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First Impressions of AOL's Purchase of the Huffington Post

By Sree Sreenivasan | February 7, 2011 11:27am

By Sree Sreenivasan

DNAinfo Contributing Columnist

It's not every day that that someone you teach with sells his company for $315 million. That's exactly what Kenneth Lerer has done.

For the last three years, I've been teaching a class on media entrepreneurship with Lerer, the chairman and co-founder of the Huffington Post, which was bought Monday by AOL. When he started the company with Arianna Huffington, a lot of people told him he was crazy. But, as the old saying goes, "Living well — and selling your dot-com for $315 million is — the best revenge."

Here's some of the official word on the deal from Kara Swisher of AllThingsD:

AOL Inc. announced today that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire The Huffington Post, the influential and rapidly growing news, analysis, and lifestyle website founded in 2005, which now counts nearly 25 million unique monthly visitors.

The transaction will create a premier global, national, local, and hyper-local content group for the digital age–leveraged across online, mobile, tablet, and video platforms. The combination of AOL’s infrastructure and scale with The Huffington Post’s pioneering approach to news and innovative community building among a broad and sophisticated audience will mark a seminal moment in the evolution of digital journalism and online engagement.

The new group will have a combined base of 117 million unique visitors a month in the United States and 270 million around the world. Following the close of this transaction, AOL will accelerate its strategy to deliver a scaled and differentiated array of premium news, analysis, and entertainment produced by thousands of writers, editors, reporters, and videographers around the globe.

As part of the transaction, Arianna Huffington, The Huffington Post’s co-founder and editor-in-chief, will be named president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group, which will include all Huffington Post and AOL content, including Engadget, TechCrunch, Moviefone, MapQuest, Black Voices, PopEater, AOL Music, AOL Latino, AutoBlog, Patch, StyleList, and more.

And here is what Huffington wrote in a mass email to her thousands of bloggers:

We are writing with some very exciting news.  As you will see if you click on the HuffPost home page, The Huffington Post has been acquired by AOL, instantly creating one of the biggest media companies in the world, with global, national, and local reach -- combining original reporting, opinion, video, social engagement and community, and leveraged across every platform, including the web, mobile, and tablets. 

Central to all of this will be the kind of fresh, insightful, and influential takes on the issues of the day that you and the rest of our bloggers regularly deliver.  Our bloggers have always been a very big part of HuffPost’s identity – and will continue to be a very big part of who we are.

When the Huffington Post launched in May 2005, we had high hopes.  But we would have been hard pressed to predict that less than six years later we would be able to announce a deal that now makes it possible for us to execute our vision at light speed.

It's too early to tell how this marriage will turn out, though it hasn't stopped pundits — including me (I've already done two interviews) — from making observations. Here's Jeff Jarvis in BuzzMachine:

They laughed when Arianna sat down to the keyboard. They were wrong. I was wrong, too. I hadn’t imagined that Huffington Post would become the force in media and politics that it became.

And Ben Parr in Mashable:

The company that brought dial-up Internet to millions of people is dead. In its place is a massive media empire that refuses to be ignored.

With its blockbuster acquisition of Huffington Post, AOL has catapulted itself back into relevancy. It has sent a clear signal to the rest of the world that it is a media company and that it is in this game to win.

This cements AOL's position as a major player in journalism and media for years to come, just as its Patch network of local sites approaches the 1,000-town mark. There will continue to be public questions asked about Patch's business model and HuffPo's dual structure - "We pay for reporting and not for opinion," Huffington once told me, meaning she has paid staff for reporting and editing news stories and not for the thousands who blog in exchange for the traffic, attention and the platform.

Whatever else happens in the months ahead, it's obvious that the two most buzzworthy editors in journalism today are two women - Huffington; and Tina Brown of Newsweek Daily Beast Company - who increased their stature, reach and influence by taking their newer, online sites and connecting them with older companies searching for relevance. 

What do you think? Post your comments below or on Twitter @sree.

Every week, DNAinfo contributing editor Sree Sreenivasan, a Columbia journalism professor, shares his observations about the changing media landscape.