Making AOL look foolish: Arrington continues to post on TechCrunch

It is becoming increasingly clear that Mike Arrington lost his job at TechCrunch over his insistence to be an investor in his beat companies. Precisely what future he will have with the company, though, remains unclear.

Arrington continues to post articles on Techcrunch in defiance of AOL’s and Arianna Huffington’s statements that he is no longer employed and that Erick Schonfeld is interim editor while a replacement is found.

The decision to remove Arrington from an editorial position at TechCrunch was reportedly made by Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, which AOL bought in February.

Huffington was named the head of all editorial content at AOL following the purchase of her news and opinion site for US$315-million, making her Arrington’s de facto boss.

AOL did say that Arrington would be an “occasional contributor” but it’s clear that he has unrestricted access to Techcrunch’s publishing system. That means he could post about his investments (with disclosure) anytime he wishes.

Arrington has posted several times since he was replaced. In his most recent post he wrote about trying to buy back Techcrunch if AOL won’t fulfill a promise to allow the site to remain independent — or he will leave.

Arrington underscored his defiance by illustrating the blog post with a screen shot from the movie 300, which features a small band of Spartans battling against the Persians in a fictionalised account of the Battle of Thermopylae.

The post adds that the “core issue” was not Arrington’s employment at TechCrunch but “editorial independence and self determination”.

“As of late last week TechCrunch no longer has editorial independence,” he said. “Some argue that the circumstances demanded it. I disagree.”

Without making specific reference to Huffington herself, Arrington said such editorial independence would mean “autonomy from Huffington Post.”

“To put it simply, TechCrunch would stay with AOL but would be independent of the Huffington Post,” he said.

AOL’s purchases of TechCrunch and The Huffington Post have been the most high-profile efforts by Armstrong, a former Google executive, to turn around a company whose name has become synonymous with the dotcom era’s excesses.

Arrington’s threat to depart seems an empty gesture if he is no longer employed. But who will tell him he no longer is allowed to post?

He is making AOL’s executive management look foolish for having little control over a publication they own because he has access to the publishing system 24/7.

Dan Farber, a veteran journalist and a senior editor at CBS, wrote in comments to the latest post by Arrington:

… According to Mike, TechCrunch should have “editorial independence”–report to no one, but…..maybe Tim Armstrong? Did AOL pay US$25 to US$30-million for a blog company covering startups that generates less than US$10-million in revenue (mostly from its events business) for a company with more than US$2.4-billion in revenue in 2010 (now rapidly declining) to be told that TechCrunch cannot be touched by hands from HuffPo, which cost AOL more than US$300-million to acquire?

It appears less about editorial independence and more about incompatible egos running into each other. It’s an inside game.

The fate of journalism is not in Mike Arrington’s or Arianna Huffington’s hands. Journalism is doing the work, and earning the trust of readers, listeners and viewers. TechCrunch earned its journalistic stripes. It’s not clear how the absence of Arrington or presence of HuffPo would change TechCrunch. But the loyal readers, who vote with their clicks, should be able to tell if TechCrunch turns into TechCrap.

Armstrong, Huffington and AOL have made no public comment since the controversy erupted last week.

With additional reporting by Staff Reporter



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