January 31, 2013

Arianna Huffington (Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images)

Something didn’t quite add up when Managing Editor Nico Pitney’s departure from the Huffington Post was announced one year ago. Arianna Huffington, the news site’s name partner, wrote an e-mail stating, in part:

After living in two different cities for the first year of their marriage, Nico and his wife have decided to move to San Francisco to be closer to their families, and to start a family of their own. Sadly, as a result, Nico will be stepping down as managing editor on February 3rd.

Not a good enough explanation, Huffington!

What was left unsaid in that official version of events was that Pitney had been mired in the 2011 merger of AOL and the Huffington Post. It wasn’t the most fulfilling duty for a manager at a fast-moving, ever-changing Web site. Pitney had previously piloted the Huffington Post homepage and helped build its D.C. presence, undertakings unencumbered by corporate obstructionism.

Last spring, though, Huffington snatched various business functions back from AOL, enabling her to “add sections and products more quickly,” in the words of the New York Times’s Brian Stelter.

And that’s one reason Pitney is returning to the Huffington Post next week in the capacity of head of product. “There has been a change with the relationship between AOL and Huffington Post, and from what I can tell, it is that while AOL still provides a lot of support to Huffington Post, it is more of an independent entity now,” says Pitney, who will work from San Francisco. The site’s tech team, headed by chief technology officer John Pavley, is in “better shape than it has been since AOL bought Huffington Post,” says Pitney.

Washington Bureau Chief Ryan Grim adds, “Nico was persuaded by his friends that the Huffington Post is moving in the right direction that he always wanted to see it moving. Once he was persuaded of that, that really helped him make the decision to come back.”
Pitney, 31, says he’ll focus on … what everyone else is focusing on: “One of the big priorities is the social Web,” he says, along with building community and “pushing” folks to mobile. “The head of product tries to discover new opportunities where tech can … build great tools both for our audience and editors.”

Following his departure, Pitney took a 200-day international trip and also fielded offers from a “handful” of unspecified companies. “They were offering good money and good stock options,” says Pitney.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.