Earlier today at The Paley Center for Media’s International Council, IAC Chairman and Senior Executive Barry Diller took the stage for a keynote conversation with Jason Hirschhorn, CEO of reDEF Group. Among the topics discussed: AOL’s recent announcement that TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington had “decided” to move on.
Diller has extensive experience and strong opinions about media — IAC has a 50% stake in The Daily Beast/Newsweek — and he didn’t mince words. In short, he thinks AOL has committed an incomprehensible blunder.
Here’s a transcript of the exchange, which begins at 31:50 in this video.
Hirschhorn: There’s a lot of talk about news, and journalism, and information in the last couple of weeks — I’m sure you’ve watched your buddy Mike Arrington get skewered in the press for not being a journalist… what do you think? You live in a world of Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and are also going up against The Huffington Post and TechCrunch and lots of different sites. What is journalism to you and should a guy like Mike Arrington be called out for something he never called himself?
Diller: Backwards.. no. I’m amazed at it. Here you buy a company for whatever they paid for it —
Hirschhorn: $30 million.
Diller: And you buy it because it is absolutely the voice of a single person primarily, with some other people working for him — but it’s Michael Arrington’s voice, and you know when you buy it, that that voice is biased and mean and capable of saying anything, and is playing a hundred different games. And you know that. And that’s why you buy it — because it’s a good voice, and you like it. This is, to me, the definition of that rocket going up and then getting underneath…
And then somebody calls you up and says, “I’m the Editor in Chief, and you can’t let him do that, because he’s now in a conflict of interest.”
Instead of saying, “Shut up and go back to your room”… and it’s not because you don’t respect journalism, it’s because this has nothing to do with that. To apply that standard to something where the guy says, “I’m filled with conflicts. You don’t have to listen, you don’t have to read me. Take the stuff for whatever it’s worth.”
It’s not a journalistic enterprise, TechCrunch. And so to have treated it as such is to destroy it. So now, he’s gone, and now they own this thing, which has no voice. Congratulations. What a good piece of business. “
Hirschhorn: I agree wholeheartedly.
Diller: Daily Beast is journalism; we would not do that, we do not have a VC fund that is alongside The Beast, investing in different enterprises of any kind. It is the correct application for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, which are absolutely quite clear.
I don’t agree with everything Diller said — TechCrunch still has some opinionated and strong voices, and we strive to commit acts of journalism as often as possible. But he’s right about a lot of things. AOL knew what it was getting. TechCrunch won’t be the same.
Disclosure: I am currently an employee of TechCrunch and AOL.