AOL has named Cyndi Stivers as editor in chief of AOL.com as it tries to make the portal relevant to Web surfers again.
The appointment is important in terms of Stivers’ editorial heft and her mandate. Her background spans a wide breadth of platforms and verticals, including print (Vanity Fair, Time Out New York), radio (Martha Stewart’s satellite radio channel) and online (serving as managing editor of EW.com and launching Premiere on CompuServe). Most recently, she was editor in chief of the Columbia Journalism Review.
At AOL, which is focusing more attention to its portal after building a collection of acquisitions including the Huffington Post and TechCrunch while investing heavily in the local venture Patch, Stivers will be charged with making the homepage a destination, drawing from content AOL-homegrown and otherwise.
“We are looking at AOL.com to be more than just a way station to send people off to all our different brands, where you can be informed and entertained at any time of the day,” said Susan Lyne, who came on as CEO of the AOL Brand Group in February to grow its own brands and content.
That may be a tall order for AOL, which now ranks 15 in U.S. traffic behind sites like Google, Facebook and Amazon, per Alexa rankings (although comScore had AOL at No. 6 in March). Lyne believes AOL has an opening, however, because “people are looking for curation, they’re looking for someone to identify what’s important and what they might like.” She said to look for a redesign in the third quarter.
Lyne said she had the chance to see Stivers’ editorial experience in action when the two worked together before, at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and Premiere.
“I’ve watched her hire, train, create an agenda and a highly functioning team of people,” Lyne said. “She’s an idea factory, she reads more than anybody I know and is just on the Web constantly. She’s also just got the creative gene that allows her to come up with great ideas and franchises. She’s just had a long history of covering virtually everything in society and culture.”
Stivers' hire apparently came as a surprise to her. When she came down for her first meeting, she thought she was just giving hiring advice, and ended up being offered the position. "I didn't think I was going there to apply for a job," she said.
Stivers acknowledged AOL has some perception issues, as longstanding brands often do. "AOL’s been around a long time, but if you think of it as a place with the little discs and dial-up, you’re going to be missing a lot. There will be a lot of exciting stuff going on at the home page, and there’s a lot of stuff that can be surfaced better, too."
Stivers is set to start in early June and will report to Chris Grosso, gm of AOL Homepages.