The shakup at AOL extends far beyond the company’s $315 million acquisition of Huffington Post and the subsequent layoff of 20% of its workforce (900 employees to be exact). Engadget is one of AOL’s most valuable web properties, and over the past few weeks a number of the gadget blog’s top editors have left to pursue other opportunities. And now comes word that the site’s editor in chief and managing editor have also decided to leave.
In late February, Senior Editors Paul Miller and Ross Miller quit within a week of each other. Paul Miller had been an Engadget writer for 5-years but eventually quit over AOL’s reluctance to help the site evolve. Compounding matters was the leaked presentation of the “AOL Way”, a leaked corporate strategy hell bent on doing whatever it takes to increase pageviews and one where profitability supersedes good journalism.
“It doesn’t take a veteran of the publishing world to realize that AOL has its heart in the wrong place with content,” Miller explained. “AOL sees content as a commodity it can sell ads against. That might make good business sense (though I doubt it), but it doesn’t promote good journalism or even good entertainment, and it doesn’t allow an ambitious team like the one I know and love at Engadget to thrive.”
Similarly, senior editor Ross Miller also pointed to the “AOL Way” as one of the few, albeit symbolic, reasons he decided to leave Engadget. Miller said that AOL’s business strategy made him question the future of Engadget’s brand, explaining that AOL’s corporate money-over-everything outlook has the potential to erode the control Engadget staffers wield over their own site.
All the while, Engadget editor in chief Josh Topolsky steadfastly declared via a Tweet that Engadget was not “subject to the AOL Way at all” and that the site operated free from the constraints of a large overbearing corporation.
Now, three weeks later, two more senior editors are bidding Engadget adieu, including Topolsky and managing editor Nilay Patel.
This past Saturday, Topolsky penned a post announcing his decision to leave Engadget after four years. Topolsky looked back fondly at his time at Engadget, calling it the most rewarding and fun time of his life.
“I’ve never worked so hard or had so much fun doing it,” Topolsky wrote. “I don’t use religious terms very often, but if there’s such a thing as being blessed, I would say the opportunity I had to work with these people certainly made me feel that way.”
Topolsky didn’t delve into the reasons behind his departure, but noted that he has no plans to leave the tech news industry, cryptically stating that he has a few “fantasy projects in mind” that we might be hearing about soon.
Also gone is Nilay Patel, a managing editor at Engadget who often did a thorough job of handling some of the more complex legal issues that inevitably arise in tech on a weekly basis. Patel actually left Engadget on March 4th but didn’t make the news public until this weekend.
Perhaps highlighting the turmoil or reservations about continuing on at Engadget, Patel wrote that he decided to leave despite having an opportunity to become the site’s next editor-in-chief.
“That’s a pretty exclusive fraternity,” Patel wrote. “I would argue that Peter Rojas, Ryan Block and Joshua Topolsky are three of the brightest stars in our industry, and simply trying to equal their unparalleled leadership of our publication has long been the goal at the end of my five-year plan.”
But 3,633 posts later, Patel decided to call it quits.
Patel continued, “Ultimately, however, I’ve come to the realization that it’s not this five-year plan, but rather the next five years that are critically important if I’m going to keep growing and learning. Leading Engadget might be the culmination of one dream, but in my heart I know I need to find the next beginning. It’s bittersweet, but I feel surprisingly good about it.”
And so, in 1 months time, Engadget has lost 4 of its top editors. This can’t be good news for AOL as the company desperately tries to increase traffic on a number of its under-performing web properties. Indeed, the vast majority of AOL’s web properties have experienced a drop in daily unique visitors year over year. The last thing they need is a mass employee exodus from one of their more profitable properties.