The Now/ledge

A Guide to the 'Now' Revolution in News / by Alan Soon

Building AOL’s editorial production line (thank you Huffington Post)

AOL’s chief Tim Armstrong may not seem so crazy after all. The acquisition of Huffington Post, announced today, is clearly aimed at beefing up the company’s content pool in the wake of Demand Media’s (surprisingly) strong IPO last month.

To put it all in context, Demand Media is worth about $1.5 bn in market cap today — that’s $800 mil shy of AOL’s. Armstrong must have Demand on his threat radar.

AOL is pushing heavily into building its low-cost editorial factory. Leaked business plans show just how its editors are thinking: Is this story SEO-winning for in-demand terms? How can we modify it to include more terms? In all, AOL is aiming for search referrals to bring in 40 percent of its overall traffic — the largest single contributor.

So where does the HuffPo fit in all of this? For $315 mil, paid mostly in cash, AOL is getting more SEO friendly traffic from the popular blog site. By all counts, this is a smart deal. At 5x expected revenue, the HuffPo acquisition is almost cheap.

In the end, this is negative for online journalism. The deal once again proves the massive shift in the content industry to a bulk, low-cost production line led by SEO referrals. As a business, this makes sense. But for consumers, this takes you further from the news as reporters are incentivized to deliver on in-demand story trends on a daily basis. Say goodbye to enterprise, investigative or niche reporting.

Filed under: News, SEO

Al Jazeera’s moment in the battle for Egypt and news

Every network has its time. For CNN, it was the first Gulf War. Now, it’s Al Jazeera’s big moment in the spotlight as the Egyptian crisis continues to unfold. (You can watch its coverage live here.)

The network’s coverage is top notch, bar none.

In a time of massive budget cuts, U.S. networks like CNN haven’t been able to keep their foreign bureaus running. The crisis in Egypt exposes a chronic problem among U.S. networks — their inability to quickly move away from “cheap” news in times of global crisis. Spend five minutes on CNN and FOX and you’ll see what I mean. Anchors are constantly using adjectives like “extraordinary” to describe the images, while the same video is replayed repeatedly. And that’s exactly the advantage that Al Jazeera is exploiting. For them, it’s not about the anchors or reporters — it’s about the live images on the ground.

The network is helping to create a “common struggle” across the Arab world, according to Marc Lynch, a professor of Middle East Studies at George Washington University. “They did not cause these events, but it’s almost impossible to imagine all this happening without Al Jazeera,” he told the New York Times.

But it isn’t just about the minute-to-minute coverage. Al Jazeera has unprecedented distribution thanks to the Internet. If you haven’t already downloaded the iPhone/iPad app, do it. Content may be king, but distribution is definitely queen in a crisis.

There’s clearly demand from North America, where the network is suffocated by cable companies who don’t want to be associated with the Arab channel. Mohamed Nanabhay, who runs the online operations for Al Jazeera English, noted on his Twitter feed that 55 percent of web traffic to the site is from the U.S. and Canada.

John R. Stanton probably said it best on Twitter: “So is everyone going to FINALLY get off of Al-Jazeera’s back and recognize them as not only legit but pretty goddamn good?”

Well said. Now back to watching the coverage live on AJE.

Filed under: News, Television,