Did AOL Just Hire A Figurehead To Save Its Media Business?

arianna huffington figurehead

The Huffington Post’s early growth depended on Arianna Huffington’s brand and personal network.

Basically, she got famous people to write for the site for free.

Because of this early public impact – and because she’s an author, a TV star, and generally larger than life – it’s easy for outsiders to assume that Huffington is now nothing more than a figurehead at the company AOL just bought for $315 million.

If that assumption is true, it’s worrisome for AOL, which, as part of the acquisition, will make Huffington its editor-in-chief and president of all media.

But is this assumption true? Is Arianna just the face at the front of ship piloted by more serious and inventive work-a-day executives and editors?

Insiders say no.

One former Huffington Post reporter just told us that back in 2007, Huffington would read all of her posts and call from LA if she found any errors – even typos.

Another source, a former intern, tells us that site editors would get calls at hours from Huffington, asking them, for example, to ding stories from the site’s front page if they didn’t meet her standards.

Rachel Sklar, an early Huffington Post editor who built the site’s popular Eat The Press blog, says “Don’t make the mistake of thinking [Huffington] was just a face and a shell – she WORKS IT.”

“Arianna was absolutely a driving force when I was there, the branded face of the site, absolutely ubiquitous, a machine.”

One source tells us that Huffington got even more involved with the company’s post-by-post coverage during the 2008 election, when Huffington Post chairman Ken Lerer “started checking out.”

“As far as I can tell, it was really her company.”

Related: AOL’s Master Plan >>

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