AOL announced last night that it’s hired more expensive, brand name journalists: Marty Steinberg, the former supervising editor of the Associated Press, and Gene Marcial, an author best known for a column he used to write at BusinessWeek.
Marty will be Executive News editor at AOL News and Gene will join AOL finance site DailyFinance as a columnist.
In its press release announcing the hire, AOL said the hires are part of the company’s plan to “create high quality, original content experiences for consumers across our media properties.”
Per usual, AOL also made sure to note that both Marty and Gene had 28 years of experience at their old companies.
Gene and Marty aren’t the first big name old media refugees AOL has hired in its effort to turn itself from a company that depends almost entirely on dial-up subscriptions into a Time Inc. of the 20-first century.
Former Chicago sports columnist Jay Marioti writes for AOL. Saul Hansell left the New York Times for AOL. DailyFinance contributor Jeff Bercovici used to write for Condé Nast portfolio. AOL News deputy editor Mike Nizza worked for The New York Times and the Atlantic before. There are literally several dozen more examples.
These are all great hires from a branding perspective. These people make AOL look like a more serious media enterprise. These hires certainly make it difficult to apply the “robo-content” label AOL’s content.
But does that make them worth it?
The answer to the question depends on AOL CEO Tim Armstrong’s plan for the company. Is he trying to build a new media company or sell one?
Jason Calacanis built AOL’s most successful, independent media brands — we’re thinking specifically of Engadget, The Unofficial Apple Weblog, and Autoblog — hiring smart new media veterans (remember when he poached Gizmodo’s Peter Rojas to run Engadget?) to oversee cheap young writers who can crank more than any old media vet ever had to in his or her life. Nick Denton built Gawker Media the same way (though he is finally beginning to make writers full-time employees now).
But maybe AOL CEO Tim Armstrong isn’t looking to build AOL for the long-term. Maybe the point of these hires is that they look good. Certainly, there is a group of AOL watchers who recognise that Tim’s greatest strength is his salesmanship. Maybe Tim’s main goal for AOL is to pretty it up for a sale to an old media company that might be reluctant to buy a new media venture staffed entirely with no-name bloggers.
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