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AOL Picking Up Journalists Shed By Conventional Media 94

Hugh Pickens writes "David Weir writes on Bnet that the thousands of journalists being let go from newspapers, magazines, and television networks have increasingly been showing up on AOL's payroll — over 1,500 in the last eighteen months — a number AOL expects to double or even triple over the coming year. 'Over time, talent is a fixed cost,' says Marty Moe, Senior Vice-President of AOL Media. 'You can syndicate it, distribute it as you scale. Furthermore, we are already the largest branded content company in the US, with an audience of 75 million domestic uniques. At our size, we can leverage the cost of our publishing and content management systems along with the talent and make the whole thing do-able on an advertising model.' Weir writes that AOL's turnaround started three years ago via the acquisition of Weblogs, Inc., and its set of branded verticals, including Engadget in technology, Autoblog covering the auto industry, and Joystiq covering gaming."
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AOL Picking Up Journalists Shed By Conventional Media

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  • "Branded verticals"? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @08:17AM (#28984711)

    You could've just said "niche blogs". What makes them "branded" verticals, anyway? It's not like "Autoblog" is one of the news industry's most sought-after trademark endorsements.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ganjadude ( 952775 )
      Autoblog is one of the 3 or 4 car "rags" I actually check out, Them and jalonik seem to be the "slashdot" of the autoworld. New reviews of cars, sneak peeks and spy shots. I dont know how big they are but no one can argue, it has more value than an AOL 3.5 floppy just my opinion anyway
    • by bconway ( 63464 )

      Engadget and Joystiq are linked here multiple times per day, so they must be doing something right.

      • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:22AM (#28985213) Homepage

        Engadget and Joystiq are linked here multiple times per day, so they must be doing something right.

        Paying in small unmarked bills?

        • by bhsx ( 458600 )
          I personally find Engadget to be my third visited site, daily; and I check it at night before bed as well. Their most obvious competitor is Gizmodo, which I'll check maybe twice a week. Both blogs are written with a tongue-in-cheek, sometimes actually funny, style; but Giz is pretty hard on the eyes. Engadget is actually probably the easiest, of my regularly visited sites, to read.
          I don't want to miss out on that announcement that the next netbook in the pipeline gets 40hrs battery life on a 8-cell ARM
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Do you read much about cars? Turns out that Autoblog is definitely an improving brand amongst auto enthusiasts. Autoblog is one of the most quoted and referenced websites on the numerous (and growing) car forums on the net. This challenges the traditional vehicles of auto journalism such as MotorTrend, Car and Driver, and Road&Track. To claim a niche blog is not a brand ignores the very site you posted the claim on.

  • by Dr_Ken ( 1163339 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @08:21AM (#28984741) Journal
    They don't call those guys "human resources" for nothing! People (i.e., "the talent") are a resource to be acquired, used up and disposed of as cheaply and as profitably as possible. This story fits right in as a bookend to yesterday's story about how the Rupert Murdoch media empire is gonna start charging for all their websites because "content isn't free". Hmmm....
    • >>>People (i.e., "the talent") are a resource to be acquired, used up and disposed of as cheaply and as profitably as possible.

      That's okay because the company's bank account is just a resource for me to suck as much money as possible, for the least work as possible, before my one-year contract expires. (Also the free pens and paper and staplers are a nice, undocumented benefit too.)

    • by vrmlguy ( 120854 )

      'Over time, talent is a fixed cost,' says Marty Moe, Senior Vice-President of AOL Media.

      I have to call "Bullshit!" on this statement. Over time, talent is a recurring cost, unless you plan to fire everyone after a year (which might be part of their plan).

      A fixed cost item is something that you buy and then use (more or less) forever. Acquiring a story is a fixed cost, because you can keep using it after the author is gone. Of course, the value of a story tends to depreciate over time, so you want to keep the good authors around, to produce fresh content, but I'm not sure if AOL media grasps

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Thank god you're not a bookkeeper or CPA because the definition of a fixed cost is anything that does not vary in cost for at least (1) one accounting year. This means that Payroll can be a fixed cost because you already have a budget for that if you're large enough. In the case of AOL/IBM or any other large company like them, payroll is pretty much a fixed cost as they already know how much they're going to spend on it over each year's period. It's also the reason that divisions have layoffs when the compa

    • by TheVelvetFlamebait ( 986083 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @10:04AM (#28985591) Journal

      Bastards! How dare they trade in consensual labour!

      • Consensual labour is a lot like consensual sex.

        Very often it involves a lot of deception, desperation and exploitation, and frequently leads to feelings of fatigue, disappointment and resentment.

        • by bkpark ( 1253468 )

          Consensual labour is a lot like consensual sex.

          Very often it involves a lot of deception, desperation and exploitation, and frequently leads to feelings of fatigue, disappointment and resentment.

          So, what's the alternative? Rape? Not all consensual sex is good, but good sex is consensual. Likewise with labor.

          • So, what's the alternative? Rape? Not all consensual sex is good, but good sex is consensual. Likewise with labor.

            (-1, False Dichotomy)

            Working for someone is much of the problem with labor. Working with someone leads naturally to [more] equitable arrangements. There are always opportunities for those with certain natural advantages to take advantage of others even in such a system, but those opportunities are only magnified in an environment where one person may benefit from the efforts of many without sharing in the responsibility for their actions.

            In order to make the world a better place, abolish corporations and re

            • In the construction of any powerful group, there always needs to be a balance between the power to get things done and the checks and balances. It doesn't just apply to governments, but also corporations. A corporation is useless without some power to make decisions, but at the same time, we don't want it running amok with its power and influence (which tends to happen from time to time).

              The problem with your "cooperatives", especially as they grow to a half-decent size, is that they tend heavily towards th

              • The problem with your "cooperatives", especially as they grow to a half-decent size, is that they tend heavily towards the useless side. The ability to make decisions is not just important, but absolutely vital. That's very difficult to achieve with a group of people without rank.

                Every member of a co-op doesn't need to have an equal share. They do, however, need to be compensated for their efforts. Every member doesn't have to do every job, either; that's impossible. Finally, one corporation doesn't necessarily need to translate into one cooperative; in many cases, that is not feasible.

                • by bkpark ( 1253468 )

                  Every member of a co-op doesn't need to have an equal share. They do, however, need to be compensated for their efforts.

                  This is already done in many, many corporations, and in the places that do not make it a policy, the employee can take the initiative and do it themselves.

                  It's called "stock", you may have heard of it.

                  In some workplaces, part of the compensation package will be stock, so that the employee would have a share in the company's profits. This is, of course, more common for the executives than the entry-level employee, but in many places, i.e. publicly traded companies, nothing stops him from buying the company's

    • "People are a resource to be acquired, used up and disposed of"

      Just curious here. Are you attempting to imply that traditional newspapers "valued" their human resources, more than AOL might? I hope not. For every recognized name that traditional media has pampered, there have been thousands of names that they threw away as useless. And, I'm sure you'll realize that the difference often depended on back office politicking. Little nonsense things, like, "Who is sleeping with whom", and, "That guy's an as

  • by oenone.ablaze ( 1133385 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @08:22AM (#28984743)
    ...now that I found out that I'm still patronizing AOL in some form. Yes, I used to have AOL. For shame.
    • by PRMan ( 959735 )
      Turn in your geek card.
      • by maxume ( 22995 )

        Is the recommended procedure for turning in a geed card to gin one up out of steel and hammer it through your forehead?

        Announcement: Geek card jokes old and tired, no longer funny, let them die.

        • by eln ( 21727 )
          Dude, this is Slashdot. You can still get upmodded for jokes about hot grits or Jon Katz here. This place is the HOME of old and tired. Without our old and worn-out memes, what are we?
      • >>>Turn in your geek card.

        Bah humbug. I was geek before most of ye were even born. I was using AOL before most people even heard of the internet. It started circa 1985 with Quantum Link - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_Link [wikipedia.org] - a primitive version of the graphical web for Commodore users. It also gave me access to Global usenet forums like rec.arts.startrek wher you can still find my messages from the 1980s.

        Then it evolved into AOL which provided early text-only Gopher and Web browser acce

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:04AM (#28985045) Homepage

        Geek fail. AOL bought Netscape which became Mozilla which of course gave (emphasis on gave) us Firefox, so AOL can be consider worthy of Geek redemption, maybe ;). It certainly looks like the old world media types are really struggling leaving an opening for new world media types to gain market share.

        Interesting side point, the old world media types will be more likely to let the journalists that don't toe the corporate line and a more likely to report the news rather than just make advertising look like the news. Net result over time the old world media types will get caught out fabricating the news more and more often by reporters who now work for competitors and who know all the old world media dirty trade secrets.

        The internet news channels will be working hard to build a reputation for honestly and accuracy, so as to gain as much market share as possible as news shifts from TV (the idiot box, have to laugh), to streaming content on a computer.

      • Trust me, he could have had worse, he could have had Centurytel. During the bad old days where dialup was all there was CenturyHell made AOHell look like sunshine and puppies. ever here about ISPs using that stupid "mouse metric" to decide where to cut you off? You know, where if the mouse didn't move in x minutes (like if say...you were actually reading a web page) they would cut you off? Well Centurytel took it to the extreme baby, yeah!

        Theirs was so bad that if you had a slow connection (and that was

    • In Soviet Russia, AOL patronises you.
    • by dbet ( 1607261 )
      Hey at one time AOL was very geek. Back when they were $5 an hour (pre-web, no monthly fee model yet), there was a "cheat" you could use to use their download area free of charge, I used to find hundreds of shareware titles this way.
  • by pzs ( 857406 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @08:25AM (#28984759)

    There have been several [slashdot.org] stories [slashdot.org] on Slashdot recently about the demise of newspapers. Commentary from blogs and elsewhere is fine, but somebody needs to be gathering the primary data. If AOL are willing to pick up the slack on this, I might just start to forgive them for all those damn floppy disks in the late 90s.

    They talk about paying for it with syndication and distribution; I wonder if this model can be used to pay for proper long-term investigative journalism, the kind of stuff that is vital to democracy [wikipedia.org].

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jellomizer ( 103300 )

      I was OK with the Floppy disks, all you need to do is format them and you have a nice black floppy. When they switched to CD's that is when it got bad. As you couldn't rewrite them.

      • by PRMan ( 959735 )
        Yeah, I was happy for the free floppies. It saved me a lot of trips to the store since I got them at work too.
      • by pzs ( 857406 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @08:46AM (#28984901)

        My dad tried to make Christmas decorations out of the CDs. They looked hideous and cutting them out made really jagged edges that were pretty dangerous.

        I guess I could have used them like ninja throwing stars to slay the call-centre staff. "Yes, I want to cancel my fucking account!"

        • I used those CDs to get about three years of free access in the late 90s. "Why yes my name is Harry Balzac. I'm calling to get my three months of free access. No, no, I've never used your service before - I swear."

          Later one particularly good AOL deal allowed me to get a $300 computer for "free" from Best Buy in 2001, if I signed-up for an AOL account. All I needed to do was pay the sales tax ($15).

        • I want to cancel my f*ing account

          I've heard of bank accounts and credit card accounts but not f*ing accounts. You must have quite the long-term relationship with your hookers.

        • A few of us at school collected a load of AOL CDs and then spent a little while before break seeing how many we could throw at the wall hard enough that they shattered in a minute. This was fun, right up until the point that we realised we needed to clean up the mess before a teacher arrived...
    • by martas ( 1439879 )
      The floppy disks were fine. I hate AOL because they had the same kind of user base as Bebo or the majority of Myspace today. For me, that makes them tainted for all eternity.
      • by bsane ( 148894 )

        they had the same kind of user base as Bebo

        Funny you should mention that- you realize AOL owns Bebo?

        • by martas ( 1439879 )
          yeah, well, i was talking about the 90's AOL, with their email and chat and all. (web 1.0 social networking, i guess)
    • by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) * <Satanicpuppy.gmail@com> on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:15AM (#28985143) Journal

      It's funny how other industries dying during a recession is perfectly normal, but for newspapers it's TEH END.

      They've still got a good 10 years of churning out pulp before the real DEATH OF NEWSPAPERS kicks in.

      /Works for a newspaper corporation.

      //Back in the black this fiscal quarter for the first time in 18 months.

      • The recession has nothing to do with the death of newspapers, the availability of eInk devices does. Currently, news print is slightly harder to read than text on an eInk display, but is much cheaper (in small quantities) and is disposable. Currently, eInk devices cost a premium, but when the price drops to under $100 and they fit in a pocket, there's advantage to a printed paper; it's less portable, more expensive, and harms the environment more. This dramatically reduces the barrier to entry for news s
        • Adoption rates are still pathetic, and the texts and features available for e-readers are few and over-priced. When your print quality is less than newspaper print quality, there is a problem.

          Frankly, the newspaper industry is perfectly poised to offer it's products on that medium. Where I work we've had a digital product suitable for a Kindle (or similar) since 2005.

          So that's not going to be a problem for them in the way that news on the internet, for example, is. If everyone bought a Kindle, they'd be muc

          • You are 100% correct. e-Ink is fairly irrelevant at this point; almost anyone willing to get their news in that format was already reading it online. When we get color e-Ink @ 300dpi or better plus color Video at say 72 ppi or better in one display, sort of a super version of the XO's display, in a form factor like the Kindle[s] then that will be a serious threat. Since e-Ink is inferior to paper in many regards (you can't [economically] line a bird cage with it, for one) you have to offer something better

    • Newspapers are not part of the solution, they are part of the problem. They are very actively aware that they control what gets discussed and are not shy about using this power to promote their political aims. THIS is the problem, not the fact that newspapers exist as a concept.

      PS the example you cite was not investigative, it was a Washington insider using a couple of naive reporters to achieve revenge for a perceived slight.

  • It's time! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Fyzzle ( 1603701 )
    Break out your buzzword bingo cards everyone, everyone's a winner!
  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday August 07, 2009 @08:31AM (#28984793) Homepage Journal

    So far, they mostly demand entertainment.

    • The public doesn't demand anything. They just get what they're given and complain if they don't like it.

    • by trawg ( 308495 )


      This seemed like a really simple statement when I first read it but the more I thought about it the more I thought it was fascinating.

      I know when I actually go out of my way to seek news, it's always super depressingly painful stuff. Oh, another suicide bomber in Israel. Great, another insurgent attack in Iraq. Another dead kid. Another brutal beating. The media industry trying to take away my rights. The government wanting to pry into every aspect of my life and that of my friends and family to keep me

  • "AOL Picking Up Journalists Shed By Conventional Media"

    AOL are using Conventional Media to lift the garden toolstore belonging to journalists?

  • It just suddenly dawned on me that I've been a customer of AOL for nearly 25 years! I joined when it was known as Quantum Link - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_Link [wikipedia.org] - a primitive version of the graphical web for Commodore users. Then it evolved into AOL which provided early text-only internet access.

    Even today I'm still using their "Netscape Web Accelerator" for dialup access, which is simply AOL by a different name. I'm amazed this company has managed to last for so long.

  • by chazd1 ( 805324 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @08:56AM (#28984973) Homepage

    I think this is pretty big news.

    It seems just like when Virgin Atlanic airlines took advantage of complacent and poorly managed (at the top) Pan Am Airlines and cherry picted talent. Look who is around now. I think we may finally be seeing the shift in media from print to web for newspapers. It is a big ship and it takes time. Industries reinvent themselves, sometimes as other companies.

    • by ranson ( 824789 )
      It's interesting that you bring up Pan Am, as AOL Headquarters used to be the Pan Am headquarters about 15 years ago, and the "Creative Center 1" building was converted from one of the old Pan Am airplane hangars.
    • by demachina ( 71715 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @12:11PM (#28987011)

      For AOL to really turn around they need to rebrand their company. That AOL brand is completely toxic to most people due to:

      - overdone saturation CD marketing campaigns that made that brand perennial joke fodder
      - a reputation as the walled Internet of the clueless
      - AOL nearly single handedly destroying Time Warner (though maybe that wouldn't have been a bad thing) which associates their brand with catastrophic failure
      - there is something about Steve Case that just gives me the willies. He strikes me as the ultimate PHB.

      I suspect a lot of people wouldn't go to an AOL portal just because its got AOL on it no matter how good the content.

      I will give AOL kudos for trying to save journalism when it seems no one else will. Someone needs to save journalism while separating it from dead tree newspaper because that business model needs to die. There simply isn't a rationale for a distribution model that kills millions of trees every year nor for burning the fuel hauling them all over the place.

      I still read the New York Times online though I doubt that will continue when the return to the subscription model. I also have a nagging remembrance of how badly they failed when they let Judith Miller run her pro Iraq war propaganda campaign under their letterhead. In general old media completely failed us from about 9/11/01 up until they finally stopped being complete propaganda tools for the Bush administration around the time of Katrina. I'd seriously like to see some good journalists work over the Obama administration and Congress too for their continued pandering to big business. I'm hoping Danial Froomkin will pick up the cause when he starts work at Huffinton Post.

      • Of the four reasons you give for the AOL brand being toxic to 'most people', only the first one applies to non-geeks (who, in case you haven't noticed, comprise the majority of 'most people'). The first is not necessarily a negative, because they haven't been doing that for about ten years so it just equates to larger brand awareness. AOL still has around 1% of the search engine market, which basically includes all web users and so even a tiny fraction of the total is a huge number in real terms. Their I
        • Actually the third one is totally "non geek". Its everyone one on Wall Street or who plays the stock market and watched Time Warner nose dive when they merged with AOL. With the people who play the stock market for fun and profit AOL is very toxic at this point, and this probably includes everyone whom AOL might want to buy their stock to prop it up which is, for better or worse, the main gauge of success in this Capitalist world.

          In fact I'm not sure any of those bullets are geek only. Bullet one is delin

      • I felt I had to put a AOL horror story somewhere so here goes:

        My grandmother's computer had crashed. No recovery disc. Sony had discontinued the cds. So I turned to kubuntu. My grandmother only used the computer for online banking and AOL stuff. She had been using AOL for 10 years.

        After informing her that AOL would no longer run on the computer she proceded to cancel her account (I never realized anyone PAID for AOL's crap). However later on she had become frustrated with Firefox and the AOL webport

  • But it all depends on what you do with it. My guess is that AOL will fall into the same trap as Fox, CNN, and other "news" agencies who focus on easy sensationalist money are the cost of facts and credibility.

    I am speculating here, that AOL will go after their niche markets using the same "entertainment" rating system that the others do. Good for the masses, but not for a news junkie like me.

    I believe they can succeed. I question whether or not it really matters to the world of news.

  • You've got news!
  • Turnaround my ass... (Score:4, Informative)

    by ivan256 ( 17499 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @10:11AM (#28985661)

    AOL's acquisition of these well-trafficked "blogs" was a turnaround alright. It was a turnaround for the blogs. They all started to suck.

    It's almost guaranteed that if you see the AOL logo at the bottom of a blog, it's going to be a maze of links you think head off to references, stories, and other places of interest, but instead link back to other pages on the blog itself. Imagine slashdot if the link to TFA was just a link back to the dupe from three days ago, and you've got every AOL blog out there.

    It's a shame, 'cause some of them were pretty good before the takeover.

  • This could be the smartest thing AOL has ever done, if they have plans to re-brand as an online new provider. Especially if they work to become a primary source provider, rather than just another we-spit-out-AP-content provider. As much as I grew to despise AOL (I was with them as a user from some of their earliest days through their 3.0 release for which I was a beta tester), it would be nice to see them go a different direction and become something that people could learn to value.

    All the historical AOL
    • by Anonymous Coward

      In a way AOL accomplishes what Murdoch and others wanted to accomplish. A walled-garden to which their news would be sold to. Now if AOL wants to do, to the general public, advertiser supported, and that works? Then great, otherwise AOL subscriber only is always there to fall back on.

      There's also going to be the issue of journalistic integrity with all these corporations buying up talent.

      • I'm nor worried about journalistic integrity much. They will probably start mudflinging wars with each other and their sponsors, so we actually may see much more interesting info. Unless they form a cartel, of course.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by schwaang ( 667808 )

      Yeah, maybe they could call it pathfinder.com [wikipedia.org], and use Time Warner's ex-employees to eat TW's lunch for dumping them and AOL. Payback time baby!

  • 6 years ago I got paid for writing computer/tech content for AOL. Then they found someone who would do it for free if AOL gave their magazine some coverage. hey ho.
  • BINGO! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <deleted.slashdot@org> on Friday August 07, 2009 @10:45AM (#28985971)

    I just won the web economy bullshit bingo! What I will do with the money I won?

    Syndicate with talented fixed-cost do-able domestic model uniques, to leverage and scale my verticals, until acquisition for branding, and then reach the turnaround, of course!

  • If they are smart (Score:4, Insightful)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @11:03AM (#28986217) Journal
    They will push to have at least one top reporter in each city in which a second or even third newspaper shut down. For example, I am here in Colorado. Rocky Mountain News closed earlier due to the bad management that was occurring. Basically, it ran the paper into the ground esp. with their handling of the internet (ugly step child). OTH, AOL has far far more of an idea of how to handle the internet. They could easily hire one or more of the RMN top reporters and re-start it. At this time, the main paper that remains, the Denver Post, is HORRIBLY ran. It has an online editor, Demetria Gallegos, who came from TV. Dgallegos gets on-line and will delete posts or ban anybody that disagrees with her personal POV. It is unlikely that DP will get their act together because all of their top ppl view the net as an enemy, not the future.

    AOL, you can help speed things up. NewsPapers need to die.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by hoarier ( 1545701 )

      NewsPapers need to die.

      The newspapers that I choose to read don't need to die. By comparison, AOL's "idea of how to handle the internet" seems to be "news lite", flooded with as many classifieds and the like as possible. Thanks but I'll take the Guardian [guardian.co.uk] and when I want to read more about the US I'll get it from Wonkette [wonkette.com].

  • What? (Score:3, Funny)

    by DinDaddy ( 1168147 ) on Friday August 07, 2009 @11:32AM (#28986521)

    A world where AOL is relevant to the internet? It's a madhouse! A MADHOUSE!

  • "...the largest branded content company in the US, with an audience of 75 million domestic uniques."

    I imagine there are providers that report the actual number of active users, but I've never been in contact with any. All that I've worked with report the number of sign-ups whether or not they remained active members. I suspect that's the case here.

    To be fair with AOL, it's been my experience that their inaccuracies are as often due to incompetence as they are to prestidigitation of data. Either way, I serio

Each new user of a new system uncovers a new class of bugs. -- Kernighan