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TechCrunch ‘on the precipice’

In the wake of reports that founding editor Michael Arrington would be resigning, senior TechCrunch blogger MG Siegler believes the renowned blog may be “on the precipice“.

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When it was first revealed that Arrington would be leaving the company he helped found to set up a venture capital fund, it was believed that the decision was an amicable one with the added bonus of a US$10-million cash injection from TechCrunch parent company AOL.

Siegler’s dramatic post, which appeared as the lead on the site, suggests that the situation may not be so cut and dry:

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.

In the days since the announcement of the startup incubation fund, Siegler states that Arrington has “had the legs kicked out from under him” due to what he describes as “nonsensical political infighting and really poor communication”.

The “poor communication” which Siegler refers to centres around the fact that, while working as editor of TechCrunch, Arrington invested in a number tech startups on his own accord.

AOL prohibits reporters at its media sites, including those at The Huffington Post, from investing in the companies they cover, according to the New York Times.

When it was suggested to AOL CEO Tim Armstrong that this might represent a violation of journalistic code, he stated that: “TechCrunch is a different property and they have different standards… we have a traditional understanding of journalism with the exception of TechCrunch.”

It was this phrasing which the New York Times, among others, interpreted as suggesting that AOL didn’t care about whether or not TechCrunch favoured the startups Arrington had invested in when it wrote about them.

Another TechCrunch blogger, Paul Carr, suggested that the statement may have had a lot to do with the fact that Armstrong is not a journalist, before defending the site’s credibility:

For TechCrunch to have the moral standing to call out a company — for ethical violations as with ‘Scamville‘; or just plain dumbfuckery as with Airbnb — it’s vital that our own house is seen to be spotless. An example of what that means: long-time readers may remember that last year we discovered that an intern had promised a company positive coverage in return for a Macbook Air. Not only did we immediately fire the kid (obviously) and delete every post he had ever contributed to TechCrunch, but we also publicly admitted to the scandal and apologised to readers. We take this stuff seriously.

Siegler backs this view, saying that the “notion that Mike, or anyone else, investing in a company would dictate some sort of giant conflicted agenda is laughable”.

“As someone who has helped build TechCrunch into what it has become, this entire situation is insulting. I can only imagine how Mike feels,” he adds.

“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,” he says.

Whatever the outcome is, there appears to be a deep sense of betrayal amongst the TechCrunch staff. This largely centres around the fact that when AOL purchased TechCrunch a year ago, it promised not to interfere with the way the company was run.

“Now they may break their promise to us,” says Siegler, “And if that promise is broken, it will break TechCrunch”.

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