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Top posts for Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A week ago Wired Magazine voiced its displeasure over our syndication partnership with the Washington Post. Wired’s Betsy Schiffman wrote “We’ve got nothing against TechCrunch, but it seems crazy-crazy to us that the Washington Post, a paper known for the sort of reporting that can take down U.S. presidents, is publishing content written by a dude who invests in the companies he writes about. But what do we know.”

When I read this I thought “WTF?” (with an emphasis on the “F”). Wired is a competitor to TechCrunch, but we’ve been on friendly terms with them for years now. Editor-In-Chief (on the print side) Chris Anderson and I were on Charlie Rose the same night a month ago, and Chris wrote some nice words about me in his post about the show. Wired’s Fred Vogelstein also wrote an awesome profile of TechCrunch in 2007.

So back to Wired’s slap at us. They seem to be concerned that I have personally invested in a handful of startups (all disclosed here) and we occasionally cover those startups and their competitors. And even though I disclose those relationships, Wired’s position is that the Washington Post should terminate the syndication relationship with us.

I responded to the article as succinctly as possible here (written after a night of heavy drinking at the Time 100 party) and then followed up with additional Twitter messages suggesting we hold a Wired burning party. I chose Twitter specifically for this response to make sure Wired knew I wasn’t happy with the post, but I specifically didn’t write about it on TechCrunch or even CrunchNotes to keep things relatively calm (I have 16,000 or so followers there, v. TechCrunch’s audience of 3 million or so plus feed subscribers). I also then let the matter drop, as I had made my point.

Emails to people I know at Wired went unanswered. Schiffman emailed me on May 9 with further attacks and a request for comments and details but I didn’t respond. Frankly, she’s proven herself to be a troll, and so anything I write might as well be public here on TechCrunch. And, as I said, I let the matter drop.

But then today Schiffman wrote a follow up article on the same issue. No new facts, she just wanted to reiterate how much she dislikes the partnership, I guess.

And if anyone thinks this is just something between Schiffman and TechCrunch, it isn’t. I have never met her and don’t know her at all. And her editor Dylan Tweney defended her when questioned by Valleywag about it. He was asked why Wired is now tagging every post about TechCrunch with “Buttmunch,” and if it is the way TechCrunch is referred to generally around the office and he responded “I don’t think it has come into general usage around the Wired.com office. We can always hope, though.”

My Response:

TechCrunch has financial conflicts of interest via advertisers and via companies that I have invested in. I’ve disclosed my personal investments – and as I’ve said many times in interviews, the grand total of the four active investments is less than I make per month in income from TechCrunch.

WRT advertisers, we do not specifically point out when we write about a company that has advertised with us, because no one does and frankly it would be nearly impossible given how many advertisers go on the site over time. We’ve created an ethical wall between editorial at TechCrunch and all revenue activities, which is run by our CEO, Heather.

The Washington Post obviously got comfortable with our policies, since they are syndicating our content.

Glass Houses

I question Wired’s intentions in posting about this, specifically now that they have posted twice. As a competitor they are clearly conflicted when writing about us, and attacks like these, including the childish tagging issue, appear to be little more than attempts to disrupt our deal with the Washington Post. And yes, that means that by the very act of attacking us and this deal, Wired is engaging in the exact behavior it says is unethical. Worse, they don’t even point out the conflict.

We’ve caught Wired in ethical lapses before (they subsequently added a disclosure to the article). And even the big guys are caught with the occasional hand in the cookie jar. I don’t believe we have ever engaged in unethical behavior of any kind on TechCrunch, not even the kinds of lapses seen at Wired and the NYTimes.

I have a lot of respect for many of the writers and editors at Wired. But as far as I’m concerned Wired.com, from Editor-In-Chief Evan Hansen on down to Betsy Schiffman, has clearly crossed an ethical line here. Perhaps they are giving up the fight to write relevant content and are resorting to sensationalist trash like this to generate page views. If that’s the case, it is a shame. I used to love that magazine.

Update: I’ve asked Hugh Macleod to do a cartoon for this fight, and have put a placeholder in until he responds. This is meant to point out how ridiculous this whole dispute is.

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