The Best Media Writing of the Week

How AOL Won HuffPo, Why Apple Changed Course and Where Maer Roshan Got the Idea for The Fix

It's the Best Media Writing of the Week

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If some at The New York Times were alarmed at the Huffington Post's rise up to this point -- we're looking at you, Bill Keller -- imagine the reaction yesterday when the web-traffic tracker ComScore revealed that HuffPo won more unique visitors than The Times Online last month for the first time. "Six years to disrupt 100 years," an exec at AOL, HuffPo's new owner, crowed on Twitter. "Nice work team huffpost!"

Aside from its dubious chronology (The Times is more than 100 years old, while its website is considerably younger), the tweet overlooks the fact that AOL didn't just chip in $315 million in the HuffPo acquisition. It also contributed its fire hose of web traffic, which is responsible for much of HuffPo's recent gains.

Then again, perhaps that 's uncharitable to Arianna Huffington, who built a site that became powerful enough to make AOL a buyer in the first place. The sale would not have taken place even after AOL made a rich bid, Jeff Bercovici reported for Forbes this week, if it weren't for Ms. Huffington's persistence:

Consider the way she railroaded the buyout over the objections of some of her board members. When Huffington first took the deal back to her partners, a couple of them protested. "Our goal was an IPO rather than building up the company to be acquired by another media company," says Palo Alto venture capitalist Fred Harman, whose firm, Oak Investment Partners, injected $25 million into HuffPo in 2008 at a valuation of $100 million. While Ken Lerer, Huffington's original partner in the launch, was content to sell, Harman and Eric Hippeau, HuffPo's CEO and the fourth member of its small board of directors, held out, believing a billion-dollar public offering was possible given the patience to wait a year or two. "Even when Tim put a preemptive offer on the table, Eric and I were still inclined to roll forward as an independent company out of the belief that The Huffington Post could continue to rapidly scale and be the dominant social news company on the Web," Harman says.

Despite traditional news outlets' arguments that you can trust them more than the upstarts, moreover, too many rushed this week to report that Texas authorities had found dozens of corpses in a mass grave in Texas. No matter that they'd found exactly zero bodies, following a tip from a woman who "may or may not have been claiming to be a psychic," as Bob Garfield wrote for the Guardian. By the time that was clear, it was too late for the press:

They'd long since launched a journalistic corpse-a-palooza.

And why not? It all seemed like such a done deal, verification-wise. Agence France Presse reported that "Texas police, acting on a tip-off, found a mass grave containing 'a lot of bodies,' including the corpses of children." This is AFP we're talking about, not the hairdresser -- although there was a red flag embedded in the opening paragraph. The wire service's source? "U.S. media." That's not the hairdresser; it is equally not the horse's mouth. Reuters reported approximately the same shocking headline, but would not be so sloppy to source the news to something so vague and unaccountable as "U.S. media". Reuters cited "local media."

There's another corpse you can stop looking for, MG Siegler wrote for TechCrunch: Apple's. It's not that many people would bet against the tech giant, per se, but that Apple's new rules for selling subscriptions to iPad and iPhone apps seemed to some like "seppuku" for its app platform, Mr. Siegler wrote. Many of the same people were surprised when Apple revised those rules this week, before they even took effect, now letting apps access content sold elsewhere without making publishers sell the same access within the app, triggering a 30% revenue cut for Apple. But they shouldn't be:

The reality is this: Apple had an idea, one that would potentially be hugely profitable for them, and they decided to test the waters on it. They put it out there to see if it would swim. It sank. So they reeled it back in and changed things. All of this happened, mind you, before anything was ever actually changed. I'm sure it's a total coincidence that Apple just altered these guidelines right before the changes were due to take effect later this month.

We conclude this week with The New York Observer's lovely look at Maer Roshan, the former Radar editor who's started a site about sobriety called The Fix and is working on an iPad magazine called Punch. Aaron Gell, who worked for Mr. Roshan back at Radar, writes that the subject matter of The Fix was hardly incidental -- "Mr. Roshan had developed a serious drinking problem while struggling to launch and to then relaunch Radar and spent a good part of the past two years drying out in various rehabs, halfway houses and sober-living facilities."

All the same, the Radar days sound like (often) good fun:

Mostly, he was a blast to work for -- mirthful, brilliant and routinely exasperating. Despite his editing prowess (he is amazing with structure and narrative), he types with two fingers and often leaves caps-lock on by mistake. He has yet to master the technical nuances of website bookmarking, and typically checks his own sites by typing in the U.R.L....

He tends to smoke only a few drags of a Marlboro Light before firing up another, sometimes without extinguishing the first. He can be the same way with stories. I once arrived on a movie set in Williamsburg to profile a hipster porn star only to find another Radar writer who'd been sent for the same purpose. (Radar 2.0 folded before either piece ran.) During features meetings, he could often be counted on to propose pieces that seemed oddly familiar, leaving it to Mr. Tennant to remind him the story had run in an earlier generation of the magazine. That said, they were almost always a good idea, both times around.

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