But out of everything I could find to cite for this piece about friends such as those at the Sierra Madre Patch, there was one web entry that stood out over all others. Click here to witness the terrible beauty of it for yourself. Oh, and be sure to follow the subtitles.
The key to understanding where AOL sees itself going over these next few years is to read all about it in the information supplied by the internet conglomerate itself. A website called The Business Insider scored something of a coup last week when they acquired an internal corporate document entitled "The AOL Way." And in a move that would warm the heart of any Tattler, posted it on-line so that all the world could revel in the shame of it all.
TBI.com explained it this way: "AOL is using this document to train editors right now. It is an illuminating look into how AOL, a company with hundreds of millions in dollars in annual funding, is trying to turn itself into a 21st century media giant on the fly." Here are some of the things they highlighted in the article:
- AOL tells its editors what topics to cover based on four considerations: traffic potential, revenue potential, edit quality and turn-around time.
- AOL asks its editors to decide whether to produce content based on "the profitability consideration."
- The documents reveal that AOL is, when the story calls for it, willing to boost traffic by 5 to 10% with search ads and other "paid media."
- AOL site leaders are expected to have eight ideas for packages that could generate at least $1 million in revenue on hand at all times.
- In-house AOL staffers are expected to write five to 10 stories per day.
If you would like to ponder "The AOL Way" for yourself, you can view the entire document by clicking here.
Now for most the language TBI.com employs probably comes off as being a bit abstract and insider. They're obviously writing for media professionals. And while AOL's purported news sites are being asked to put page view driving content over quality news coverage, there are lots of crap media outlets run by control freaks in this world who do that sort of thing. Turn on your television and you'll see that schlock media is nothing new.
But a run through some of the recent articles posted to the Sierra Madre Patch shows the possible influence "The AOL Way" is having on our local outpost of their experiment in "hyper-local journalism." With titles like "Most Romantic Restaurants for Valentine's Day," "VIDEO: Bieber Fever Hits Westfield Santa Anita Mall," "Great Escape: Get Pampered In Sierra Madre" and "Dear Sierra Madre Moms: We Need Your Help!" (does Patch have diaper rash?), you can see where "The AOL Way" hopes to take us.
Throw in an occasional disinformation gambit like Tim Chapman's piece on the Prop 218 process here in Sierra Madre and you have quite a noisome little stew. A mix not all that dissimilar to what The Looney Views News serves up.
Tim Rutten, in an opinion piece published by the Los Angeles Times, got right down to the consequences of the AOL/Huffington Post merger:
Consider first AOL's pre-merger efforts, which centered on a handful of commentators and a national network of intensely local news sites called Patch. The quality of those efforts varies widely, but the best ones are edited by journalists who lost their jobs in the layoffs and buyouts that have beset traditional news organizations over the last decade. These editor-reporters are given reasonable benefits and salaries that are about what beginning reporters at major newspapers were paid three decades ago. Their contributors, by contrast, are paid a maximum of $50 an article, often less.
The results pretty much conform to the old maxim that you get what you pay for; the best Patch journalism almost invariably is being done by experienced journalism who do the work out of idealism or desperation. What happens when the pool of exploitable surplus labor dries up - as it will with time - is anybody's guess, but the smart money would bet on something that isn't pretty.
Rutten then goes on to explain how The Huffington Post fits in with The AOL Way. Arianna's profitable practice of not paying contributors could be the wave of the future under the new regime.
The other partner to this dubious arrangement is The Huffington Post, which is a new-media marvel of ingenuity, combining a mastery of editing geared to search engines that stimulate Web traffic and overhead that would shame an antebellum plantation. The bulk of the site's content is provided by commentators, who work for nothing other than the opportunity to champion causes or ideas to which they're devoted. Most of the rest of the content is "aggregated" - which is to say stolen - from the newspapers and television networks that pay journalists to gather and edit news...
The fact is that AOL and The Huffington Post simply recapitulate in the new media many of the worst abuses of the old economy's industrial capitalism - the sweatshop, the speedup and piecework; huge profits for the owners; desperation, drudgery and exploitation for the workers. No child labor, yet, but if there were more page views in it...
Debra J. Saunders, in an opinion piece for the San Francisco Chronicle (reprinted in the Pasadena Star News), dissects one of the key reasons for Huffington's wild financial success - exploiting the idealism (naivete?) of her volunteer writers.
In one of her many iterations, Arianna Huffington targeted "corporate greed" as a force undermining America. That was during one of her populist phases, which frequently are followed by Huffington morphing into what she once scorned. Score another transformation for La Huff. On Sunday, AOL announced it would pay $315 million, mostly in cash, to buy the left-wing website she co-founded, Huffington Post. The merger and acquisition also will place Huffington at the helm of AOL's new Huffington Post Media Group division.
Huffington is an entrepreneurial genius at self-promotion. She fiercely surfed the left's discontent with mainstream - read: corporate - journalism by promising to keep mainstream - read: paid - news media "honest." Then she rode that left-wing discontent all the way to the bank. Now she writes like a corporate flack, lauding the "merger of visions" made possible after business-savvy CEO Eric Hippeau "monetized" the Huffington Post.
Corporate greed? The New York Post reported that since Feb. 1, AOL shares declined some $2 per share - devaluing the company by about $315 million, or what AOL agreed to pay Huffpo. At least in this case, the market has taste.
Over on the very lively news site The Daily Beast they have been taking some strong shots at the Huffington/AOL merger and what it means for real journalism:
The other, bigger problem is AOL itself. AOL touts itself as a media company, but as Ken Auletta reported in The New Yorker recently, most of what AOL publishes is junk, and 80 percent of its profits come from a rather seedy little business - charging subscription fees from longtime users who don't realize that they no longer need to pay for AOL service, and could be getting it for free.
Much of AOL's dysfunction was laid bare just one week ago when Business Insider, a blog, got hold of a leaked AOL memo called "The AOL Way," which purports to instruct AOL's hacks on how to practice their craft. It's all about making stories based on traffic potential. It's all about numbers - and volume. It's a depressing, sickening, embarrassing document. AOL's hacks are expected to write 5 to 10 articles a day - which puts me in mind of the scene in Ben-Hur where the slaves are out to work rowing a Roman warship, and their Roman master tells them, "We keep you alive to serve this ship. So row well, and live."
Business Insider quoted one AOL "journalist" as saying, "AOL is the most f***** up bullsh** company on earth," and then adding that joining AOL was "the worst career move I've ever made."
But enough of that. I need to get over to the Sierra Madre Patch to get the latest news on where to get dogs washed and coiffed in town.