This is a post I never thought I’d have to write. Unfortunately, I do. And the worst part about it is that it should be Michael Arrington writing this post, not me.
But he can’t.
TechCrunch is on the precipice. 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.
By now, if you read TechCrunch, you likely know about the nuclear situation that has exploded over the past several days. Mike unveiled an investing entity known as the “CrunchFund” with full AOL support — so much support, mind you, that they’re the largest backers of the fund — only to have his legs kicked out from under him due to what can only be described as nonsensical political infighting and really poor communication. To make matters worse, some Journalists (with a big “J” and even bigger senses of entitlement) have proceeded to pile on, despite having no real knowledge — at all — of the way TechCrunch actually works. And now here we are.
Earlier this evening, I wrote a post on my personal blog attempting to explain to those outside our company how TechCrunch actually works from an editorial perspective. The notion that Mike, or anyone else, investing in a company would dictate some sort of giant conflicted agenda is laughable. Literally. If Mike tried to get me to write some unreasonable post about a company he had invested in, I would laugh at him. But he would never do that. Ask Loic Le Meur. Ask Kevin Rose. Ask Shervin Pishevar. Ask Airbnb. Ask countless others. He didn’t get to where he is by being an idiot. He has gotten to where he is by being honest with his readers. Even if everyone doesn’t always agree with him, he has been honest. And he’s brought forth information that no one else has, even when it’s probably not in his best interest to do so.
AOL may be on the verge of changing all of that.
Again, none of us know for sure — including Mike — but I have a really bad feeling. In my post earlier, I wrote, “These things tend to flare up every few months, and they ultimately end up meaning nothing.” That was premature. These situations have arisen in the past — multiple times — and they always have led nowhere. But now I think this time actually may be different. Arianna Huffington is already on record as saying she’s looking for a new Editor-in-Chief to replace Mike (who technically was co-Editor along with Erick — even though the title has never meant much). And there are conflicting reports as to whether or not Mike actually works for AOL — let alone TechCrunch — anymore.
As someone who has helped build TechCrunch into what it has become, this entire situation is insulting. I can only imagine how Mike feels.
The point of my earlier post was twofold: 1) to dispel the assertions being made by The New York Times and others about our brand of reporting. 2) To provide everyone with some insight as to how TechCrunch actually works. If we have anything close to a trade secret, that’s it. The magic at TechCrunch happens because the writers have very little oversight. Instead, the emphasis is placed on hiring the right writers in the first place and putting them through a trial-by-fire to see who emerges. Those that have, my peers, are the best at what they do. And that’s why TechCrunch has soared.
Mike Arrington has enabled all of this. He brought in Heather, he brought in Erick, he brought in the rest of us. He built TechCrunch out of thin air. He’s made enemies along the way. He rubs some people the wrong way. But there is no question that the entire space is better because of what he’s built. And there’s also no question that what he’s built needs him.
Could TechCrunch survive without Mike Arrington? Probably. We’re doing so many pageviews now, and the machine is so profitable, that you can plug in other parts and it will run. But without him, it will not be the same. You might not think you’ll miss what he brings, but you will. Quite often, you never even see what he brings. But it permeates the entire site.
If AOL tries to bring in their own Editor-in-Chief to run TechCrunch, it will be a colossal fucking mistake. The old adage: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” — if AOL throws out Mike and tries to install their own despot, it will be breaking it just so they can fix it. And they might not like the end result. It may run, but it will never purr with the precision at which we purr right now.
I can’t believe this is even a possibility. But it is. And so I’m writing this at the eleventh hour to let you, our readers, know before you find out via a press release. I don’t know, maybe I’m hopeful that the collective voice of millions of loyal readers can change a company’s mind. Maybe that’s naive. But it’s worth a shot. We owe that to Mike.
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. 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.
It has almost been exactly one year since AOL acquired us. 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.
Update From Mike: Editorial Independence