With 2,000 News Writers, What is AOL Up To?

Dial up might be dying, but American Online sees a bright future in ... journalism? AOL now has about 2,000 writers and former journalists making content for its blogs and news sites, as the former tech giant is trying to remake itself as an online media conglomerate. The company, which is about to spin off from Time Warner, has poached thousands of journalists from print publications and television, like Bloomberg and ESPN. Hey AOL, what are you trying to do here?

Michael Arrington from TechCrunch says the overall strategy is simple. Upon the smokey ruins of print journalism, build an empire of online journalism for every monetizable niche you can imagine. You want sports? AOL's hired ESPN screamer Jay Mariotti. You want politics? They've got the excellent Walter Shapiro. Parenting? Julie Tilsner from BusinessWeek. Niche by niche, AOL hopes to build a content network through their Media Glow platform and sell specific advertising, in the hope that it will reshape the online journalism industry and, presumably, their bottom line.

Blog networks aren't a new idea. Glam Media, a privately held company that houses blogs for lifestyle and womens issues, has more than 100 million monthly visits, according to Quantcast. The infamous Gawker Media is also an content and advertising network for niche blogs from media through cars. And guess what: Gawker Media is going gangbusters in the recession, enough that economic writers like Felix Salmon are praising them as the Goldman Sachs of journalism. There is clearly money to be made in this revolutionary model.

But will this work for AOL? Dial up, which accounts for half its revenue, is in a free fall. A new direction is necessary. Blogs are cheap to maintain, laid off writers are cheap to hire, and, with a newly hired CEO from Google, AOL is prepared to cut ties with Time Warner and move the company in an entirely new direction.