Editor’s Note: The board of directors of the Dodo has responded to this article, disputing the author’s characterizations of its business strategy, spending rate, staff morale, as well as the timeliness of the story, which addresses many issues that were contained to the Dodo’s first year of operation, in 2014. Its full response can be found below.
Divorced of context, meme aggregator BuzzFeed's announcement today that it raised $15.5 million to fund "real reporting" seems a little absurd; the site's current front page includes the stories "This Cat Is Planning Something Evil," "30 Choice Hotties Of 1999," and "Panda Vs. Stuffed Toy Dragon," don't betray expensive, investigative ambitions. BuzzFeed's new direction is better understood as part of a battle over the direction of online media, led by principals trying to best with what the Huffington Post has become.
Many people have criticized The Huffington Post for not paying its writers. But Ken Lerer, who co-founded the site with Arianna Huffington and remains the company's chairman, sure has one heck of a generous streak. Last week, we noticed that Joey Bartolomeo, a senior writer at People and frequent TV talking head, had purchased an apartment on the Upper East Side. What was strange was that Bartolomeo didn't buy the $1.025 million co-op on her own. Lerer's name appeared on the property documents as well. And it turns out that Joey isn't the first member of the Bartolomeo family to have benefited from Lerer's largesse. Bartolomeo's older sister, Stephanie Bartolomeo, picked up a $1.25 million co-op on the Upper West Side back in March. And once again, Lerer co-signed for the apartment.
• Arthur Sulzberger Jr. says he has no plans to take the New York Times Co. private, despite "brutal conditions" that threaten his paper's survival. [NYT]
• Meanwhile, Moody's has downgraded the NYT Co.'s credit rating. [E&P]
• A few theories on why Peter Kaplan departed Jared Kushner's Observer, and what's in store for Kaplan—and the paper—in the future. [WWD]
• Former Facebook exec Owen Van Natta is the new CEO of MySpace. [WSJ]
• Is GE looking to sell NBC Universal to Time Warner? It's possible! [TDB]
• Ambushing the ambusher: Staking out the home of Jesse Watters, the Fox News producer who stalks liberals for Bill O'Reilly. [Gawker]
Eva Mendes turns 35 today. One of New York's richest men, oil billionaire David Koch, is 69. Supermodel-turned-TV host Niki Taylor is turning 34. Actor Kevin Connolly is 35. Former AOL exec and Huffington Post co-founder Kenny Lerer is 57. Sheila Birnbaum, Skadden's "Queen of Toxic Torts," is 69. Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante turns 39. Publicity-seeking pastor Joel Osteen turns 46. And the more talkative member of Penn & Teller, Penn Jillette, is celebrating his 54th birthday.
The Huffington Post has a guy who emails me if I typo their URL in a Valleywag entry. So I doubt it's a lack of managerial attention that allowed a brazen advertorial for Thrillist's new Miami edition to run on the HuffPo Tuesday. I wouldn't have noticed if Portfolio hadn't called it out as a violation of the site's own user agreement. But read Portfolio's summary of the situation and ask yourself how many outraged HuffPo editorials would appear if anyone remotely related to Sarah Palin were to get this kind of play on Little Green Footballs:Portfolio media blogger Jeff Bercovici says:
The Huffington Post is decidedly not for sale, site founder Arianna Huffington announced yesterday in Denver. That means, most likely, that they still can't find any buyer willing to pony up anything close to that $200 million figure that got leaked to the Times. This year, the hard-working HuffPoors broke a couple political stories that decidedly altered the campaign, expanded into another city, and launched lifestyle sections with great fanfare, but let's be honest with ourselves: despite their fantastic skill with PR (thanks to Arianna's charm and moneyman Ken Lerer's experience working the press), the HuffPo is still not worth the paper it's not printed on. Click to viewHere are the two interpretations of The Huffington Post that Arianna and company would like you to forget: "left-wing Drudge Report" and "unedited celebrity Livejournal." The increasingly bloated HuffPo still is mostly an unhealthy mixture of those two things, of course, but their ambitions are higher. They have to be, to justify that ridiculous internal valuation. Hence HuffPo Chicago! And, more importantly, HuffPo Living, full of bullshit local-news quality health stories, "how to beat workplace stress" listicles (or often worse: links to those listicles posted elsewhere), alternative medicine quack-bloggers, and other "grab the apolitical old women" content. (To be fair, this shit does fit in well with Arianna's moony guru-filled California lifestyle, just as the media and political sections compliment her strident populism and personal hatred of the establishment press.) And with entertainment and style sections, HuffPo now calls itself "The Internet Newspaper." Real newspapers across the nation spiral into bankruptcy, but HuffPo's overhead costs are much lower, what with not paying most of their contributors. And also what with not having any original reporting. The site is still another damn aggregator, curating and linking real work done by traditional newsgatherers. With insane raving commenters, of course. And "blogs" from Nora Ephron. [Three years later and they still call each "post" a "blog." This still drives us insane.] This is the point L.A. Times media writer James Rainey makes in his slightly bitter piece on Arianna and the site. "I confess I'm as charmed and amused by the beguiling Ms. H as anyone," he says, "but also slightly queasy about whether her Huffington Post will ever offer original content and reporting that lives up to the hype and pretty packaging." What, you're not happy with featured content like "One Millenial Speaks Out: Why I'm Enrolling in Culinary School"? [Ed. note: we wuz wrong.] But, you know, they're still working on that whole original content that will make their site actually worth what they'd like to cash out thing!
Will one-time AOL exec Bob Pittman sell email newsletter DailyCandy to Yahoo? That's what DailyCandy execs are said to have discussed over dinner last week at the Village Restaurant in New York. Ben Lerer, publisher of Thrillist, another online publication backed by Pittman, told us he's heard no talk of a sale. But, tellingly, he was very curious to know what we've heard. That's because while Yahoo might be a surprise suitor, Pittman's desire to sell DailyCandy is no secret. In 2006, the WSJ reported Pittman had put DailyCandy on the block, hoping to sell his $3.5 million investment for more than $100 million. If the dinner happened, it's surprising Pittman didn't clue Lerer in. Ben's dad Ken, a cofounder of the Huffington Post, was a close ally of Pittman at AOL.
Fishbowl watch: Simon Dumenco at AdAge slams Arianna Huffington's Huffington Post a second time for not paying their bloggers. But for most of Huffington Post's celebrity contributors, a blogger's paycheck wouldn't be worth the time it would take to cash it. HuffPo seems to be doing all right, which means the real compensation for a post there is the kind of in-crowd recognition that can't be bought.
The new editor at TechCrunch, Erick Schonfeld, has gotten a little IPO-crazy in these heady days of Bubble 2.0. The best guess we've seen on a Huffington Post valuation is $60 million which, for a media company, is a drop in the bucket. We can't remember a tech or media company going public with a valuation anything like that. Huffington Post is the most unlikely IPO candidate since Wired in 1996 — and Wired had substantially more revenues and a real magazine business. Maybe we were onto something with the whole cheese thing. More likely? An acquisition.
Perhaps no one was more eager to leave the dinner than David Geffen and Arianna Huffington: Geffen and Huffington bolted super early and were already in his jet before the dinner had ended. One person who approached Arianna to chat as she was leaving the dinner got the cold shoulder. "Darling, I would love to talk, but I'm getting a ride back with David on his plane." (Oh, and Huffington's efforts to hide her black right eye with bangs didn't fool everyone. She earned the bruise recently when she passed out and hit her head on a desk.)