As a member of the WordPress community, I try to stay plugged into the rest of the world using WordPress’ services. One of WordPress’ more successful sites is without a doubt TechCrunch, a technology industry blog owned by AOL. It’s a site filled with a talented base of writers with strong opinions, often making insightful comments on trends in the tech industry. Yet, over the past few weeks, TechCrunch has really fallen off the wagon. Founder Michael Arrington earned the wrath of Arianna Huffington, Editor-in-Chief at AOL, a few weeks ago when he announced he would start a Venture Capital fund called CrunchFund for start ups. Ms. Huffington was not too happy about this though, as TechCrunch is a blog that focuses much on start up news. A conflict of interest was unavoidable in Ms. Huffington’s eyes and Arrington had a hard choice to make: step down as the head of TechCrunch in order to make sure he wasn’t selling blog real estate to companies for personal profit, or not be a VC. He chose the latter.
The split between Arrington and AOL is not just a debate over journalistic integrity though. It really reveals the flaw in TechCrunch‘s design as a source for tech news. But if you want to have a discussion about journalistic integrity in today’s world, there may be no better case study than TechCrunch.
I laugh at this whole cluster-fuck of a firing because of what has happened to TechCrunch in the days following the departure of Arrington. The website has always relished is employing a team of strongly opinionated and grand standing writers. Some of them are, for all their sensationalism, still pretty good writers like M.G. Siegler – the voracious Apple fan he is. With Arrington out of the picture, we now see these unbridled authors spewing venom at their own kind. They’ve attacked the new Editor-in-Chief, threatened resignation, and pronounced their own site dead even as they continue to make a buck off such articles and publish upwards of 20 posts a day. The entire site is like a circus with out a ring master. Just visit the site and with little luck you’ll see evidence of the in-fighting.
This is what happens when you base your entire site, your entire business off the rantings of sensationalist journalists. Don’t get me wrong, TechCrunch can be a place of remarkable insight and high quality op-ed journalism. Posts on the site have at many times inspired me, as have the personal attitudes of many of the writers. But for every quality post, I see a lot of crud. The writers love taking shots not only at other websites (their assault on Engadget was one such example of Yellow Journalism) but at other writers on their site. It’s laughably poor.
Without Arrington, TechCrunch’s weaknesses have become apparent. Namely its gross subjectivity. If Arianna Huffington was really concerned with journalistic integrity, she would have looked into the problems with TechCrunch a long time ago. So as the site rips itself apart through the same mechanism that built it up, all I can say is that I’m not really surprised. TechCrunch should have reigned in its writers a long time ago and taught them about objectivity. Sure, outlandish posts and grand standing might “sell” but this same culture has turned the blog into a war zone.
And all I can do is laugh.