The notion that Mike, or anyone else, investing in a company would dictate some sort of giant conflicted agenda is laughable. Literally. If Mike tried to get me to write some unreasonable post about a company he had invested in, I would laugh at him. But he would never do that.
No, what's laughable is expecting your readership to rely on your characterisation of your relationship with your editor as a guide to the editorial standards of your publication.
The magic at TechCrunch happens because the writers have very little oversight. Instead, the emphasis is placed on hiring the right writers in the first place
Quite often, you never even see what he brings. But it permeates the entire site.
As readers we have a robust yardstick for presuming bias in reporting: financial interest in the subject. It's important that we do have one and writers who claim otherwise should know that they're demanding a serious indulgence. In contrast to Siegler's tantrum: hxxp://allthingsd.com/author/kara/#kara-ethics
Edit: Strange, the 'ethics statement' content block has to be revealed by manual click. The link is in the article tools menu at the top of the page, in faint text.
I had just finished reading your post from the link further down and I agree with its content. This is not a new problem for journalism. The solution is to leave all that lovely money on the table and keep your reputation intact, or change career.
From Walt Mossberg's version of the link I posted above:
I don’t own a single share of stock in any of the companies whose products I cover, or any shares in technology-oriented mutual funds. Because of this, I completely missed the giant run-up in tech stocks a few years back, and looked like an idiot. However, when the tech stocks crashed, I looked like a genius. Neither was true.
Edit: Thought this excerpt was interesting (from the article above)
"Arrington told reporters yesterday that he has put a clause in his limited partnership agreement so he can report on anything he likes, and in any way, about his investors and their companies, however confidential, except those he invests in."
Whenever I read one of these TC articles claiming that apparent conflicts of interest are laughable, I'm amazed, mainly because I accept the claim for a couple of paragraphs before I blink several times and wonder, what on earth am I thinking?! It seems passionate and outraged hyperbole can take my eyes off the rabbit temporarily.
You can't make conflicts of interest go away just by saying, "No, but he's a really honest guy." That's supposed to be a given. That's the entry fee to persuasive analysis and distinguished news reporting. You'd better be honest AND free from conflicts of interest. I don't think there's a world where people take dishonest reporters seriously, just so long as the agent has no conflicts of interest.
Beyond that, no matter how honest you think you are, you are subject to the same cognitive biases that all humans are. As a matter of fact, bias is the rule, not the exception. We've never seen, nor could we really comprehend what a person free from cognitive bias would look or act like. It's completely alien. That's why we have all these checks and balances when apprehending truth, because some of the smartest of us realize that truth is shrouded in a dense fog and all we have is a dim flashlight to make out shapes in the mist.
How powerful and non-volitional is bias? I read the Four Hour Body the other day, and there's an anecdote about how the CEO of Evernote, Phil Libin, did a weight loss experiment. He made no conscious changes to his diet or exercise routine or usual habits. He did, however, track his weight everyday in a spreadsheet and charted a line from his current weight to his ideal weight. On either side of the line he charted boundaries within which his weight should fall for each day over the period. After 6 months, he'd lost something like 28 pounds. Understand, he made no proactive effort to lose the weight:
“I actually made a conscious effort not to deviate from my diet or exercise routine during this experiment. That is, I continued to eat whatever I wanted and got absolutely no exercise. The goal was to see how just the situational awareness of where I was each day would affect my weight. I suspect it affected thousands of minute decisions that I made over the time period, even though I couldn’t tell you which.”
That's why you can't wave your hands over conflicts of interest.
Yes. The sections I feel expert on or had direct experience with beforehand were well done. For example, in the chapter on gaining muscle, I was thinking, "I bet he doesn't know about the GOMAD diet." On my hard-gainer frame and with my hard-gainer appetite I'd recently gained 20 lbs of lean mass in two weeks on it, which was sort of like gaining super powers given my history. Surprise, surprise, he covers it. When, in one paragraph, you learn about a diet that's more effective than steroids for bodies that haven't significantly tapped into their hypertrophy potential, you've made up the price of admission already.
Or, when he talks about the unique challenges facing women in body shaping, his thinking mirrored my own in some subtle ways that I'd never heard anyone else talk about before (possibly because it might seem sexist).
Given that, I tended to trust that the other material would at least be thought provoking. Basically, he's just really committed to self-improvement--which I know a lot of folks around here are--and looks anywhere to find tools and techniques to aid in his quest. There's an emphasis on science, but he's willing to try anything if research hasn't solved the problem yet.
I'm personally of the opinion that there's a finite number of times that I'm willing to tolerate "histrionic linkbait" headlines.
From tech crunch and a number of other providers that find themselves in the top spot on HN I've personally stopped logging through to the actual article until I've at least read a few comments.
Does the discussion warrant my heading through to the full source? Usually, no.
I know that from the general success of these pages and places like Fox News, there seems to be a near-enough-bottomless appetite for histrionic linkbait in the news, so I'm pretty sure it's never going to go away.
Part of me however wonders if there is any correlation between those posts we see from time to time entitled "I'm leaving Hackernews forever" or "Hacker News has gone downhill" and the number of high-drama BS posts that make it onto the front page over a particular timespan. Maybe it's just cumulative over time, you eventually have your "fill" and leave.
I guess I'm kinda just rambling a bit... but it seems to me that TC puts out a lot of noise. Was "angelgate" pre-AOL ? Maybe it's always been that way.
You're not being entirely fair to AOL here: Arrington could have just said "no way" to the whole CrunchFund thing and posted a TechCrunch rant if it did go through. That would have made it much harder to sustain accusations of a conflict of interest (the critics are certainly less noisy about TechCrunch's coverage of AOL these days, although that's obviously a no-no according to classical journalist ethics.)
AOL is in no way perfect, but let's not place all the blame on them.
I think the fundamental issue is that the powers-that-be at AOL that helped bring the fund into existence wanted to do it IN ORDER TO leverage the TechCrunch name.
AOL didn't know that, and apparently either didn't care or wished for a conflict of interest.
Arrington knew there would be no conflict of interest from his own actions, but has stayed 'blind' to this conflict in approach from his major LP. For whatever reason, he went ahead with this plan, causing significant agitation at TC, and also indicating to the TC staff how much influence AOL has right now; on paper maybe not so much; with only a few 10s of millions of dollars, though, they can rule Michael's roost.
This isn't going to finish well, but I think we all knew that.
Don't make the mistake of confusing the word most with the word all when considering what happens in mergers and acquisitions. The application of natural selection to these situations is apt.
Consider both TechCrunch and The Huffington Post pre-sale to AOL. Which one would you have said made sense and which would you have said not-in-a-million-years? The TechCrunch acquisition was to literally buy credibility, whereas the Huffington Post purchase was to resource a strategy. Arianna Huffington makes AOL stronger in the traits that it has self-selected for. She's going to be just fine.
Arianna was the one who announced that Arrington would no longer be doing TechCrunch now that he was doing CrunchFund. The higher-ups at AOL were apparently on board with the plan for him to do both up until then.
I don't have any inside information, but one possible interpretation is that Arianna made this announcement to effectively force AOL to choose to either back her or back Arrington. They seem to have backed her, which has strengthened her control over the content engine that more or less drives the current AOL. With both Arrington and Topolsky gone (along with much of Topolsky's team), there's really not anyone there with the stature to challenge her in this area.
Honestly, it looks like she could be positioning herself to be the successor when Armstrong gets the boot for the current straits AOL finds itself in. Why leave the company when you can just run it?
This one is different in the sense that this time the drama over at TechCrunch is actually about TechCrunch itself.
Not to sound silly, but contrast this to the usual techcrunch drama (and drama is overly normal over there): Techcrunch being upset that last.fm is calling them full of shit because Techcrunch had some sensationalistic news about last.fm which last.fm was not willing to confirm or deny within 10 minutes and so they went live with the story, unconfirmed, because that is what cutting edge journalism is, because people deserve to know what may or may not be there. Sort of. Wait. Why do people hate us all of a sudden?
That sort of drama. Demeaning to the mind and going at a constant rate over at techcrunch.com.
So... This is still techcrunch and it is still drama, but at least this time (maybe for the last time?) it's different. Feels refreshing, doesn't it?
Meh, who cares, TC was always yellow press to begin with. An added perceived conflict of interest doesn't change anything in my eyes, just adds to the drama of it all which is what the site thrives on in the first place. On a more practical note, whether the content of the site will be affected with Arrington leaving - that's to be determined by time only. My guess is it won't. On a personal note, I briefly met Arrington at one of TC conferences and he's an arrogant asshole, I would even say douchebag (he wasn't an asshole to me, that's just his demeanor), so if he doesn't get exactly what he wants that sounds fine to me.
I generally like Siegler's stuff but he's so far down the rabbit hole now he can't see the reasoning behind concepts like 'bias' and 'disclosure.' Worse, he seems to be fully believe these things don't, or shouldn't, apply because he works in "new media."
It concerns me that a so-called bastion of tech reporting aspires to have all the ethics of TMZ or your friendly neighborhood penny stock newsletter pump and dump scam.
In a way I think that's the point. Siegler is so out of control at this point that he does the one thing TC has always done: if you can't figure it out, light a bomb under it and see what falls off.
Will it still be the old TC? Is this just about Arrington or is it AOL finally digging its heels in and trying to tame the beast? Or are there some kind of dark machinations behind the scenes that nobody's talking about?
The easy way to answer all of it is by writing something that nobody can ignore. AOL's reaction will show their hand. If they torpedo the article, that's that, If they ask Arrington to use his big swinging editor title for real to kill it then that's that. If they let it sit, then they're willing to let their own property hold them to the fire with the entire valley looking on. Either way, hand-wavy secret shadow dealings are out the window.
TechCrunch reports the news. TechCrunch makes the news. It was ever thus.
You can almost see this as testing the limits of the post-Arrington TechCrunch.
If the post is taken down, it will be re-blogged by every other tech pundit from Gruber to Dvorak (hello, Streisand effect.)
If AOL repremands MG Siegler, then everyone will know what happened. Either he'll do another post, or he'll blog about in on his personal blog and it will take off through the bloggeratti. If he's forced into silence, then it will leak out through friends and colleagues.
If AOL ignores it and does what it wants, then the writers at TechCrunch will at least know what they can get away with. It's the Mindsweeper's Dilemma, you can't make any progress among uncertainty unless you take the first step.
MG Siegler probably thought (correctly, I think) that he's not at risk of getting fired and the uncertainty is killing morale.
If he is fired, he knows some other tech blog will snatch him up.
So, it may indeed seem unprofessional, but I give him a lot of credit in trying to "manage up."
I can believe it. I expect the sacking was decided at least some days ago. This smacks of trying to stir up some trouble on the way out when you are sure you are going to be pushed but haven't been officially told to go yet.
As a side note (and a snide note), I do find it really quite sweet that in a couple of the pages linked to by the current article they seem to believe TechCrunch has something to do with the concept of professional journalism.
A somewhat amusing related anecdote here, is the way Arrington managed to get Leo Laporte to blow up on him a couple of years ago by prodding him about receiving a review unit and the implications that might have on bias:
I'll be the first to admit that I know very little about the internal structure of TechCrunch in particular (and AOL's web properties more generally) but this article strikes me as being enormously counter-productive.
What benefit is there in airing all your dirty laundry like this? Publicly 'shaming' AOL into backing down?
I suppose you could argue the benefit of keeping it private is that it doesn't let their readers see all the personal drama and histrionics that could impinge their editorial/journalistic credibility e.g. it's their job to report tech news, not to be a platform to communicate their personal feelings about internal office politics.
I get the feeling that this article is precisely as a result of the 'new media' model of content production at sites like TechCrunch. The author rightly lauds this models dynamism and agility in the article on his personal site (that was linked in the article) but do you think something like this, that's so close to verging on unprofessional, would happen at a more conventional publication? Because I certainly don't.
I agree, this wouldn't happen at a more conventional publication.
Open questions: Will this sort of thing become the new normal, as blogs become more mainstream and legacy publications take on some of their attributes? And would it be an improvement if it did?
Yes, TechCrunch should be about tech news and not about their office politics. But does publishing it disproportionately harm their credibility, or does not publishing it give them credibility they don't deserve? c.f. phone hacking by UK newspapers.
Read the article, AOL already destroyed any sense of journalistic credibility. Right now they're just trying to get their side of the story out before AOL officially responds to its own f-up by shooting the messengers.
I am a big fan of TC and of Arrington. Yes, he is not to everyone's liking, but he has built an amazing business from nothing. However, I have a problem with AOL & TechCrunch forming a startup fund.
TC has a huge impact on the startup market. They are the most powerful tech news business in the world and can literally move the market on a startup with a single blog post. If it is positive your user numbers sky rocket and the VC's are calling. If it is negative your investors are on the phone asking questions.
The CrunchFund gives them skin in the game. TC will determine to a significant extent the value of the CrunchFund portfolio.
We read TC because we trust them to give an unbiased view of our startup world. Yes, MG loves Apple and he gets a lot of stick for it. But what if it came out that all of MG's pension money and savings were in Apple stock. It changes things, right?
If the journalistic trust between the publication and her readers is lost, TC's influence and readership will dissipate.
IMHO the greatest threat to TC is not Arrington leaving. It is the CrunchFund, and the erosion of TCs integrity and credibility that will come with it.
> TC has a huge impact on the startup market. They are the most powerful tech news business in the world and can literally move the market on a startup with a single blog post.
In my experience this is exaggerated. What TC can do is put you on the radar with early adopters for 24 hours. This does not make or break your company. Awareness is only one small problem you have, and TC readers are some of the least sticky hits you will get.
Totally agree that TC will not 'make or break' your company. The beauty of being a startup is that you are judged primarily on your product. It is as pure a meritocracy as you will find. This is why I love it.
However, TC has become very powerful. Even Googles General Counsel speaks directly to them (http://techcrunch.com/2011/07/25/google-patent-fight). Yes the influence is not a binary 'pass' or 'fail', but it is significant enough for the CrunchFund to benefit from their writing.
Too late, it's on the internet. They're not going to delete it because then instead of the title of this story being "TechCrunch As We Know It May Be Over" it would instead be "The Article AOL Pulled From TechCrunch: TechCrunch As We Know It May Be Over". The first rule of getting yourself out of a hole is to stop digging.
In otherwords: something might happen tomorrow, and it might involve the ouster of Arrington from TechCrunch. But we don't know, and no one is telling us. But we like poking bee hives, so we're going to publish this rant anyway...
But we don't know, and no one is telling us. But we like poking bee hives, so we're going to publish this rant anyway...
You cannot possibly say that this doesn't sound like how things are always done at techcrunch. Write first, cause drama, then cause more drama by publishing stories about why you cannot fathom that people has an issue about your way of publishing stories and your unclear communication. Then repeat.
I've long stopped paying attention to the site at all, but I had to check this one out. Hopefully TC will vanish and the internet will gain something better.
Look this is all pretty simple: Mike wants to get fired.
Last year, Mike decided to cash out. According to the AOL CEO there had been previous attempts to buy TechCrunch. So one day Mike, who largely covers Silicon Valley, decides to move from San Francisco to... Seattle . His stated reason? Largely, to "mix things up in my life". Washington state, by some amazing coincidence also has no state income tax.
Around the same time Mike dissolves the partnership with Jason Calacanis for the TechCrunch50 conference , allegedly a huge part of TechCrunch's income.
Four months later, having established residency in a no state income tax state and having rid TechCrunch of an external party having a large stake in TechCrunch's income, AOL out of the blue (honest!) buys TechCrunch .
Two months later, Calacanis sues Arrington over TechCrunch50 , a suit I haven't heard anything about since. Honestly, as much as people here like to rag on Calacanis (and Mahalo, which is basically doomed IMHO), I honestly think he has a case here.
To quote Mike Arrington, himself a lawyer, regarding the scandalous clawback clause in the Skype contracts :
> These employees should simply hire a lawyer to sue Skype. There’s a valid fraud claim based on what I’m seeing, and the “atmospherics” (how lawyers describe the legally irrelevant facts surrounding the story that can nonetheless influence a judge and jury) are terrible for Skype.
Honestly I think the "atmospherics" are terrible for Arrington too. The state of California could probably make a case that Mike changed residency simply to avoid tax so they could make a claim that the sale was still taxable too.
Of course, most reading HN will know that any acquisition will typically come with an earn-out over 2+ years. That earn-out, like many vesting schedules, will have a bunch of conditions on it, probably including an acceleration clause for getting fired (termination probably without cause).
Mike wants to get fired.
EDIT: to clarify the residency of California :
> (1) California residents pays California tax on all their income.
> (2) California generally taxes California-source income, …
> So, who is a resident? In determining residency, California law provides two presumptions. The first presumption is that a taxpayer who, in the aggregate, spends more than 9 months of a taxable year in California will be presumed to be a California resident. The second presumption is that an individual whose presence in California does not exceed 6 months within a taxable year and who maintains a permanent home outside California is not considered a California resident provided the taxpayer does not engage in any activity or conduct within the State other than as a seasonal visitor, tourist, or guest.
The point is that there is a subjective test (the last point there). I'm sure Mike dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's (registering to vote in Washington, getting a Washington state driver's license, etc) but if he spends significant time in the Valley it is not clearcut.
Even one other time is enough - because it was pointed out then that it isn't illegal to change your residence and that Arrington had bought his house in WA, the only house he owns, before he started Techcrunch
this having nothing to do with OP doesn't really need a citation
I have to question what your agenda is as a (former?) TechCrunch writer. Are you perhaps trying to curry favour ahead of the launch of your "pre-launch startup" (from your profile)?
You certainly seem eager to mischaracterize my comments and malign my intentions when we've already gone from "every time" to "once before". While you're at it, point out where the comment is "copy and paste[d]" elsewhere. Since you can't, we'll chalk that accusation up to yet more slander.
Nowhere did I say changing residence for tax purpose was "illegal". Someone else may have characterized it as such. Take it up with them. There's a huge gap between "illegal" and the state of California making a claim that Arrington is still technically resident so the sale is subject to California state income tax.
and to add - your hypothesis that Mike wants to get fired doesn't match any real analysis of the situation.
You seem to have said this only to only re-open your old claims again, but if you read your supporting evidence, it doesn't backup your claim that Mike wants to get fired.
Now I know absolutely nothing of what is going on - but here is some quick analysis.
First - there is no way in the world that MG wrote this post on Techcrunch without Mike knowing about it. If I were a bettering man, I would wager that Mike prompted it.
The evidence? Every time MG writes a 'meta' post about Techcrunch, blogs, politics etc. he writes it on his personal blog. He has never meta-blogged on Techcrunch. Only yesterday he wrote a post on his personal blog about this situation.
Second - Mike said in the press last week that he will still write at Techcrunch. Because he wants to - because he has to.
And remember the fund was announced without Mike stepping down. The 'stepping down' part came only a few hours later when AOL were forced into the move under some media pressure and scrutiny.
Queue screwing up the press announcement about the fund, AOL going back on their statements and then finally telling the press that Mike no longer works there (without Mike saying anything) and suddenly you have a post, on TC, from MG, that reeks of a last-ditched move orchestrated by Mike
This is all about using a public reaction to get Mike's job back at Techcrunch, and everything back to how it was a week ago.
If you spent the amount of time you did on your comment looking at the actual situation without blinders on you would realize that the real conclusions and any real analysis is the opposite of what you suggest (ie. it has nothing to do with CA residency tax codes)
No - all this comes down to is that your comment has literally nothing to do with the OP, isn't the first time you have made the comment, and in any other circumstance would have been downvoted into negative territory because it doesn't meet a single guideline of this site
It absolutely is not illegal for a US citizen to change his state of residence purely for tax reasons. It's only fraud if he does not actually intend to reside there, the motivation behind that intent is completely irrelevant.
You might be able to get in trouble for it though if you had an agreement with another party that you would sell your business to them 1 year in the future (i.e. after changing your residency). The courts might rule that this agreement constituted a sale of the business and that tax should be payable based on residency at the time the agreement was made. I'm not sure if that's actually the case, but I've seen similar rulings in related circumstances.
Am I the only one who sees the victimization going on here? MG says "AOL promised not to interfere" and yet now "they may break their promise to us". Meanwhile Michael went and created an investment fund that clearly conflicts with TechCrunch interests.
I think AOL tried to have it both ways. With mainstream media revealing the distasteful arrangement, however, AOL has to protect their bigger interest: publishing.
sorry to be the skeptic, but I don't buy this at all. its in everybody's best interest for arrington to manage the fund full time, be a guest writer, or speaker and be an advocate of his startups and aol and arrington both get paid when his companies exit. so why all the noise ... traffic. From all these comments people are eating it up. Just like arrington made all that noise about breach of contract with the joo joo pad and how he has all these lawsuits. he was fortunate they never held him to a contract.
Hmm, was just reading "Good to Great" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_to_Great) about leadership, simplicity and doing what you're good at. Something tells me TechCrunch is not a great company if things are going to collapse this way without Arrington...
Oh, and something tells me little oversight for your writers leads to massive internal communication issues like these...
You took a shortcut. I don't think that TC wouldn't work without Arrington, and i don't think it is what Siegler wants to tell us. The problem is not that Arrington is leaving, the problem is that he will be replaced, and not likely by someone that will follow Arrington's way of leading TC. More like pleasing AOL.
It's the end of TC as we know it, and I feel fine...
I'm going to take a look at this drama through an organizational behavior lens, as a case study for the decision facing HuffPo:
TC is a blogging organization whose leader has a strong personality and reputation, though he exerts little to no editorial control over the content of the org. Instead, influences the org by his hiring decisions, editorial policies and culture.
Arguably, those hiring decisions, editorial policies and culture are what has brought such success to this org. That, plus a powerful brand that this leader established from the beginning.
To continue the success of this org means replicating these factors. The brand is already established, but the system that sustains its success should remain as much as possible.
The current team also has a wide soapbox and strong opinions. If the owners of this org believes that the current team is necessary for its sustained success, then the owners will need to appease this team and involve them in the recruiting process of a new leader (if it decides to dismiss the current leader).
The risk of not appeasing this team is a loss of talent. It's certainly possible to recruit new blogging talent, though the current team has significant individual brand equity and established relationships. The org's owners will need to weigh the pros and cons of this as they make their decisions.
I actually believe Siegler here. Arrington does have integrity in my eyes, and I don't see investing and reporting on startups to be some insurmountable conflict of interest. Most of the time the interests are in alignment—you wouldn't invest in something that you don't like. Granted there is a potentially more serious conflict of interest in the case of negative press, but TC is far from the only tech news source, they aren't a regulator or someone with real power to suppress a story. And contrary to popular mythology, TC coverage does not make or break a startup.
That's all my personal opinion though (I just don't take TC that seriously). In the public sphere you can't afford even the appearance of impropriety, and Arrington wants to have his cake and eat it too. If he really wanted to give all his detractors a big "Fuck You" on the ethics front then he never should have sold to AOL. Just in general, you can't sell to a major corporation and believe that you'll still be a scrappy upstart. They might have a hands-off policy as long as it's profitable, but when the chips are down their collective asshole will pucker up so hard it'll pop the old head off like a dandelion.
Siegler needs to grow up and realize that TC was done the day Arrington sold out.
Kudos for being so open. I was always impressed how open and truth commited these guys actually are. And like most people I love that.
But I also think this article reads a little naive. Probably AOL has other plans for the future. Probably since before they acquired Tech Crunch. All that is and never was about the community or the company. Maybe they wanted to buy the talent Arrington. Maybe they just wanted to shut them up. But I think activating the community now will not help at all. If they are together in a VC fund with Arrington they maybe bought him off to help him let TC die. It's exactly what I would do, if I wanted to kill them (and if I would have the money, of course). First buy the company, make Arrington more rich. Tell everybody nothing changes. Wait until everybody calmed down. Then try to motivate Arrington to do something else and give him some more cash to do it. Then wait a little more. Then turn off the lights and close the doors.
edit I see someone disagreed with that. Why not argue instead of downvote? I really would appreciate your opinion. (Leave the downvote, that doesn't matter. I only want your thoughts!)
I was at the Crunchies this year, and you could cut the tension with a knife between the TechCrunch and AOL people. AOL presenters were blatantly decrying how the event was organized -- everything from how TC used paid sponsorships to the overall tenor of the event. Shots were fired back and forth pretty regularly between the presenters and the AOL folks, but the TC people were clearly the most hostile.
Seems like buyer's remorse to me, as they've put themselves on par with the rest of AOL's content farm, even though we all know their content is more well-researched and valuable than that. If they didn't want AOL's money, they shouldn't have taken it. They could have found alternate sources of funding, but maybe not to grow as much or as fast as they would have liked.
I've never reviewed any journal contracts before, but wouldn't there be some clause that forbids publishing content that intentionally damages the publisher's brand? If so couldn't TechCrunch sue the author here?
Can someone tl;dr on this whole situation? I read the linked article but it doesn't provide a lot of background (basically, just takes a long time to say, "We will be seriously bummed if AOL fires Mike Arrington") on the situation. Why is AOL considering canning Arrington? The article says he said or did something they didn't like; what is that thing?
For what I can tell AOL were quite happy with it when it wasn't widely reported (or they were to thick to notice it, or the board just OKed its investment into the fund without any due diligence checks at all - lack of due diligence being the most likely explanation as generally ignorance trumps stupidity and stupidity trumps malice).
They backtracked when other outlets got hold of the story and started talking about it. The people being back-tracked on, and their friends & partners, are not happy. As a result several prams now contain less toys than they once did.
AOL is a big org, and different sections have different needs.
The business guys think the conflict of interest is a selling point - take CrunchFund money, or risk TC slamming your business! The people in AOL management who actually care about journalistic integrity (both of them?) think it's bad.
It seems the compromise position is to move Mike (the guy who upholds TC's integrity) off TC, so there's no conflict of interest, and move some corporate guy in there to keep things honest.
That sounds like there is a good chance that this was a malicious action, "how can we get rid of Arrington without making everyone hate us?" I have a hard time believing that they set the whole fund up, went through all the motions, and only after Mike publicly announced it did they say, "Oh, maybe there's a conflict of interest here..."
It was probably concocted with the intent to remove Mike Arrington, replace him with AOL's own suit that can squeeze more money out of TC, and look like a white knight while doing so, improving the reputation of AOL's "journalism" properties (which are the only significant part of AOL left, really).
I understand this is a violation of Hanlon's Razor, the incompetence seems a bit far-fetched for me. I would expect at least someone in the company saw this coming.
Well, first, I think plenty of people already hate AOL. Second, it was AOL's CEO that explicitly disclaimed journalistic ethics, not Arrington or anybody at TechCrunch.
Finally, Arrington is good at this, AOL never has been. No rationale person intentionally picks a public fight with Arrington. If this was intentional on AOL's part, it backfired badly, and is still attributable to stupidity.
If the concern is the journalistic integrity of a tech news blog whose founder also funds certain startups likely to wind up in the tech news... one way would be to make those investments subject to an NDA I suppose. None of the blog writers would know which companies were or were not funded by the founder's fund.
Or a news blackout could be imposed on that blog for any companies funded by the founder's VC firm. I suppose the news blackout would be an imperfect solution, since presumably reportage on any competitors to the portfolio companies could be viewed as suspect.
Even if Mr. Siegler insists that the tech blog where he works is a cool place founded by a cool guy, that does not address the perception of the blog from the outside. If there is any perception at all of potential bias, then both the VC fund and the tech blog suffer an erosion of perceived integrity (regardless of whether or not that is actually the case).
Independence is a tricky thing. I think maybe if TechCrunch were not part of AoL, then they could potentially pull off this balancing act. They have enough momentum now that readership won't evaporate overnight, and a few blog posts critical of portfolio companies or complimentary to competitor companies would re-establish their credibility. But a big corporate parent is not going to like that kind of the seat-of-the-pants approach to managing risk. Doubtless somewhere in the bowels of AoL somebody is running the numbers of what would happen if somebody sued along the way, and not liking what they see.
As for Mr. Siegler ranting about his employer on a blog they own, that strikes me as a classic CLM. Big ol' corporations really really tend to hate it when someone down on the front lines starts to think they're irreplaceable and they can do as they please, just because they've taken a lot of bullets and led a few charges over their little piece of the battlefront. A better approach would have been to tactfully address all of the issues he addressed, in the interest of informing the readers, and with the same goal of trying to gin up reader support. But he could have mentioned that he really appreciates the resources at his disposal thanks to the AoL acquisition, and he believes that TechCrunch adds value to the parent firm primarily due to its unique editorial independence policies, etc. As it reads now, he comes off as churlish. Nobody likes to have f-bombs hurled at them, not even dull gray corporate types in upper management. It really burns when those f-bombs are lobbed by someone on the payroll.
IMHO, if Mr. Siegler truly wants to help his boss keep his job, his best move now would be to pull that little rant pronto, and edit it to be a lot more polite and respectful to AoL, throw in some mea culpas about getting wound up too soon, etc. and then re-state his case in terms that corporate can understand and appreciate. AoL might be a bunch of assholes, but they are the assholes that cut his check.
I'm not particular fan of Arrington, but I do think TechCrunch has shown with all its negative AOL postings is that it's not beholden to the hand that feeds it.
You kind of jump all over the place with your points.
1. professionalism. Yes, they don't exhibit professionalism in the traditional sense. they don't mind airing dirty laundry and posting personal rant posts.
2. Then you get into the question of bias. I think it's clear that they don't pander or hold punches with respect to AOL, their parent company. The whole point of the rants over the past few days has been the fact that these are independent writers who don't feel any particular loyalty to this unaffiliated crunchfund. And they don't like the implications they do.