Following reports Friday, including ours, that suggested AOL (NYSE: AOL) is shifting editorial strategies again, David Eun, president of AOL Media and Studios, insists that isn’t the case. The speculation was prompted by several high-profile departures that suggested the company was focusing more on less experienced reporters and outside entities to provide content to its network of AOL and branded sites.
AOL is putting an enormous effort into scaling hyperlocal network Patch rapidly plus growing its freelance aggregator Seed and online video producer StudioNow. A spate of of acquisitions led by Techcrunch and DIY video syndicator 5min, only adds to the mixed view of AOL’s editorial plans. Does AOL still need its large staff of in-house journalists? In an interview with paidContent, Eun’s answer was “a definite yes and then some.”
To Eun, in order to reach the goal of building the largest content network, it will require a mix of internal and outside sources, as well as the work of human beings relying on both their own expertise and technology. “If you go to our Travel site, I think you’ll see a very well-programmed experience, that includes articles our staff journalists have written, content from partners and local content from people in our Seed network. We also have videos from our StudioNow network. What we’re doing is creating the largest virtual newsroom of the future. Ultimately that’s run by the people on staff here, who produce our editorial.”
While Eun didn’t want to specifically address the individuals who have recently left the company for other media outlets, it doesn’t appear that there was a particular pattern to the departures.
paidContent:Over the last few years, AOL’s content offerings have taken on a lot of ambitions on great deal of different fronts. That’s become even more pronounced in the past year. There are the dozens of blogs on the portal and then there are properties like the hyperlocal network Patch, the freelancer aggregator Seed and the video production house StudioNow. How do you define AOL’s approach to creating and managing content?
David Eun: We’re equal parts media company and technology company. And we are focused on building high quality content sites at scale. We think that the strategy of the future for content and journalism in the digital age requires that.
How do you balance those two different sides?
It’s very simple. You start with the best-in-class writers and editors who are programming the best experiences in online. By programming, I mean the writing, of course, but also using technology to tap into all all sorts of different elements and contributors of content. We’ve been consistent in describing what we’ve been doing with [freelance aggregation system] Seed and [online video production house] StudioNow. Those two businesses are good examples of creating a large network. Think of it as creating a large network of stringers, of freelancers who you know and trust and can provide the content you need.
We look to them as providers of wet clay. And we look to the professionals internally who shape what those ultimate experiences are. For us, it all begins and ends with high quality editorial. The “but” here is that it involves technology to tap into expertise elsewhere.
By tapping into a large network of outside contributors, does that mean that the emphasis is on non-professionals?
I can see how it can appear that the more we use Seed and StudioNow that we’re just going with “amateurs.” We have 50,000 content contributors in the system. We want to grow them, want to tap into them. But just because they contribute something into the system, that doesn’t necessarily mean it gets published. We’re shaping everything. That is the strategy, that’s the way it’s always been.
There’s been a lot of focus on expanding Patch quickly. It would seem hard to balance the ambitions there, while also maintaining a large staff of journalists working on AOL News and other parts of the portal. How does it fit in?
Patch fits into that concept perfectly. It is very important to us. And it’s a big investment — we’re hiring hundreds of journalists. These are established, credentialed journalists and I want to be sure that we’re fair about that to them. That said, we’re also hiring at AOL News and across AOL Media and are actively recruiting.