Popular tech blog TechCrunch, which was acquired by AOL about a year ago appears to be in major turmoil, following news late last week that founder Michael Arrington is likely out of the company after launching CrunchFund, venture capital fund.
Previously, we looked at a lot of the chatter taking place throughout the industry expressing various viewpoints about the whole thing, but now TechCrunch writer MG Siegler has written a pair of posts lending perhaps the most interesting point of view yet.
“TechCrunch is on the precipice,” he writes on TechCrunch itself. “As soon as tomorrow, Mike may be thrown out of the company he founded. Or he may not. No one knows. And if he is, he will be replaced by — well, again, no one knows. No one knows much of anything. Certainly no one at TechCrunch. This site is about to change forever and we’re in the total fucking dark. I’ve been able to piece together little bits of information here and there, and it’s not looking good. Hence, this post.”
He goes on to discuss how TechCrunch actually works as a publication and the editorial process, which has been the subject of critique by the mainstream media. Siegler calls out a particular article by The New York Times’ David Carr, which he discusses even more in a post on his personal blog.
On that blog, ParisLemon, Siegler writes, “Journalists seem to think they can write about TechCrunch as if they’re looking in a mirror. That is to say, they think our operation runs in a similar manner to theirs and they use that as a jumping off point for misguided (but predictable) outrage. In reality, what they’re looking at when they look at TechCrunch is a crystal ball.”
“First and foremost, the concept of an ‘editor’ at TechCrunch is essentially just a title and nothing more. Generally speaking, neither Mike nor Erick (TC’s two ‘co-editors’) are overlords that dictate what everyone else covers. With a few exceptions (mainly for newer writers), no one person even reads posts by any other author before they are posted,” Siegler explains. “Traditional journalists may be appalled to learn this. But this is a big key of why TechCrunch kicks their ass in tech coverage. We’re fast and furious in ways they can’t be, because they’re adhering to the old rules. Are there benefits to those old rules? Sure. But in my opinion, the benefits of the way we work far outweighs the benefits of the way they work.”
He makes some pretty good points, and has a whole lot more to say about them in that post.
Back in the TechCrunch post – property of AOL – he concludes that AOL may “TechCrunch as we know it may be over.”
“AOL seems to think that by cutting off the biggest conflicts — ones so big that they’d obviously have to be disclosed — that they’ll be a bastion of integrity in the editorial landscape. What a bunch of horse shit,” Siegler says. “The conflicts we need to worry about are the ones not disclosed. They’re far more prevalent and they do actually deceive readers because they’re far more subtle. But that’s an impossible task. AOL can’t fix that — no one can. So instead they’ll slaughter the lamb everyone can see to gain puffery amongst the old media peers who also live to die another day.”
When it was first announced that AOL would acquire TechCrunch, it caused quite a stir, and many wondered how TechCrunch would manage to keep doing things the way it had always done under the control of a huge media conglomerate. And that was before the Huffington Post was part of the equation.
“I remember hanging out with the staff a year ago before the announcement was made that AOL had purchased Techcrunch and the rumors were just rolling over the staff,” says Robert Scoble in a Google+ post. “Some of the staff were dismayed (to put it lightly. At least one was crying). They thought that Techcrunch as we knew it was over then. Turns out they may have been right, although they kept a brave face on it for almost a year.”
Some wondered, would TechCrunch be afraid to criticize AOL if it needed to be criticized? TechCrunch said this would not be the case, and AOL practically encouraged it.
TechCrunch held true to its word, even going out of their way to spark blog wars with other AOL-owned properties like Engadget and Moviefone.
Now, who knows?
“It has almost been exactly one year since AOL acquired us,” Siegler writes. “At the time, they promised not to interfere with the way we do things. For 11+ months, they’ve kept their word, and things have run beautifully from our end. Our business is one of the few sterling ornaments on their mantel. Now they may break their promise to us. And if that promise is broken, it will break TechCrunch.”
It’s going to be very interesting to see how things unfold, and how it affects AOL’s future acquisition strategy.