Journalists will hate hearing this. Bloggers will hate it even more. I’m to the point where I’m starting to hate myself for thinking it.
Michael Arrington has some good points about TechCrunch, CrunchFund, his role in blogging/journalism, and the conflicts of interest (or lack thereof) in having his cake and eating it, too.
There, I said it. Let the thrashing begin.
He IS A Journalist
No matter how many times he says that he never claimed to be a journalist and doesn’t consider himself one, bloggers for the last decade have fought too hard and too long to attain a level of respectability for him to try to differentiate between the two. He certainly has no qualms about getting press passes for himself and his former team at Techcrunch for events where only “journalists” are allowed to attend. He doesn’t mind the massive traffic that TechCrunch is able to command, much higher than hundreds of websites that are distinctly run by journalists.
That argument is done. It’s not true. When you post an article stating an opinion or shedding light on facts that gets read by hundreds of thousands of people around the world, you’re a journalist. You might not be one by training, but the concept of journalism is not dictated by a classification system. It’s decided by reach. If TMZ is journalism, so too is TechCrunch.
He IS an Investor
It doesn’t always take money to become an investor. Over the years, Arrington has profited from startups one way or another. He left the direct investing realm two years ago, but was still able to make a profit on various startups, conferences, and products without having a direct monetary investment.
With CrunchFund, many people are pointing to his desire to stay attached to TechCrunch and continue to write for them as a problem. Others are saying that the wealth of information that TechCrunch gets from startups makes it unethical to try to do both at the same time.
It’s in the last part that I call BS. It’s not as much wrong as it is naive. Investors get information about startups that go well beyond the tips and interviews that publications receive. Journalism (or blogging, if you must call it that) is in the business of letting that information get out there. They don’t horde the data and use it to their advantage, and a TechCrunch led by a CrunchFund-minded Arrington would continue in this direction. They won’t keep a “Michaelstash” of juicy data. They’ll write about it. It’s they’re job. It’s what they do.
As far as swaying the people when writing about investments, potential investments, competitors, and potential competitors, that’s another issue altogether. Thankfully, it’s the easiest one in which to root for Arrington.
He IS at the Mercy of Readers
Without the tremendous readership of TechCrunch, Michael Arrington doesn’t exist, not in the way he does now, at least. He is TechCrunch and TechCrunch is Michael Arrington.
Had he been allowed to continue at TechCrunch, the site would be under such scrutiny from everyone – the readers, AOL, the government, other investors, his investments – that they would have been forced to walk along the straight and narrow more than they ever have before. Disclaimers would have been posted. If they weren’t people would call them out in the comments and on social media (and eventually at other publications, including this one).
Readers would leave once they smelled a rat. The rat would never have appeared, not in its truest form, simply because the site couldn’t afford to play in that realm. If anything, the site would have been happily more critical of CrunchFunded startups. While I have never met the writers and editors, I’ve read enough to know that they would rather accentuate their disdain towards manipulation for financial gain than bow down to it, even if the order came from the founder of the site himself.
I’ve gone back and forth on this since the beginning. At first, I lost faith in the credibility of the site. Then I blamed AOL. Then I thought that Arrington was ignorant to think Huffington and AOL would allow him to continue like this. Finally, I’m seeing it all a little more clearly now and I realize that I was most right by blaming AOL.
They did have an opportunity to play this right. They could have met with Huffington and Arrington and put together a plan to make TechCrunch, CrunchFund, and the Arianna Empire stronger as a result of all of this. Instead, they acted poorly, reacted more poorly, and now all three entities involved are weakened as a result.
This was a controversial move by Arrington, one that was not done the right way. Still, the concept wasn’t awful. Some would think it’s a good idea (particularly his investors and the startups they funded). Either way, Michael Arrington wasn’t all wrong about this. Some of the things that he was (and is) trying to do make perfect sense once you step back and look at it as a whole.
* * *
Read more controversial opinions on this Social Media Blog.