Goodbye AOL

After 6 years, 10,000 stories, and 3 million words, I have been let go by AOL.

I’m not the only one. The new HuffAOL canned many, many people this week (and over the past two months). You’ve probably heard about some of those firings. We all woke up to the news, finding a form e-mail in our inboxes that started with a friendly “Hi There” (I guess we should be happy there wasn’t a “Yay!” in the e-mail). Not only couldn’t we finish off the month of April, we couldn’t even finish off the week. We were gone, pronto.

It’s an odd feeling to wake up and find out that you were actually fired while you slept, dreaming of new articles you could pitch to your editors in the morning.

I haven’t posted anything about this until now, because I wanted to let it sink in a bit, get my thoughts clear and really talk about everything that has happened. I also got sick the day before this all happened, with a sore throat, a slight heat I can feel behind my eyes, body aches, an overall tired feeling – great timing, nature! – and really haven’t had the energy to do anything except sit on the couch and surf around to see what everyone else is saying about what happened.

The firings aren’t necessarily a surprise, but they’re certainly a disappointment and a bit of a head-scratcher.

The night that it was announced that AOL had bought The Huffington Post – news I heard on Twitter, which seems to be where I hear most of my news now – I mentioned to someone that even though AOL was the buyer of HuffPo, we would actually see HuffPo take over AOL’s content across the board. Now that has happened. The one thing I didn’t foresee was the firing of so many good people or the dumping of over 30 successful sites.

If we’re to be honest, the good TV Squad died a while ago. What was once a smart, invigorating blog went away when AOL TV merged with and pretty much took over the site. Now it’s jam-packed with video clips and celebrity gossip and reality show news, with a smattering of features that seem to get lost in the mix because of how many posts they do and the design. Oh, don’t get me started on the redesign, which is a hideous combination of the soulless and the bland.

It’s the type of design that makes you think that the common wisdom of having a lot of white space on a site isn’t always right. I’m still not sure how they managed to put in more white space yet make it seem more cluttered and unfriendly than it was before. Well done!

It’s also a mystery to me why so many freelancers (and staff editors) were let go. Huffington and her editors keep saying that they’re dedicated to journalism. Well, then I’m not sure why she just got rid of so many journalists. She thinks that bloggers aren’t “professional journalists.” It’s the idea that she and her editors have really been pushing for the past two months, in interviews and official statements to the press. But what they don’t understand is that blogging is just the technology. It has nothing to do with writing quality or experience. You would think that someone who runs, you know, a massive group blog would actually know that.

Arianna, not all bloggers are journalists. But nowadays, every journalist is a blogger.

And this isn’t an indictment of her plans to get rid of freelancers and concentrate on full-time staff. There’s actually something ambitious and admirable about that. But she already had a lot of talented journalists on hand (except the ones that decided to quit when they could see the writing on the wall). A lot of people – like me – weren’t freelancers because the quality of our stuff was bad or because we didn’t want to work full-time or we were “just bloggers.” We were freelancers because that’s how we came on board AOL and it was our only option.

Freelancers were invited to apply for full-time positions, and some may even get them. Most won’t. Full disclosure: I applied for a full-time position too, but I didn’t get one. In fact I know, thanks to traffic stats, they didn’t even look at my resume. So I didn’t stand a chance. Which doesn’t surprise me, because I’ve been angling for a larger role there for a while and it didn’t happen. I have my own theories on that but I won’t get into them here.

TV Squad will be going away and will soon just go under the AOL TV name. For those of my friends who remain there, I wish you the best of luck. Just remember to do the best writing you can do. You can’t control the other stuff.

Besides all those words and all those stories I mentioned above, I also did something else during my time there: I made a lot of friends (way too many to list/link to here because I don’t want to leave anyone out, but they know who they are). And that’s the best thing you can take away from any situation like this.

A special thanks to Jason and Brian and Judith for bringing me on board Weblogs, Inc all those years ago and making me TV Squad editor in the early days. I remember the good times at TV Squad and Slashfood and Cinematical and Adjab and when I do that I can’t feel too bad about what happened. On to brighter things.

What’s next for me? I don’t know yet. It will involve writing, but I’m not sure where and I’m not sure what. To be honest, it’s going to be nice to be able to write and not have to worry about SEO or worry about reviewing a TV show five minutes after it airs. The opportunity to do a lot of features at TV Squad really wasn’t there anymore. I still love television and will continue to write about it a lot, but I’m going to concentrate on other writing too (and info I promised about the new projects I’ve had in the works for a while is coming, I swear I swear I swear I swear I swear).

But what’s next for me immediately is laundry and a large plate of pasta. Have a great weekend! See you Monday.

8 comments

  1. Mike

    Another great and honest post, Bob. Like I tweeted the other day after the bad news hit, I’ve always enjoyed reading your stuff, and I always will. You’re TVS posts were a huge influence on me wanting to join the blog. I’m looking forward to following your new projects …

    “For those of my friends who remain there, I wish you the best of luck. Just remember to do the best writing you can do. You can’t control the other stuff.”

    My thoughts exactly. I’ve always tried to write with clarity and integrity, and that’s what I’m gonna keep doin…

  2. Jane Boursaw

    Bob – Thanks for such a wonderful and thoughtful post. I’m with you in that the best thing I take away from my AOL years is the friendships and connections I made there. You were such a big part of TV Squad, and I’m thrilled I had the chance to work with you.

    There will always be a place on the Web and in print publications for thoughtful, skillfully-worded writing, so I have no doubt you will land somewhere great. Wherever you go, I will follow (hey, isn’t that the Gilmore Girls theme song?). I predict big things for you on the horizon (and hopefully without all the AOL drama!).

    Jane

  3. Jay

    Sad to hear this Bob. I appreciate your balance of respectful personal response and your equally respectful reflections on the objective state of journalism. I wish you all the best in your future, writing and otherwise.

  4. Nate

    Bob,

    I’ve been a reader of TVS for three years since I moved all my feed reading over to Google Reader and found it via a blogroll recommendation (I don’t remember which blog; I usually set my TV criticism reading around TVTattle and the big newspaper critics like Mo, Lisa deMoraes, Hal Boedeker and Aaron Barnhart and go from there) and always loved the blog until the redesign last year, and I always loved how the site was and your articles for it. The idea that you all called out networks (I defended Network Decay on Wikipedia for instance when it was up for deletion, a concept your team really defined well in the first place) for what they did and their duds and tried to do intelligent criticism, along with the addition of Mo kept me reading despite all that AOL did to the site; it really isn’t the same and there have only been a few posts since the new year that remind me of the old TVS, and only one post-Huff that I favorited in Reader. It’s really been a bad year for following because many of the stories on TVTattle are now sourced to gossip sites, and there are getting to be few pure-TV news sites out there that don’t sound like they’re written by network PR departments.

    I’m glad to read that I’m not the only one who hated many of the changes (autoplay videos, whose idea what THAT?) and was disappointed not to see you lately, only to find out when Twitter recommended you for a follow and I read through your posts that Huff got to you. I’ll miss your writing and I hope you’ll let us know where to follow you in the future.

  5. J.c. Hewitt

    Hi Bob,

    Sorry to hear about Huf and all that stupidity. TVSquad was once a fantastic site and I enjoyed your writing there. The site has been going downhill for a while, and I had stopped reading steadily a few months back. I just recently realized that the domain is gone. I hope you find another cool place to write.

    Good Luck

    John / Poewar.com

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