Arianna Huffington was controversial back when she only oversaw 70 or so employees. Now that she's riding herd over 1,300 AOL journalists, the Huffington Post founder faces an army of disgruntled enemies. And they're leaking to the press.
First in a Business Insider post on Friday and then in Jeff Bercovici's Forbes column today, AOL journos are airing their grievances. Two Huffington veterans even went on the record; they apparently didn't sign the same nondisclosure agreement as everyone else.
That Huffington is ruffling feathers is hardly a surprise; the socialite turned Republican oil heiress turned new age cultist turned liberal politician turned internet publisher has always had a knack for making enemies.
The question for AOL shareholders is whether the financial solvency of their company will fall casualty to Huffington's latest, and perhaps messiest, attempt at reshaping the world to her own desires. If the volume and ferocity of the charges against the publisher are anything to go by, and if you can set aside that they come from a notoriously thin skinned professional caste, that might just be the case. Here's the rundown of the allegations:
- Arianna "subverted the wishes of her board" in selling the Huffington Post to AOL, after two board members insisted HuffPo could go public for more than three times what AOL paid. "AOL... represented a platform and partner for Arianna to greatly accelerate her ambitions," investor Fred Harman told Forbes. "Nothing was going to stand in the way."
- Arianna is a selfish disaster of a manager. As former HuffPo chief revenue officer Greg Coleman told Forbes of the AOL deal, "she wanted three things: a big bag of gold, a big fat contract, which she deserved, and … unilateral decision making over her world. And that is where you're going to have some problems... Arianna's a world-class politician, a world-class media maven and a genius at p.r., but she's not an experienced manager." Her underlings would seem to agree; one told Business Insider she was "unpredictable" and "unsteady," adding, "Several editors are racing to close book deals to be write the 'Devil Wear's Prada' of the digital age."
- Her entourage hates her. Her longtime HuffPo editors reportedly hate Arianna the most. "Even those close to her are extremely negative behind her back – which is surprising because she has done a great job taking care of her people," wrote BI's source. (She hasn't always done such a great job of "taking care of her people.")
- All websites must bear her name. Business Insider's source points out that standalone AOL websites with their own domain names are all being converted into directories on HuffPo, which in many cases is demonstrably true. "No one thinks consolidating to huffingtonpost.com is a good idea from a consumer or an advertiser perspective, but no one will stop Arianna."
- Arianna has an 'enemies list.' Says a BI source: "Arianna is rumored to have created an enemies list across the company and has directed her loyalists to collect dossiers on other managers across the company and report back on conversations. Her list includes several key business, sales, technology, and marketing executives she wants to eliminate and replace with her people. Anyone who disagrees, even if backed by data and clear rationale's – goes on the enemies list." This sort of monitoring sounds familiar.
If you've got Huffington/AOL tales of your own, we'd love to hear from you.