How Arianna Huffington managed to lure AOL to buy The Huffington Post

 @ibtimes
on February 07 2011 10:31 AM

Struggling U.S. Internet company AOL agreed to buy Huffington Post, an influential and rapidly growing news, analysis and lifestyle website, for $315 million as part of its effort to turn its business around with a strategy of becoming a top producer of digital content.

Arianna Huffington, 60, who co-founded Huffington Post, will now run a new group within AOL responsible for integrating content between the two companies in the news, tech, women and other sectors.

Huffington, who launched the news website in 2005 more as a commentary outlet and an alternative to other conservative news sites, reached 25 million unique visitors in December and the combination will put AOL at 117 million US visitors.

With the help of our CEO, Eric Hippeau, and our president and head of sales, Greg Coleman, we'd been able to make the site profitable. Now was the time to take leaps, said Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington. By combining HuffPost with AOL's network of sites, thriving video initiative, local focus, and international reach, we know we'll be creating a company that can have an enormous impact, reaching a global audience on every imaginable platform.

Arianna invited Arthur Schlesinger Jr to blog who would fax his blogs. That's not blogging, Arthur used to criticize her. Now with the takeover by AOL, Arianna will become a boss of the entire editorial content of AOL channels.

The deal, $300 million of which to be paid in cash, is expected to close in the first half of 2011.

Chasing her dreams

Arianna had a dream and that was going to Cambridge University. She wanted to be a writer but faced a lot of rejections. Her persistence saw her through troubled times as she took a loan and went on to publish a number of books.

Arianna Huffington, who engineered the success of The Huffington Post, a news and blogging site she co-founded in 2005 that today attracts 8 million clicks a month. Huffington, who employs more than 50 editorial staff in her news site today, has set her sights high and the site is known to consistently break important news stories with close to 4,000 contributors, from politicians and entertainers to academics and leaders of organisations.

The Huffington Post is considered to be a liberal and progressive American news site, as well as an aggregated blog featuring news from various sources and columnists.Today, the site offers coverage of politics, media, business, entertainment, world news and original content.

Arianna Huffington, who was born as Arianna Stassinopoulos, takes pride in referring to The Huffington Post as a newspaper as she is a firm believer in the medium of newspapers. She feels there will be fewer physical newspapers but there will be online versions.

Success of The Huffington Post

What went into making The Huffington Post a success? Recalls Huffington in an interview, “After the '04 presidential race, I had a meeting to discuss the role media had played in the election. Among those at the meeting was Ken Lerer, who became my co-founder. We discussed creating a platform that would be a combination of 24/7 news and a collective blog. That was the beginning of the Huffington Post.”

Arianna says they agreed to each half of what was required to launch the site. “I ended up raising my half from friends in a week. A year and a half later, we took in venture capital from SoftBank Capital, whose managing partner at the time, Eric Hippeau, is now our CEO.”

Six months ago, The Huffington Post had managed to stave off rumors of a possible sell-off by raising another round of funding, giving it a valuation of over $100 million. Today, the company has been bought by AOL at three times that valuation.

Huffington, who launched the news site more as a commentary outlet and an alternative to other conservative news sites, felt it didn't matter how a blogger's thoughts got on to the site as she carried postings from Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Larry David, Gary Hart, John Cusack, and Walter Cronkite in the very first week.

Huffington says people who had initially said no to blogging eventually came around and said yes. She owes her success to personal relationships and her ability to connect with people easily. “And that's part of the Huffington Post. I'm bringing in voices — some well known, some not — and providing a platform,” she says.

In fact, during the recent 2008 Presidential campaign, one of HuffPost’s citizen journalists, Mayhill Fowler, showed how he could influence an election after reporting on Barack Obama's remarks at a San Francisco fundraiser. The citizen journalist nearly managed to derail the campaign when Obama said Pennsylvania blue-collar voters, cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them.

Who was Arianna's anchor as she grew up? Huffington’s mother was her biggest influence in her life and she owes her knack to handling relationships from her mother. When a young Huffington saw a picture of Cambridge University in a magazine, she expressed her desire to go there.

“Everybody else laughed. But my mother said, OK; let's find out how you can go there. She borrowed money for us to go to England. She made it clear if I failed — if I didn't get into Cambridge — it was not a big deal. But I got in,” Huffington recalls in an interview.

Huffington was passionate about debating during her Cambridge days and she even recalls arguing her case against an unregulated free market in one of the debates.

Huffington married oil millionaire Michael Huffington in 1986 and moved to Washington after moving to New York from London in 1980. But, her marriage ended in divorce in 1997 which prompted her to move to Los Angeles. Notwithstanding the painful divorce, Arianna retained her husband’s surname even afterwards and is able to be friends with him. They even take vacations together with their daughters.

Huffington ran for governor of California in 2003 against frontrunner and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and her campaign failed. “But, I learned about the power of the Internet. Most of our money for the campaign, almost $1 million, was raised online,” she says.

In fact, prior to starting The Huffington Post, Huffington hosted a site called Ariannaonline.com and her first foray into the Internet was a website called resignation.com, which called for the resignation of then-president Bill Clinton.

Huffington has penned a biography of Picasso, written a syndicated column and co-hosted Left, Right and Center on public radio in the '90s. She began co-hosting another radio program 7 Days in America in 2007. She was also a panelist on the weekly BBC Radio 4 political discussion programme, Any Questions?, and the BBC television panel games Call My Bluff and Face-the-Music.

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