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TechCrunch Intern Admits To Asking For Compensation For Writing Posts (techcrunch.com)
89 points by kloncks 2872 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 100 comments

In the full knowledge that this opinion will be unpopular: the crime here is not selling coverage. The crime here is selling coverage obviously while being an intern. The media, including Techcrunch, sells coverage as a matter of routine.

Sure, we'd be happy to cover your new gadget, but we'll need an exclusive on that. The exclusive will be worth, at the margin, 50,000 uniques we won't lose to Endgadget (and the attendant link equity we'll get for being first, and possibly mainstream media attention). The CPM for this blog is $10. But $500 in an envelope on the table, that is totally different. That makes us feel like we're selling coverage.

Claiming an embargo is the same or even similar to cash-for-coverage is silly and immature. Is providing a press kit the same as paying for coverage? It makes the coverage cheaper for the reporter to provide, which has a monetary result.

Hating TechCrunch is certainly a popular opinion at times, and there are some reasonable stances to base that opinion on, but this is not one.

The difference is that an exclusive actually does have more news value. By definition, it's news.

If Bob Smith creates a tablet computer which runs Flash and cures cancer tomorrow, that has some news value N1 and some pageview value P1. If a particular media outlet gets an exclusive on that announcement, then it has news value N2 and pageview value P2. delta(N1, N2) is zero -- it is still news tomorrow no matter how many people report it. (See: iPad, which was apparently a story of staggering importance despite having everybody and their dog say the same things about it.)

delta(P1, P2) is nonzero. Hilariously nonzero. If Steve Jobs had a fit of stupid and had given somebody the exclusive for the iPad, that would probably have been worth hundreds of millions of page views. Page views are, of course, exchangable for money. We build entire industries on that fact.

News media outlets are willing to trade things of value for exclusives. For example, PR flacks value embargoes. TechCrunch will give you one if, and only if, you give them an exclusive, despite their professed hatred for them in all other contexts. That should imply to you that TechCrunch is getting something from the exclusive -- and it isn't delta(N).

The difference between being paid to cover something and covering something in return for an exclusive is that in the latter case your readers benefit as well.

Even if your only criterion in deciding what to print was how newsworthy it was, you'd still be more likely to print a story if you'd been given an exclusive.

How does a reader benefit from news that is available from fewer sources?

Also, if you're more likely to print a story when given an exclusive, then newsworthiness is not your only criterion in deciding what to print.

If The Economist gets an exclusive that Time doesn't, then The Economist's readers have information that Time readers don't.

Did I really need to explain that? This reminds me of the thread a few days ago when I had to explain that it was not necessarily meaningless to talk about something that would have happened.

This is why I need to get rid of points on comments. 11 points on a comment makes it into something that demands an answer. Without points it would just have to stand on its own merits.

(Your second sentence is simply false. The newsworthiness of a story isn't constant; it's higher the first time the story is published. E.g. that Steve Jobs had a liver transplant has near zero newsworthiness now, but it was big news when the story first broke. And if someone gives you an exclusive on a story, then you're assured that it will be breaking news when you publish it, with the attendant increment in newsworthiness.)

My problem with your conjecture is that exclusives create an artificial scarcity of information, which I don't count as real value creation. Further, for the general reader, there is the added cost of having to subscribe, or at the very least check, more news sources to get the same amount of information as you would in a world without exclusives. There is also the delay before other publications start picking up the story and we get competing points of view. To me as a consumer, it looks like an overall decrease in value. I understand that it doesn't look that way to a publisher.

About my second sentence - I was imagining a story with little newsworthiness, as this is one extreme of your "only criteria". If a publisher is more likely to publish this story because of an exclusive, which is what you seem to be saying, then newsworthiness isn't the only criteria.

I did not mean to be combative or demand an answer from you - my apologies if I came off that way. I just don't agree with or don't understand your point of view, and said so. Apparently 10 other people thought that it stands on its own merits well enough to deserve an upvote. If you don't agree, that's fine, but the snark is uncalled for. If you don't think a post is worthy of a reply, then don't.

Time. The world receives the knowledge sooner, allowing us to use it sooner.

Seems to me that the opposite is true. With an exclusive, a publisher knows they can spend more time on a story, and publish it later. Without an exclusive, publishers are running the risk of being scooped, so they rush it more.

1) How much is "exclusivity" worth? Could you sell the story of your product launch to anyone?

2) Are you really providing much of anything to TC with your exclusive in terms of traffic? They drive traffic to you, not the other way around.

Exclusivity is apparently worth an embargo.


As the old saying goes, after that we're just dickering about the price.

You're claiming it's worth in the neighborhood of $500. If it's actually only worth $5 that's a big difference. No reasonable person believes TC can be bought for $5.

My guess is that exclusivity is more of an ego thing than anything else. Competitive people like to win, and in journalism that means scooping the competition. TC might make just as much money, with or without an exclusive (give or take a few dollars). If true, all you're doing by giving an exclusive is feeding their ego. That's hardly the same as handing over a $2k laptop.

Over time the cumulative effect is worth well in excess of $500.

TC lives by the 'scoop', remember the time when they posted twitters internal documents only because they said they were afraid someone else might beat them to it ?

Ethics and TechCrunch have very little to do with each other.

exclusivity is definitely also a readership thing. the blog that breaks the news picks up more daily readers, which in turn makes them a bigger blog.

I'm sure that's the case on things like an iPad launch, but when it comes to MyLittleStartup.com I think it's more about ego/reputation than money. Arrington knows he's #1 and he doesn't want to eat Pete Cashmore's leftovers -- he wants Cashmore to eat his.

It's more to do with the fact that the intern is selling coverage for his own personal gain--Techcrunch the entity gets nothing.

I see nothing wrong with exclusives. This happens regularly in business not just in news. For Techcrunch, it's simply an optimization and they are likely to not sell their news space for otherwise non-newsworthy items anyway.

Plus not telling the TechCrunch management and giving the gift to them, plus disclosing it in the post.

Does TechCrunch really do this?

To be very fair, I love how honest and forthcoming Mike was with this news. That was hard and he could have covered it up. To all the deniers and Mike-haters out there, I think this only goes to show the type of person he is.

Also, I love how the identity of the intern wasn't disclosed. Not only does it allow him to make amends and learn from his mistakes, it also shows the level of professionalism that stems from TechCrunch.

Deleting the guy's account and leading with "Our attorneys have advised us not to disclose the name . . ." indicates that keeping his identity secret was very low priority.

Expect a public apology from the kid in the next 24hrs.

Exactly. It's actually written in Mike's piece as some kind of afterthought, the legal stuff came first.

Mike used to be a lawyer, so that shouldn't be a surprise

screw that, unethical behavior like this needs to be exposed...if Mike won't say who it is, I will:

if you want to know who it is go here:


(Some) Stupid stuff I did as a 17 year old:

-> Deleted /var on a production system I had no right touching at a Fortune 500.

-> Drove my dad's car into a fence. Unlicensed.

-> Stole the street sign for Cobain St.

-> Plagiarised a philosophy essay (Hegel).

-> etc. etc. etc.

Seventeen year old kids mess up. Seventeen year old kids grow up.

Go easy tiger.

> -> Deleted /var on a production system I had no right touching at a Fortune 500.

The 'you had no right touching' bit should have been 'you should have no possibility to touch'.

Whoever administered that systems shares part of the blame, you have done it, but they should have never let you get within spitting distance of a terminal capable of doing that.

Too right. Production root passwords had a planetary theme - where planetary means one of the giants in our solar system - not hard for a nosey and curious kid to take a peek at any system they wanted.

We all make mistakes as a teenager, often involving a lack of ethics. He just happened to do it in a very public way. As Michael said, hopefully he will learn from this situation.

You're making it sound like it's some sort of minor slip-up that happened to get publicized. Say you make a habit of accepting expensive dinners from a source who is interested in you writing about them. Or embellishing a story a little. Or say you even take a MacBook Air from a source at their suggestion. Those are lapses in ethical judgment. Running around repeatedly asking for people to give you stuff so you write about them is just being an outright slimeball.

"You're making it sound like it's some sort of minor slip-up that happened to get publicized."

I think his point was (EDIT: I am just clarifying what I think his point was, not endorsing it) not that it was a "minor slipup" but that the person who committed this is a kid and not an adult (17 is a bit borderline but still pretty young)and he is asking for some compassion and discretion. At least that is how I read it.

fwiw, I have no position on the matter but I tend to a (purely subjective) viewpoint he has been punished enough.

For some reason, this "oh he's not an adult" line of thinking very much bothers me.

We should be looking at things like..how much experience does he have writing? with publicity and marketing? How many times has he admitted to doing something like this, and how many more people went up to Arrington and voiced their concerns about what he did? Where was the TC team while this was going on...or did he just not ask anyone for any advice and do it on his own, thinking that writing for TC would be a great leverage to get gear without anyone knowing?

Age does correspond with a degree of maturity, cynicism, experience and more, but this person so many people are jumping to defend because of his age of all things doesn't exactly have a lack of experience blogging for business, doing podcasts, organizing conferences and more. I remember seeing his sites about Apple and teens in tech years ago. Don't even know what was going through his head when he attempted to do this multiple times, and TC is far larger than anything he's ever done before, but he should have realized this was a really bad idea. Based on his experience. Not his age or lack thereof.

That being said, I think an outing on a site like TC is bound to hurt his reputation for a long time to come, and that's probably more punishment than he deserves.

There is something known as a 'signal function', others in the same position will think twice (or thrice) before doing something like this.

Remember when microsoft tried to bribe tech bloggers with laptops ?


This whole thing does not stand in isolation.

Is there a code of conduct for blog ethics?

Well, as you say, he's not really that much of a kid. And I think filing it under "we all make mistakes" is kind of diminishing it. This isn't shoplifting candy from the corner store for kicks. I just don't think this is the sort of 'mistake' we all make or made.

.. I did far, far, far, far far, far worse when I was 15, as did a number of my hacker friends. Somehow, over time we grow up and become productive members of society despite our earlier transgressions.

There are two sides to this story.

Let me ask this question, because it seems it needs asking:

1) has anybody here ever been approached by other 'writers' who will do a write-up in exchange for goodies ?

2) has anybody here been approached by writers to post links under their HN username ?

The second has definitely happened to me, the first was so oblique that it might be my misunderstanding. But I'm fairly surprised, what's your call, should I out the publication ? The person doing the canvassing ?

I've been wondering about what to do with this.

As for the way this 'kid' (I'm putting that in quotes because if you are smart enough to ask for computers worth quite a bit of money you are smart enough to understand there are consequences if you get caught) has behaved, the other side to that story is those companies that did not get written about because they refused to play ball.

We're not talking about an accident or an oversight here, but at a deliberate attempt at fraud, and not a one-off but part of a pattern.

I don't see even being fired and having to return the goods to his employer who will presumably re-imburse the people that 'paid' for it is a punishment, that leaves him at '0'.

TC is handling this as good as they can after the fact, but before you give someone access to the editorial process don't you at least read them the riot act as to what the consequences will be if they do something like this?

Just like the 'real' newspapers companies like TC wield some power and it is important to make sure that everybody that is in on the process knows exactly where the line is.

If TC did make it clear in advance what is permissible I'm sympathetic to naming the guy, if not then probably not.

The key bit in Mikes post is this:

> on at least one other occasion

So, how often did that happen ? Once ? Twice ? More ??

If more then outing the guy looks reasonable, if it is once or twice then again, probably not.

I'm sympathetic with vaksels gut reaction, but slow down a bit and let's get some more data before making that call.

TC has their opinion, that's fine, we're all adults and reasonably smart cookies here, I'd like to be able to trust what I read is not coloured in any way and what Mike is doing is as much damage control on behalf of TC as it is an exercise in ethics after the fact.

Let's hear him out on how he has posted guidelines about how his writers should behave.

No policy -> TC bad, no matter how they spin it now, Yes policy -> kid gets outed, but only if this happened more than the 2 times that we're sure about.

I think that's fairly reasonable.

*... has anybody here been approached by writers to post links under their HN username ? [This] has definitely happened to me..."

Really? That's awful. Ha - I've been making comments around saying that people shouldn't be outing the intern. But now I'm dying to ask you who it was. Maybe if the person's real identity can't be guessed from the username...? Jeez, I don't know. This sucks; I'm going to bed. Figure out the ethics yourself. ;)

I've made the question in to a poll:


Sorry, I thought you said that they offered to pay you. If they just tried to talk you into it, there's no ethical issue of course.

"There are two sides to this story."

I completely agree. There's probably many (more than two) sides to the story. I was just clarifying what I thought to be a misunderstanding of a comment. (I did say "I think his point was not X but Y"). I wasn't endorsing his position.

I personally have no interest in wasting time, neurons and keystrokes passing judgment on what level of "punishment" (including naming/outing) for this person would be appropriate, especially here on HN. (Nothing wrong in wanting to, just saying I don't want to).

Most penal codes I know (IANAL) do take age and frequency of crime into account before deciding what punishment is appropriate. I suspect, if taken to court, he would get away with a slap on the wrist.

Frankly I could care less. As I said, I am neutral on this with a very slight bias to "he's been punished enough".

The thing is that there is a more or less guaranteed discussion of your stuff on HN if it gets posted on TC, and vaksel has more than done his bit to promote TC on HN, so I can really understand he feels taken in a bad way. Another option is that vaksel was refused a write-up by that person, in which case I really understand why he's mad.

As for the frequency being a factor, yes but only after it turns out that TC has posted guidelines.

If not then you can basically discount whatever TC writes about anything from now on.

All I read is that Mike got contacted by someone that was approached, but that if that had not happened this could have been going on (and may have gone on) for a long time.

And that's pretty bad.

" and vaksel has more than done his bit to promote TC on HN, so I can really understand he feels taken in a bad way."

Interesting. I wasn't aware of vaksel's TC promotion here. I can (now) see why he felt as he did.

I cannot help but think that working for Arrington is cruel and unusual punishment.

Maybe it was just a joke. Every once and a while I get called up by an especially annoying PR hack asking me to write about their latest iphone cozy (macworld being next week I get 5-7 calls like that per day because I'm somehow on the press list). When they're overly persistent I tell them to give me a Pony and I'll write about them (I'll write that they gave me a pony!). Maybe "give me a pony" is just a lot easier to understand as sarcasm than "give me a macbook air, jerk"?

Unless they're from London, in which case you asking for a pony could be interpreted as asking for £25... you're selling yourself short.


This was a friend of mine, really feeling bad for him. One mistake and he's paying for it. Fortunately it will eventually fade away.

Edit: http://twitter.com/loic/status/8666998987 - Loic gave some good advice, I can't get ahold of him but hopefully he'll take it.

I'm all for that, and also for owning up completely as to how often this happened.

TC yanking the content to avoid tainting is one thing but it would be good to know what the extent of this is.

Another thing that bothers me about this is that I can't see how a 17 year old given the keys to the kingdom would come up with such a scheme, that's hardly the first thing that crosses your mind when you start your career.

If the first instance of this was initiated by the company written about then that would change my whole idea about this.

See, I have a different view on this. I am not faulting the intern at all, it is really the company that wanted the write-up. If you are going to bribe someone at TechCrunch, who do you contact: Mike A. or an intern?

I think the intern's response was a good start to what is going to be some time before his reputation is back to normal, but I think we need to see who this company was and blame fault there.

Dan's apology: http://www.danielbru.com/2010/02/the-line-was-crossed/

I haven't ever met the guy, but much worse things are done by 17-year-olds all the time. The punishment he is receiving seems adequate to me. Hopefully he learns from it, this post is a good first step.

"In some way or another, a line was crossed that should have never been"

The "in some way or another" part I dont like, the rest is heartfelt.

But maybe there's another side of the story.

I was never this dumb about stuff like this, but I was just as dumb about other stuff. I'd give him a second chance.

I'd fire his sorry ass and make him cough up the details about each and every story he's written in the past, and I would have yanked those where there was interference but I would have left the rest because those companies already written about by this character do not need to be punished if they were in the clear.

Don't do the crime if you can't do the time.

And I'd make very sure that every other member of the reporting staff realizes their ass is grass in case of a repetition.

If it would have been once that would be one thing, but twice and possibly more is definitely grounds for termination.

The only thing that put a stop to this is that Arrington was approached directly by a person that he trusts, and the threat of someone scooping TC on their sloppy ethics (as if that's news).

Stupider(read: more damaging) things are done by 17 year old kids everyday. Heck, I can't even share mine and at the time it happend I just wanted to lock myself in a room. But it taught me a lesson that I pretty much apply a few times everyday.

When the dust settles, pick yourself up and tell yourself "I'll never be that stupid again". It's been a few yrs but I still tell myself that and it usually does wonders in knocking some sense into yourself.

While I'm sure you're right that stupider things are done by 17 year old kids everyday, the same thing could be said about 25 year olds...

Michael, your apology is meaningless without a very clear statement that you have learned something too, and that is not evident from your post.

If TC has posted guidelines on how its editors should behave and this person transgressed those guidelines then that's one thing.

But if TC does NOT have posted guidelines it would be comforting to know that those will be put in place after this incident, and that you will make those guidelines public.

Your lesson is that you can't just give anybody access to the TC cms without making sure they have their obligations and the consequences of transgressions spelled out.

Transparency is not spilling the beans after the fact (that's just damage control), it is making sure that the rules are known by all parties.

You don't need posted guidelines to know that this behavior is wrong.

To know not, but to not have such guidelines in place for your editorial board/writers makes it vague what is allowed and what is not.

So that's why every professional organization spells it out explicitly.

Attempts to give items worth in excess of 'x' are to be reported to management, all gifts beyond a ball-point pen or a base-ball cap are to be refused.

That sort of thing.

Have read here: http://www.nytco.com/press/ethics.html

For how it is done in a real news outlet.

Transcribing common sense into policy is not the way to get more common sense.

Leaving common sense to the judgment of 17 year olds is a great way to find out that not everybody has common sense.

You do it for their protection too.

If you're old enough to be writing professional articles at a major news source, you're old enough to know that asking for goodies in exchange for articles is not ok. I can't imagine that he was confused on whether or not this was acceptable; he just made a bad choice and got caught.

The typical errors of young-adulthood are not those of moral incompetence, but simple bad judgement.

That depends on how it all got started.

If he initiated this kind of behaviour then I'm with you. If he was approached by a company first and they promised him some goodies in exchange for a write-up with the note that 'everybody does it' then you get in to a gray area.

After that he's definitely not in the clear for not going higher up and asking his boss about this, and TC is not in the clear for not spelling this sort of stuff out to journalists and interns alike.

As for ethics, TC reaps what it sows.

They're neither, they're errors of "acting before stopping and thinking". The part of your brain that considers the effects of your actions in the future and on others doesn't develop usually until at the earliest 17, at the latest 24.

This is Exactly the type of error 17 year olds make.

>Adolescents frequently know the difference between right and wrong, but they have diminished capacities to understand and process information, to communicate, to abstract from mistakes and learn from experience, to engage in logical reasoning, to control impulses, and to understand others’ reactions. The psychological evidence suggests that immaturity of adolescent judgment is not under voluntary control. >New imaging studies reveal patterns of brain development that extend into and beyond the teenage years.6,7

From: http://www.hhs.gov/opa/familylife/annualconfabstracts/brain_...

I know he must be protected in some way because he's not of legal age but I do not agree with deleting all his posts.

The writer has written several blog posts about milestones of important startups. I feel like I'm losing a sense of history here (though we can still find it on other blogs, google cache, etc).

Here are some of his articles that do not exists anymore:



You feel like you are loosing a sense of history? Are you serious? Is TC your ONLY news source?

Despite it's notoriety and admit it or not, Techcrunch is still the most influential tech blog since the start of the Web 2.0 era up to now.

It takes 2 to tango. If the intern was punished, the company that bribed him should also be punished.

Giving in to coercion is hardly call for punishment. If I were Techcrunch, I'd reimburse the cost of whatever they paid.

Depends on the instigator, of course.


Considering he is just 1 year shy of being an adult, I don't buy the 'kids make mistakes' argument. The intern really must be devoid of ethics if he wants to extort laptops out of start ups that are hoping for press. The fact that it had also occurred one other time is more disturbing, it means that this was not some momentary ethical lapse but a real attempt to receive bribes.

I don't really understand how anyone can defend that kind of behavior here. With any luck, his reputation will be ruined and no one will do business with him again. He'll issue an apology - and why not, he has nothing to lose right?

From my experience, people with poor ethics tend to be serial offenders. There was a kid at my high school that was caught doctoring his transcript in hopes of getting into an ivy league school. He was caught and apologized. Earlier this year, as a senior in college, he was caught again -- this time forging e-mails from recruiters to create leverage for a better job opportunity on Wall Street.

One year shy of being an adult? I've met 18 year olds and they are not adults.

Give him a break. And a second chance. Only call him a serial offender if he actually is one. Do you really believe that he should be punished for life ("no one will do business with him again")? What a fucked up attitude is that?

Well, according to Arringtons post he already is a serial offender, at least two instances, possibly more.

That must be what they call "tough love" in the US. Plus, you get the added benefit of looking tough versus those naughty rule breakers. And who doesn't want to look tough?

I don't think this is a major lapse in judgement. It's standard practice for newspapers/magazines to ask for a certain number of pages of advertisements in exchange for a feature article. In fact, I know that for many smaller trade magazines, the articles are actually written by the marketing staff of the featured company.

I'm reminded of the whole tiff between Arrington and Leo Laporte. Irony anyone?


It's a shame to hear this about Dan; I'd read about him before this incident in regards to his involvement with Teens in Tech. He's a very impressive individual and hopefully this is just a minor incident of letting his success get the better of him.

I want to add that he wrote a post about my company and product (Rocketbox, http://www.getrocketbox.com), but ABSOLUTELY NO COMPENSATION CHANGED HANDS. I would think that most of the companies he wrote about are in a similar situation, where they did nothing wrong but their article has also been deleted.

I hope he learns from this, and it kinda sucks my article is gone.

Here's a link to the now unreachable post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02...

Why weren't the people/person(s) who gave him the compensation fired as well? They enabled him and are just as guilty in my opinion.

Presumably the compensation came from startups willing to pay to be featured.

I believe it was not TechCrunch staff who paid him - it was outside firms who wanted to be promoted on a high-traffic technology blog.

...how does this make sense? what outside firm was promoted on techcrunch through this news breaking?

He's 17. Think of the dumbest thing you did at 17. Now imagine it made TechCrunch.

What a joke.


Folks, he's 17. This is a 17 year olds type of mistake. His brain isn't fully developed yet.

In a past era, it would have just been covered up.

"In a past era" a 17 year old male would have been a married man with children and serious social responsibilities.

And his brain still would have not been developed.

And the newspaper in question would have just covered up the mistakes.

Yes, that's how mistakes were covered up, exactly.

Drama and TechCrunch goes hand in hand.

This is what happens when you expect people to work for you for free.

As a former Techcrunch intern I can attest that they do pay their interns. He may have been an exception though.

Really? This is what happens when you pay interns with awesome experience, rather than cash?

You're selling that as if it were so hard to get experience and get paid at the same time. I know this won't be popular, but Microsoft pays interns more than most people get paid hourly.

Comparing Microsoft to Techcrunch? Have you looked at how much money each company has in the bank?

and the amount of networking and exposure available to you working as a writing intern at techcrunch is invaluable.

i'm not sure why everyone gets in a twist over free interships -- nobody's forcing you to participate. if everybody thought it was a rip-off, nobody would apply, and employers would be forced to pay the interns.

the fact is that the competition for an internship is so intense, that TC is giving a net benefit to the person who works there, even though they aren't getting paid monetarily.

I have to ask, how is this any different from TechCrunch writing glowing posts about companies that spend many thousands of dollars per month on advertising? Or singing the praises of the lame startups that pay thousands of dollars to annoy people in the "Demo Pit" of TechCrunch 50?

TechCrunch isn't a newspaper, it's a blog, and an overly sensational one at that.

damn 30 points in 15 minutes!

You think this teen was influenced by what he saw around him? Media people get freebies and perks all the time. Was this kid's mistake in the fact that he asked for them? Or that he got caught doing so?

I'm pretty sure the intern was Daniel Brusilovsky... he tweeted about "writing the hardest email he's ever had to write" and all his posts are 404'ing on TC.

The tweet of his: http://twitter.com/danielbru/status/8523812779

it was him

Guys, don't. This isn't an adult you're talking about.

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