Just over a year after she was anointed queen of content, Arianna Huffington has been knocked down the ladder a couple of rungs at AOL. Instead of overseeing all editorial operations, the 61-year-old digital media maven will focus solely on The Huffington Post which is scheduled to expand to 13 languages. The shift means that Huffington will no longer oversee large AOL media properties like TechCrunch, Engadget and AOL.com but rather concentrate on growing her namesake, which is essentially what she did before the AOL acquisition.
Every way we look at it, it seems like Huffington just got demoted. Nevertheless, she sounds both positive and proactive about the changes. There's even chatter about private equity firms buying the site back from AOL. "Listen, The Huffington Post is growing explosively, so obviously there are private equity people who are interested in it. But I'm very happy, [AOL chief executive] Tim Armstrong is very happy. We keep unlocking HuffPost value, which is very good for the parent company. So all is good," Huffington said at Business Insider's Startup 2012 Conference on Thursday according to The Wall Street Journal's Keach Hagey. To clarify the supposed demotion, she said, "What I asked for is for us to be more independent, to have technology, marketing and [business development] now into Huffington Post, so that we can accelerate all our growth, and for me to be freed up to just concentrate exclusively on HuffPost."
It's unclear what this latest shuffling of responsibilities means at the Internet newspaper and its aging parent company. Just a month ago, The New York Times's Brian Stelter reported that Huffington's role was actually increasing. At the time, Stelter said that Huffington took "several business functions out of AOL and under her control" so that, in Huffington's words, she could "maintain the innovative spirit of a start-up. Business Insider's Nicholas Carson debunked that Times story, accusing Stelter of doing HuffPost's new PR person a favor. Regardless, Huffington's shift in responsibilities represents the first real response to previously reported tensions between her and AOL leadership. The main incident of course was last year when Huffington sparred and eventually pushed out TechCrunch founder and editor Michael Arrington over a venture capital fund he'd agreed to launch with Tim Armstrong's support.
On the bright side, The Huffington Post did win a Pulitzer prize last month, bringing Huffington's creation few inches closer to the status of quasi-competitors like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. No re-org can take that away from her.