A certain amount of grumbling is par for the course in the media business these days–an ambient hum so pervasive you almost forget it’s there. But that disconsolate keening seems to have reached a new pitch with AOL’s staggering $315 million purchase of the Huffington Post, an aggregation-loving site that, in the words of one Web editor, makes fellow page-view-hoarders Tina Brown and Nick Denton “look heroic.” The deal means hefty payouts not only for proprietress Arianna Huffington (rumored to have landed somewhere around $20 million) but also for some of her minions. Sources tell The Observer that a half-dozen or so original employees are expecting payouts of around $1 million each.
“Think about it,” groused a magazine veteran not connected with the deal. “Anyone who’s been at HuffPo that long probably has zero creative fire, talent or editorial ambition. Now these people are cashing seven-figure checks?”
The big winners are “the most boring, non-personality people,” according to a former Huffington Post employee who turned down a big job early on.
“There’s always regret when you see money being handed out in giant chunks,” admitted Rachel Sklar, who worked at the Huffington Post from 2006 to 2008 but says she “never inquired” about equity.
If anything, the deal should “light a fire under people’s asses” to build their own media companies, said Melissa Lafsky, another former HuffPo editor who worked for a straight salary. While crediting the site with launching her career, Ms. Lafsky, who now edits the blog Infrastructurist.com, had a warning for young scribes who sign on to new media ventures: “Demand equity.”
An original Huffington Post employee who followed that advice and is now sitting on a large payout as a result said the equity incentives helped compensate for a lack of job security during the lean years, when it was far from clear that Ms. Huffington’s pet project would survive. People who got equity got it through hard work, the source added.
For her part, Ms. Sklar, now a start-up consultant and editor at large for Mediaite, said she harbored no ill will toward Ms. Huffington and felt working for her had been the right decision. “It was the start of my whole career,” she said. Besides, she added, “Arianna started me going on TV.”
Andrew Breitbart, who helped create the Huffington Post, did not benefit from the sale, having already cashed in his marbles to fund his own Web site, Breitbart.com. Still, he had no regrets. “Money’s not everything,” he said.
Clarification: Ms. Sklar’s words, “never inquired,” were in reference to equity packages in general at the Huffington Post, not any prospective equity packages for herself. Ms. Sklar declined to discuss her personal financial dealings with the company.