One of the questions that has so far gone unanswered about the AOL-Huffington Post deal is whether AOL will now become a “left-leaning” media company or whether it will balance its Huffpo property with the acquisition of a “right-leaning” site.Some advertisers are already worried about the former, says Emily Steel in the Wall Street Journal. Others apparently don’t give a hoot.
AOL’s new content boss, Arianna Huffington, has been a hugely vocal Democrat for most of the past decade, and Huffington Post’s initial success was driven by its fiercely partisan liberal community. In recent years, the site has diversified, and “politics” makes up only a small fraction of its traffic (~15%, says Arianna), but the site’s political bias is still clearly to the left.
So will Arianna and AOL now become the online face of the Democratic party, in the same way that FOX is the voice of the Republican party?
Or will AOL itself try to remain neutral, by balancing Huffington Post with another big right-leaning publication (that it would have to build or buy)?
Or will Arianna Huffington, who has changed her personal sides in the past (she was a fiercely vocal conservative in the 1990s), now tack hard to the centre, strip Huffington Post of its liberal perspective, and position AOL as a politically neutral “content” owner?
NYU professor Jay Rosen has written a thoughtful essay on this question, wondering whether “ideological innovation” is possible while maintaining a “view from somewhere” (which in Jay’s view is critical to success these days).
For their part, Tim Armstrong and Arianna Huffington are preaching togetherness and issue-based ideology (right and wrong, not right or left), which is what one would expect them to do.
But given how vocal and visible Arianna has been as a liberal, and given how passionate the Huffington Post community has been about this perspective, changing these perceptions will take time. And as much as one might like the answer to be “right and wrong” instead of “left and right,” Washington DC demonstrates every day how difficult this is to achieve.
More likely, Arianna Huffington will either have to neuter her own views and those of Huffington Post or build or buy a right-leaning Huffington Post equivalent. Or AOL will become positioned as a “left-leaning” media company.