Diary of a Merged Man

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AOL's Steve Case and Time Warner's Gerald Levin at merger announcement

There are 85,000 stories in the naked AOL-Time Warner empire, one for every employee of the newly created new/old media behemoth, and this is mine.

I am no stranger to synergy. Behind my desk in TIME.com's cluttered bullpen-style newsroom sits CNN's mini-TV studio (a desk and a remote camera) for all manner of cross-promotional chores. Spots on CNN, CNNfn and even CNNi for TIME, Fortune and Money correspondents. Sometimes a pretty lady comes in to read something in Spanish. Once, James Earl Jones came in to talk about the new "Star Wars," and topped it off by recording an endless series of "This is..." sound bites for the CNN-Time, CNN-Fortune and CNN-Entertainment Weekly shows they run when the news is slow.

Now AOL owns it all. The print magazines. The news channels. The record labels. The movie studios. The WB network. The Time Warner cable lines, which they've promised the FTC they'll share with the other children. Ted Turner. Madonna. Bugs Bunny. James Earl Jones's voice. And me.

The marriage of such vast arrays of content and distribution, like the old Standard Oil, worried the FTC for a long, long time until they gave up. Sometimes it tugs at the consciences of us content providers (formerly known as journalists). The use in news writing of "a parent company of this network/magazine/publication" was already widespread — this merger makes it even more so. Not to mention that there's one less behemoth out there I can make fun of without fearing for my company stock.

But a little ignorance goes a long way. I wasn't in on the top-level pre-merger meetings; my editor wasn't worried about me spilling any secrets in this piece because I don't really know any. So my objectivity hasn't taken much of a beating.

Before the merger, as an occasional business writer, I was suspicious of AOL's long-term value, because what were they, really, except a big ISP? They were just another dot-com that didn't really make anything. Since the merger started, all that's changed is I know AOL was suspicious too.

Suspicious enough to pay top dollar — many, many billions — for my services. And it's nice to be wanted. It's nice to know that my news-themed content just got the inside track (don't tell the FTC I said that) to some 25 million paying subscribers. And it's nice to think that my stock in this new new-media behemoth could one day make me a man of above-average wealth — as soon the next speculative bubble hits NASDAQ. (I have one word for you: broadband.)

Besides, when it comes to new media, my 20-odd TIME.com colleagues and I are at the thin end of the wedge. On the new-media prow of the TIME magazine flagship. Time Warner is an Internet company now, and we are the Internet. In other words, AOL's gonna have to come through me.

Unless I get downsized first.

Which my editor promised me wouldn't happen.