AOL’s Daily Finance channel has been one of its most highly trafficked over the past few years, but as the integration with Huffington Post continues apace, changes are coming. The company is announcing several new hires for the site, including Peter Goodman, executive business editor of AOL (NYSE: AOL) Huffington Post Media Group, with the goal of broadening the channel’s appeal to younger audiences and women, while retaining the attention of investment professionals.
In all, AOL Daily Finance will have nine editorial staffers. That includes at least two former freelancers. Since the $315 million acquisition of HuffPo, AOL has eschewed the use of freelancers in its Media Group. Instead, Seed, AOL’s freelance aggregation system, is now under COO Ned Brody’s new network services group. Goodman, a former New York Times reporter who joined HuffPo last fall, wouldn’t go into the topic of layoffs that occurred before he arrived with the rest of HuffPo in March, but he did say that there haven’t been any staff reductions on the business reporting side under his watch.
That said, HuffPo and AOL have lost some notable staffers in recent weeks as the integration settled in. As Business Insider noted yesterday, one of the defectors from the new regime is Ryan McCarthy, a HuffPo veteran associate business editor who was credited with elevating the Business vertical’s traffic reputation over the past two years, is now the deputy editor at Reuters (NYSE: TRI).
While HuffPo’s Business channel won a Webby Award in April, Goodman downplayed the notion of AOL Daily Finance is directly adopting HuffPo’s Business Channel. “We’re not working off a template [for AOL Daily Finance],” he said. “The idea is to cover traditional areas of business, but in a non-traditional way. What that means is that we want to engage the reader, the community, and tap their knowledge.”
The typical business news consumer is generally older and male. The approach Goodman is taking is designed to bring in younger readers as well as AOL’s large female audience. That thinking also went into the hiring of the new staffers and establishing their beats.
“Take someone like Loren Berlin, a writer closer to the beginning of her journalism career as opposed to the end,” Goodman said, pointing out one of the new faces on the site. “She has an MBA and has worked in finance. She had a look at the mortgage factory from the inside and decided she wanted to write about it rather than work in it. She took an interesting angle on rising commodity prices — that’s the kind of story that gets people yawning. But she took the reader into the story by looking at the price of a six-pack and gave a great deal of insight as to what drives those costs. The piece quickly got 700,000 pageviews, showing how if you talk to people in language that’s entertaining and that they can understand, the readers will embrace it.”
AOL doesn’t break out traffic for the HuffPost Business vertical, nor did comScore (NSDQ: SCOR) have any figures available for that channel. But in a look at the top 15 Finance News sites as ranked by comScore, AOL Money & Finance has been doing pretty well this year. In between January and April, the channel’s traffic has risen 7 percent to 15.7 million and is number four on the list behind small business site Manta, Dow Jones (NSDQ: NWS) & Co. and Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) Finance, which fell 3 percent to 43 million.
“We know this is a site that draws a lot of users,” Goodman said. “We want to build on that core strength and appeal to those who don’t understand the vernacular of high finance: people who have just graduated from college and have to think about rent, people who are starting to plan for retirement, people who have to pay medical bills.”
Goodman expects to hold on to regular readers by offering the traditional investment and business news with outside content partners, such as Doug McIntyre’s 24/7 Wall Street, whose commentary has long been available on AOL News & Finance through a syndication agreement.
In addition to the new writers, video will also become more important to AOL Daily Finance, as it is featured throughout the company’s various content channels. An example of the kind of news the writers will be expected to deliver along with their posts is something like new writer Bruce Watson’s The Ethical Shopper, which aims to show how popular goods are made by focusing on matters like the wages paid to workers involved in production as well the environmental impacts of their creation. There’s also Ron Dicker, a celebrity reporter, who will tie in the money foibles of stars.
All in all, these moves do demonstrate HuffPo putting its stamp on the former AOL News operation, and the balance has proved tricky, at least initially. As the combined entity looks to overhaul AOL’s existing multicultural sites, such as Black Voices, and introduce new ones, such as a channel targeted to Baby Boomers, the company has a difficult job in creating a distinct identity around its sites and contributors, one that avoids the worst tendencies of both sites — the reliance on sensational stories and blaring headlines — and instead emphasizes the best, namely the ability to drive comments and community around major news topics.