2011-04-15

Great insight into the workings of the new AOL/Huffington Post

AOL has recently bought the Huffington Post. The blog post “Leaving in a Huff” [via Marco Arment] gives us great insight into how AOL does business in the aftermath of this purchase.

The editor of AOL subsidiary Moviephone had to pass on the news to freelance contributors that they were fired:
[...] many of you will be receiving an email informing you that your services as a freelancer will no longer be required. You will be invited to contribute as part of our non-paid blogger system; and though I know that for many of you this will not be an option financially, I strongly encourage you to consider it if you'd like to keep writing for us, because we value all of your voices and input.
This was obviously adding insult to injury, but how else were you going to convey AOL’s message?
The substance of the e-mail was immediately all over Twitter, followed soon by the text of the e-mail itself. Within hours, several prominent websites had gleefully mocked AOL for its ham-fisted efforts. [...]

[The editor] was just doing her job -- a job which, 24 hours later, she no longer had, because AOL got embarrassed by the Internet backlash and fired her.

You've heard of "shooting the messenger"? AOL shot the messenger who delivered its own message. You've got fail.

Oh, but it wasn't enough to fire her. AOL had to pull a "Mission: Impossible" and disavow all knowledge of what she'd said, and publicly shame her for saying it. My friend Kim Voynar has reliable sources who say that when this poor woman left the meeting in which her employment had been terminated, she saw her coworkers already reading about it on the Internet. AOL had leaked it to a writer for the Wall Street Journal, a publication that has never met a corporation whose B.S. it wouldn't swallow, a publication that the very next day would run a fluffy piece about the awesome things Arianna Huffington was doing at AOL.
Classy, huh? Quoting Dave Winer (via Daring Fireball) who contrasts his way of laying off people with AOL’s:
I've done big layoffs twice in my career, and it's the worst experience ever, but sometimes you don't have a choice.

But if you do it right, it can have a positive effect on the organization. Here's how that works.

You prepare for the layoffs quickly and quietly. Then one morning you do them. All of them. And then have a company meeting and you tell the people that that was it. No more layoffs. You’re on the team. And then have a good story about how you’re going to lead them to prosperity. [...]

And what you don’t want to do is what AOL is doing. Week after week cutting off limbs. So that everyone inside the company is thinking they’re next.
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