Om Malik reports that AOL is considering spinning out CrunchBase, the tech database of companies and entrepreneurs:
There is no denying that CrunchBase could benefit from more resources, but I believe that the asset is more valuable as part of the technology blog.
“It seems like an interesting idea as long as TechCrunch stays involved,” said Eric Eldon, co-editor of Techcrunch.
Personally, I lean the other way: I think CrunchBase would be more interesting restructured so that all sorts of sources could be tied to its entries, and where any one publishing could link to its entries.
So imagine if at the foot of my post were a TechCrunch-like footer, with a Crunchbase entry on CrunchBase, including only the posts about CrunchBase that I wanted to include.
Goldman: AOL is a brand with a lot of baggage. It makes people remember that dial-up-modem sound and those free CDs.
Armstrong: One of AOL’s biggest assets is its brand. For people over 30 and, due to AOL Instant Messenger, even a lot of people under 30, AOL was their first real interaction with technology in a positive way.
Goldman: You’ve decided to turn it into a content company. But a year after spending $340 million to acquire the blog TechCrunch and The Huffington Post, traffic has barely budged.
Armstrong: Traffic actually is going way up on the properties where we’re investing for the future and pushing content. Huffington Post is up 46 percent. Numbers have been going down on some of the historical stuff: AIM went down, MapQuest went down and dial-up subscribers go down every year. So flat is up for us.
How can you counter that? Flat is the new up, Tim?
The brutal reality is that people’s aggregated media experience is rapidly shifting, and the rate of drift appears to be increasing. For example, TV sports grew 21% between ‘07 to ‘11, 15% more than TV as a whole. ‘Going to the movies’ is starting to look like a future vaudeville, with ‘11 US tickets falling to 1.29B, from the ‘02 peak of 1.5B.
People are spending their time looking at other things than AOL’s Patch. Oh, and Techcrunch US numbers have dropped like a rock, too, down ~40% in the past year. Huffington Post is booming, so I guess Goldman’s gibe — citing Paul Carr’s belief that Ariana HuffPo will be running AOL soon — might actually have merit.
MG Siegler confesses that he and many other tech writers have been doing a piss-poor job:
MG Siegler, Content Everywhere, But Not A Drop To Drink via ParisLemon
Most of what is written about the tech world — both in blog form and old school media form — is bullshit. I won’t try to put some arbitrary label on it like 80%, but it’s a lot. There’s more bullshit than there is 100% pure, legitimate information.
The problem is systemic. Print circulation is dying and pageviews are all that matter in keeping advertisers happy. This means, whether writers like it or not, there’s an underlying drive for both sensationalism and more — more — more.
Read the stories that are published in the tech blogosphere tomorrow. Are most published because the writer put in a lot of work or original thought? No, most are published because more — more — more content leads to more — more — more pageviews.
Most are stories written with little or no research done. They’re written as quickly as possible. The faster the better. Most are just rehashing information that spread by some other means. But that’s great, it means stories can be written without any burden beyond the writer having to read a little bit and type words fast. Many are written without the writer even having to think.
I’m completely serious in saying that.
There will be 25 stories about Google TV or something else tomorrow which will all say basically the same thing. Maybe one or two of those stories will have actual insight or information. Maybe none will. If any do, it’s the exception, not the rule.
As one of the most prolific tech bloggers over the period of a few years, I was just as guilty of this as anyone. I had a job to do, and I did it. And to be honest, I saw absolutely nothing wrong with it at the time. And if you did, you just didn’t get it.
But now I have more perspective. I was wrong.
In a field of public discourse in which 80% of everything is bullshit, the value of enlightened curation and filtration goes up exponentially. Not 80% but 10,000%. Siegler is inadvertently making the case for ‘know your curator’, while pulling down the pants of the tech blogging world.
I will leave aside any deep analysis on Siegler’s change of heart, now that he isn’t another racetrack greyhound chasing a plastic rabbit, but I will simply observe that he was in on the fix at one of the most prominent tech sites — TechCrunch — whose outsized personalities and dramatic style perhaps was a sort of legerdemain, intended to take our eyes off what was being written, and to make themselves part of the new gonzo tech news cycle instead of thoughtfully reporting on it.
January 17, 2012 at 04:29AM via http://bit.ly/A2K0dM
I don’t think Schonfeld has to become a prick to keep TechCrunch relevant, or change his name to Schonfeldington. But it’s not going to be easy to steer the publication for the next transitional year or so, with enormous egos like Arrington and Huffington bumping his elbow.
Erick Schonfeld, the new editor of Techcrunch, allows Paul Carr to publicly blow himself up:
Erick Schonfeld, Paul, I Accept Your Resignation
Paul Carr, one of our columnists who was hired for his grandstanding ways, has decided to fall on his own sword and quit very publicly on TechCrunch. I believe this is the second or third time he’s quit in public in the past couple weeks. I keep losing count. He thinks he is somehow being loyal to Mike and standing up for the editorial independence of the site. But he is not. He is just grandstanding.
I have always thought that Erick is one of the more professional participants at Techcrunch. Now that he’s in change at Techcrunch, I am certain that we will see a very different style at Techcrunch, which has included all sorts of wild shit over the years.
Who can forget Arrington’s disappearing act at Techcrunch50, when he blew up at Jason Calacanis and stormed off the stage? Or the strange interaction between Mike and his erstwhile bosses, Ariana and Tim, at the last Disrupt?
I wonder what other changes we will see from Schofeld? I am batting on an increased level of editorial control, higher levels of professionalism instead of sensationalism, and certainly less craziness like Paul Carr.
So the Arrington era at Techcrunch is over. They killed the Witch of the West with a bucket of cold water. Personally, I thought Mike wanted out from the start, and had been goading them to fire him several times in the past. Schonfeld is a much more down-to-earth choice, and won’t even attempt to become a king-maker, like Arrington. And now, Ariana will be able to meld Techcrunch into HuffPo, somehow.
David Carr has done a good job outlining the specifics of the TechCrunch/CrunchFund mess, and raising the spectre of self-serving publicity:
As business reporters, we are often pressed up against the glass, watching as others take risks, make investments and build companies. We are observers, not players. But the froth and money sloshing around has reached a whole other level, and looks enticing no matter what side of the glass you are on.
Michael Arrington kicked a hole in the glass. A former lawyer and investor who founded TechCrunch in 2005, he told his bosses at AOL in April that he was going to continue to edit the site, but resume investing in some of the companies TechCrunch covered.
When criticism followed, he said he would fully disclose any conflicts, and besides, he never saw himself as a journalist anyway, even though he often broke news. AOL swallowed hard and said Mr. Arrington was free to do what he wanted. Thus emboldened, he spent the following months both investing and directing coverage.
TechCrunch is capable of tearing the limbs off a baby company, but it’s been a generally nurturing place for start-ups when Mr. Arrington has skin in the game. On April 1, he invested in Supyo, a video-chat start-up created by Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, the pair who changed the world with Napster.
Fourteen days later, M G Siegler, one of the TechCrunch’s highly regarded writers, wrote: “The new project is nothing if not interesting. Think Chatroulette done right.” Mr. Arrington’s involvement was duly noted.
On April 4 TechCrunch wrote a generally positive post about Milk, a mobile development lab created by Kevin Rose, one of the co-founders of Digg, the social news site. On April 26, a round of funding closed, which included Mr. Arrington’s investment, and his involvement was disclosed at that time in an article about the funding.
On June 30, Mr. Arrington invested in LikeALittle, a location-based flirtation site for young people. On Aug. 1, they got a favorable product announcement along with a video visit to their office in a home in Palo Alto where an employee talked about what an “awesome” workplace it was..
We know these things because Mr. Arrington was mostly transparent about the conflicts. But how many articles about equally interesting competitors did not get written?
All sorts of arguments can be made pro and con about the general and specific issues — Arrington is a good guy/bad guy, discloses all/conceals a great deal, everyone does it/no one should be able to do that — but something tectonic is being overlooked.
The subtext of this brouhaha is the incipient linelessness of new media. Arrington pushed the line, or jumped over the line, or erased the line. What line? Are there any lines left? Can there be lines?
I personally subscribe to the notion that potential conflicts of interest should be exposed, but I don’t believe that ends favoritism. My disclosure that company X is a client in a story about compnay X doesn’t mean that over the course of a given year I will not have written more about client X than non-client Y. It’s only natural that I would know more about a company that is a client, and less about companies that I am not in touch with.
And how would such an ‘imbalance’ of coverage be tracked? All press releases aren’t objectively the same, and obviously some judgment has to be made, but they can’t even all be read: there are too many.
Even at a old school bastion of journalism like the NY Times, editors and authors have to pick what stories to follow, out of the infinity of potential stories in the universe. There is no infallible, objective mechanism to pick stories, one that is fair and unbiased in some truly general and provable sense.
The reality is that all organizations (and individuals) have to settle for extreme approximations of what a hypothetically unbiased approach to news coverage would produce, if such a thing actually existed.
Arrington’s heresy in all this is the simple fact of owning stock in the companies that he and others at Techcrunch are covering. This was old news years ago, when Mike was a small entrepreneurial blogger, and even later as the head of a go-go tech blogging company. But now that AOL has purchased TechCrunch, and then invests in CrunchFund, old school media takes another look and cries foul.
So, it comes down to this: Are there still lines that constrain ‘journalists’ from taking sides in the marketplace? Obviously, the NY Times has a rulebook that they require their employees to follow, as do many other organizations, that spells out their position: thou shalt not invest in companies in the industry you cover. The Times created that rule book in a time before blogs, social media, and the mess we live in today.
Mike has no such rulebook. And he says he’s not a journalist, either. He’s something new, living outside the lines. In fact, his existence suggests there are no lines. When anyone can write and reach millions without being anointed by an old school, ‘there are lines’ sort of organization like the NY Times, then there are no longer any lines. Someone like Arrington is, in this lineless universe, just a chameleon who used the trappings and style of publishing to achieve economic influence on the tech start-up market, and then has cashed out on that, exploiting a power vacuum. It’s an identity conflict, with his detractors saying he must act like a journalist, and Mike saying, ‘no thanks’.
But it wasn’t journalists that created Arrington, but the tech scene: a tight-knit, self-absorbed community of investors, entrepreneurs, and wannabes, all desperate for ink, share-of-mind, and a chance for the brass ring. So many hanging on every word printed in TechCrunch, trying to get written up, hoping for a leg up in the steeplechase that is the central animating goal of the tech scene.
Maybe the deep libertarianism of the West Coast tech scene is a factor here, also. The ideology that the elite should be allowed to do whatever, and that there is no need for regulation or lines.
One last thought: It’s strange to recall that Arrington was the guy to break the news in 2010 about Angelgate, a meeting of various angel investors who were engaged in cartel-like behavior, if the stories are to be believed. This was a case where he thought lines had been crossed, possibly into outright criminal behavior.
But in the current TechCrunchgate, the lines aren’t about illegality: this is a story about identities, and the communities that create them. An identity conflict, a culture conflict, and one that might end with a truly Shakespearean close, like Titus Andronicus, with nearly all the dramatis personae lying in a heap on the stage.
Michael Arrington announced recently that he’s starting a VC fund, so AOL has announced that he will be ‘replaced’, presumably to distance him from writing about his investments.But he will continue writing there. Presumably not about the companies he’s invested in? Very blurry. Especially blurry because apparently AOL is the biggest investor in the fund, according to Dan Primack. Huh?
But I thought Arrington was only the founder of Techcrunch these days, and that he had handed over CEO control years ago to Heather Harte? His profile at Crunchbase does not mention editorial duties, but the Techcrunch profile lists him as co-editor with Erick Schonfeld.
In a move that will likely damn him, I think that Erick Schonfeld is a great editor and writer. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t offer him the editorship, but apparently Arianna doesn’t want to:
Nicholas Carlson via Business Insider
Eric Schoenfeld will takeover Arrington’s management duties in the interim.
We thought that Arrington hasn’t really been the managing editor TechCrunch for a long time now – that such a role belonged to Schoenfeld already.
Shouldn’t Arrington just start a personal blog like every other VC? Whatever.
Perhaps Schonfeld is looking around for a different gig, though, considering how badly AOL’s transition into a media company is doing.
After a long and interesting rant about Michael Arrington’s transcendent ethics (21st century, or zero ethics, depending on your view), Kara Swisher sums it up this way:
it’s pointless to give a turtle a hard time for not being a fish.
The skinny is that Arrington recently decided to up his level of personal investing in companies he reviews, and Swisher thinks that’s ‘icky’ even though he discloses it. And since Huffington recently sacked an editor for a breach of ethics, what the hell is going on? AOL has announced that no one but Arrington can do this, but he is grandfathered.
It’s a mess, and I am another who wonders how long Arrington will be an AOL employee.