable space between HuffPo’s professional content and its unpaid blogger posts. It had already been announced that Seed would fall under COO Ned Brody’s new network services group. In addition to Seed, Brody oversees the videographer network Studio Now, the DIY video site 5Min as well as ad units GoViral, Adtech, Advertising,com and Pictela.
“Seed is now more of a b2b product than a general freelance network,” Huffington said.
Seed has been under the radar since 2010’s SxSW, when it attempted to cover 2,000 bands (and came up a little short). Since then, the system has been in the process of being overhauled and its mission has been more tightly focused around professional b2b content, where writers tend to be a bit more reliable. Plus, it can be matched as a publishing component to its advertising services.
So with all the moves around professionally-produced content, does Huffington feel that she’s trying to answer critics who accuse it of too much reliance on unpaid bloggers?
“I think most people know what we’re about and I don’t worry too much about uninformed critics at this point,” she said.
The company also announced the creation of AOL Industry, a new trade media unit covering three sectors, energy, government, and defense and editors to head each.