MSM|September 8, 2011| Author: Duncan Riley|Tags: ,

Cry Me A River TechCrunch

As the Arrington/ AOL/ CrunchFund scandal enters yet another day, TechCrunch writer MG Siegler and founder Michael Arrington have started using their yet to be revoked access to the site to fire shots across the bow of parent company AOL and head of editorial Arianna Huffington.

Siegler started yesterday with a post titled rather bizarrely “TechCrunch As We Know It May Be Over.” I say bizarre because Siegler’s arguments vs the title are actually contradictory. Michael Arrington follows up with “Editorial Independence,” yet another contradiction in headline given it comes from a man who wants to run a site while investing (well, further investing as the case may be) in the companies he writes about.

Let me disclose again upfront that I spent 12 months at TechCrunch, perhaps the longest 12 months of my life.

Lets start with MG Siegler, who puts me to shame in my heyday (on basis of effort) as the chief leader of the TechCrunch cheersquad.

I do understand why Siegler is passionate about working for TechCrunch. I was as well. There’s something terribly alluring about writing for what was at the time (and perhaps to some still is) the number one tech blog (the reality is Mashable has long since sailed past.) It’s easy to be sucked in by the glamor of it all, and I think the only reason I never got fully sucked in is that I probably remain the only full time overseas based writer the site has had (I was detached enough to keep a sense of reality.) There was just myself and Michael writing when I started (and an occasional post by some other members of staff who doubled in other roles, but wrote part time), but by the time I left there was maybe four full time writers.

But there’s being a fan and being passionate about what you do, and trying to keep a level head. I knew after 12 months, having worked for myself or been a co-founder of a company that ultimately I wanted control of my life again, vs trying to churn out a minimum of four posts a day, seven days a week.

That might not sound like much, but the problem wasn’t finding things to write about, it was filtering the noise. But I digress.

Siegler, living and breathing the TechCrunch lifestyle, has lost his objectivity when it comes to what he does and who he works for. In particular in his post, he seems to forget that he now works for AOL, not Michael Arrington.

Where do you start?

Siegler writes:

“Mike unveiled an investing entity known as the “CrunchFund” with full AOL support — so much support, mind you, that they’re the largest backers of the fund — only to have his legs kicked out from under him due to what can only be described as nonsensical political infighting and really poor communication.”

You can agree with some of that: Arrington and Tim Armstrong forgot to mention any of the CrunchFund news to their head of editorial, Arianna Huffington, and she responds (rightly) by trying to fire him, but you get the feeling that Siegler doesn’t read it that way. Nonsensical political infighting? He can’t surely mean playing a legitimately played ethical card?

But it gets better, because Siegler lives under the fallacy that is the TechCrunch writer’s belief in independence.

“Earlier this evening, I wrote a post on my personal blog attempting to explain to those outside our company how TechCrunch actually works from an editorial perspective. 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. Ask Loic Le Meur. Ask Kevin Rose. Ask Shervin Pishevar. Ask Airbnb. Ask countless others.”

I really hope Siegler is on drugs, because it would explain a lot. But I shouldn’t joke, because it’s the cult of TechCrunch that has made him believe this.

First, I will concede that Michael Arrington hires writers that are mostly independent and write their own content. It’s the perfect blog model where the writers do their own thing because you trust them enough to get it right. I’m the first to admit that I followed the same model at The Inquisitr and are now doing so at Medacity: I hire people who can think for themselves and make their own calls on content, without needing ongoing guidance.

But there’s a huge difference between the theory and the application at TechCrunch. At TechCrunch, Arrington lets you believe you are picking your own posts (and sometimes you do.) But there are other things that don’t quite fit the model. At TechCrunch, it’s made very clear who you are allowed to write about, and not write about. For example, companies that appeared at rival conferences to TechCrunch 50 (now TechCrunch Disrupt) were off limits. I was often given suggestions by Arrington to write about companies based on his friendships, or people who were friendly to him (and at times sponsors.)

Siegler repeats the classic Arrington line that sometimes we criticize our “friends,” but that’s all part of the show. It is, and always has been the veil of legitimacy TechCrunch has traded on. But I know that at my time at TechCrunch, biting friends was only ever ordered, and only when what they were doing was so blatantly bad it needed calling out. I think any time TechCrunch has written a negative post about Loic Le Meur is a classic example. Kevin Rose was never a TechCrunch friend as I saw it, so it’s a touch weird at Siegler brings him up. Robert Scoble is the classic example: Arrington and Scoble were the best of frenimies: one day we’d be backing him, and the next day we’d be putting in the boot. But the orders as to which way we wrote about Scoble always came from the top.

The reality is, as it always has been, is that TechCrunch has traded off favors and back scratching. TechCrunch has always barred or banned people, startups or sites it doesn’t like (for example, we could steal a story from Mashable but NEVER attribute it.) Siegler can scream editorial independence from the rooftop, and maybe he won’t write about a company he really doesn’t like (I hope that I never did) but likewise I’d bet money that he’s written about many a company that Arrington has recommended to him.

Which brings me to the title of Arrington’s post “editorial independence.”

It’s a joke in itself.

TechCrunch has never ever once had editorial independence. What Arrington means by independence is he calls the shots. That’s not real independence.

Unlike Siegler’s contention that the end is nigh, someone new at the top of TechCrunch without the relationships, backscratching, and sometimes inside tips that were/ are typical of the Arrington era may for the first time actually provide editorial independence at TechCrunch.

And as much as I hate to admit it: Arianna Huffington, for all her flaws, at least gets ethics to the point that she is capable to find the right person to do the job…and it’s someone from outside vs any of the existing TechCrunch staff.

I know many speak highly of MG Siegler, and I don’t doubt that he brings in pageviews, but he has also lost the most important part of what being a journalist is supposed to be about: objectivity. His post in itself, if I ran AOL, would be an offense that would see him terminated from his position. He may not have ever bitten Arrington’s hand, but AOL cuts the checks now, and the quicker he learns, the longer he’ll keep his position.

As for Arrington: I sort of feel sad. I’ve had some of the best conversations of my life with him and he is without doubt one of the smartest people I have ever had the pleasure spending time with. I’ll never forget the opportunity he gave me, for all its good and bad. But likewise Michael: you only have yourself to blame now. Greed got the better of you, and you are now going to lose your site. You’re cashed up, so you can probably start again, but still: I do know how much TechCrunch means to you and despite your own greed causing this, a small part of me does feel a little sorry that you’ve lost the site.

  • http://Laneth.com Laneth Sffarlenn

    It’s amazing what first-hand experience with a company and/or its people can do for one’s perspective, eh?

    Thanks for writing this up Duncan. I haven’t kept up with the whole Arrington/Huffington/AOL debacle because I honestly don’t give two shits about any of them, but this just serves to highlight the the most important points of the situation, as well as rounding it out with a personal touch (despite the relationships as they may stand between you and them now).

  • http://www.facebook.com/tom.reynolds Tom Reynolds

    It’s amazing how few people get what a conflict of interest is . People like MG lead off with “Oh we do it like this and therefore your argument is invalid” as if the past is enough to prove there’s no problem in the future.
    The fact is a conflict of interest exists where the potential exists for funny business. And that’s it.

  • http://twitter.com/eyuzwa erik yuzwa

    seriously? Since when has journalism stood for objectivity? That went out the window decades ago. We want editorials, we want viewpoints. I want to hear what Arrington and MG Siegler have to say about what’s going on.

  • http://www.geekhang.com Artful Dodger

    Wow. I guess I’ve only heard one side of the story. All these days all I see are tweets by Arrington proclaiming his innocence and re-tweets of other people backing him up but, wow.

    I’ve always been a fan of TechCrunch, I’ve been a loyal reader since 2009ish and I doubt I’ll stop but sometimes hearing about what happens behind the scenes at these blogs astonishes me. Everything seems all fine and dandy on the outside i.e. Topolski on the Engadget show but behind the veil, everything’s a little more sour.

    Siegler had me.

  • Bill

    So you’re using this story to promote your new blog just months after selling your last one?

    • Bob

      Is that you Siegler?

  • http://necenzurat.net necenzurat

    hard to see objective articles these days

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  • chrisgoodrich

    “I know many speak highly of MG Siegler, and I don’t doubt that he brings in pageviews, but he has also lost the most important part of what being a journalist is supposed to be about: objectivity. His post in itself, if I ran AOL, would be an offense that would see him terminated from his position. He may not have ever bitten Arrington’s hand, but AOL cuts the checks now, and the quicker he learns, the longer he’ll keep his position.”

    I think this statement contradicts your primary point and is the root of the problems in traditional journalism. Instead of writing the truth about how they feel and having an independent voice, writers are at the helm of the many editorial stakeholders and competing political influences.

    You point out that Siegler has lost his objectivity and in the same breath suggest that he needs to remember that he works for AOL. To be objective would be to write that article irrespective of who he works for if he truly believed what he was writing.

    I realize that pure objectivity is really an unattainable utopia, but your primary point is weakened by suggesting that Siegler lost his objectivity and then supporting that he not be objective for the sake of a large corporation that writes his paycheck.

  • jagor high

    btw Pall Carr just tried to post an article here:

    http://techcrunch.com/2011/09/08/not-leaving-quietly/

    Yes, Of Course I’ll Resign Unless Mike Arrington Chooses His Successor

    Oh boy. At this point, even the shit-show is becoming a shit-show. According to Dan Primack at Fortune, Mike Arrington has been fired by AOL. My inbox is full of emails from journalists, friends and total strangers — all asking if I can explain what’s going on. The vast majority of those correspondents are clearly hoping for a mass walk-out of writers if Mike is really gone. The Atlantic is already predicting what might happen post-walkout.

    Meantime, Mike has gone to ground — presumably somewhere in his fortified Seattle compound — although with apparently as little idea as any of us what the final outcome will be. Primack’s story says it’s a fait accompli, while others say the situation is “still developing”. I spoke to a senior staffer at TCHQ yesterday who told me “No-one knows anything. It’s bizarre. Surreal.”

    Rather than replying to a billion emails, or appearing on Bloomberg, or talking to PBS or Tweeting something threatening-but-ambiguous; here’s my position. And it’s basically unchanged from where I was last week.

    TechCrunch lives or dies on its editorial independence. Right now, that means TechCrunch — in the person of its founding editor — must be allowed to pick its next Editor In Chief. Arianna Huffington has made clear that she wants Mike gone and TechCrunch to be assimilated into Huffington Post, under her direct control. That means whoever she might pick as “editor” will be little more than an avatar for her; a cardboard cut-out installed to do her bidding. That’s so ridiculously unacceptable a situation that the idea makes me feel physically sick. It will be the death of TechCrunch and everything we’ve all worked for these past years.

    Sure, the brand will live on — and as long as we keep writing about cool apps we’ll probably still get amazing traffic. But traffic and a famous domain name is not why I — or most of the TechCrunch staff and editors I’ve spoken to in the past few days — came to work here. As Fred Wilson wrote earlier today: “TechCrunch also has a voice, a swagger, a “fuck you” attitude that comes from Mike… They need to keep the remaining team, the voice, and that attitude if they want to remain at the top of the world of tech media.” Damn fucking right.

    Presumably, given how much TechCrunch and AOL both have riding on the success of next week’s Disrupt conference, an announcement as to TechCrunch’s future leadership must be imminent. I’m not going to speak for the other members of the team, but my own position is clear: unless Mike Arrington appoints his own successor, guaranteeing that TechCrunch retains its editorial independence, I’m gone. Done. Out of the door.

    Ceding control to the Huffington Post will be the death of everything — the voice, the swagger, the “fuck you” attitude — that makes TechCrunch great; and I’m not going to stay around to watch that happen.

    Four days.

  • jagor high

    btw Pall Carr just tried to post an article here:

    http://techcrunch.com/2011/09/08/not-leaving-quietly/

    Yes, Of Course I’ll Resign Unless Mike Arrington Chooses His Successor

    Oh boy. At this point, even the shit-show is becoming a shit-show. According to Dan Primack at Fortune, Mike Arrington has been fired by AOL. My inbox is full of emails from journalists, friends and total strangers — all asking if I can explain what’s going on. The vast majority of those correspondents are clearly hoping for a mass walk-out of writers if Mike is really gone. The Atlantic is already predicting what might happen post-walkout.

    Meantime, Mike has gone to ground — presumably somewhere in his fortified Seattle compound — although with apparently as little idea as any of us what the final outcome will be. Primack’s story says it’s a fait accompli, while others say the situation is “still developing”. I spoke to a senior staffer at TCHQ yesterday who told me “No-one knows anything. It’s bizarre. Surreal.”

    Rather than replying to a billion emails, or appearing on Bloomberg, or talking to PBS or Tweeting something threatening-but-ambiguous; here’s my position. And it’s basically unchanged from where I was last week.

    TechCrunch lives or dies on its editorial independence. Right now, that means TechCrunch — in the person of its founding editor — must be allowed to pick its next Editor In Chief. Arianna Huffington has made clear that she wants Mike gone and TechCrunch to be assimilated into Huffington Post, under her direct control. That means whoever she might pick as “editor” will be little more than an avatar for her; a cardboard cut-out installed to do her bidding. That’s so ridiculously unacceptable a situation that the idea makes me feel physically sick. It will be the death of TechCrunch and everything we’ve all worked for these past years.

    Sure, the brand will live on — and as long as we keep writing about cool apps we’ll probably still get amazing traffic. But traffic and a famous domain name is not why I — or most of the TechCrunch staff and editors I’ve spoken to in the past few days — came to work here. As Fred Wilson wrote earlier today: “TechCrunch also has a voice, a swagger, a “fuck you” attitude that comes from Mike… They need to keep the remaining team, the voice, and that attitude if they want to remain at the top of the world of tech media.” Damn fucking right.

    Presumably, given how much TechCrunch and AOL both have riding on the success of next week’s Disrupt conference, an announcement as to TechCrunch’s future leadership must be imminent. I’m not going to speak for the other members of the team, but my own position is clear: unless Mike Arrington appoints his own successor, guaranteeing that TechCrunch retains its editorial independence, I’m gone. Done. Out of the door.

    Ceding control to the Huffington Post will be the death of everything — the voice, the swagger, the “fuck you” attitude — that makes TechCrunch great; and I’m not going to stay around to watch that happen.

    Four days.

  • jagor high

    btw Pall Carr just tried to post an article here:

    http://techcrunch.com/2011/09/08/not-leaving-quietly/

    Yes, Of Course I’ll Resign Unless Mike Arrington Chooses His Successor

    Oh boy. At this point, even the shit-show is becoming a shit-show. According to Dan Primack at Fortune, Mike Arrington has been fired by AOL. My inbox is full of emails from journalists, friends and total strangers — all asking if I can explain what’s going on. The vast majority of those correspondents are clearly hoping for a mass walk-out of writers if Mike is really gone. The Atlantic is already predicting what might happen post-walkout.

    Meantime, Mike has gone to ground — presumably somewhere in his fortified Seattle compound — although with apparently as little idea as any of us what the final outcome will be. Primack’s story says it’s a fait accompli, while others say the situation is “still developing”. I spoke to a senior staffer at TCHQ yesterday who told me “No-one knows anything. It’s bizarre. Surreal.”

    Rather than replying to a billion emails, or appearing on Bloomberg, or talking to PBS or Tweeting something threatening-but-ambiguous; here’s my position. And it’s basically unchanged from where I was last week.

    TechCrunch lives or dies on its editorial independence. Right now, that means TechCrunch — in the person of its founding editor — must be allowed to pick its next Editor In Chief. Arianna Huffington has made clear that she wants Mike gone and TechCrunch to be assimilated into Huffington Post, under her direct control. That means whoever she might pick as “editor” will be little more than an avatar for her; a cardboard cut-out installed to do her bidding. That’s so ridiculously unacceptable a situation that the idea makes me feel physically sick. It will be the death of TechCrunch and everything we’ve all worked for these past years.

    Sure, the brand will live on — and as long as we keep writing about cool apps we’ll probably still get amazing traffic. But traffic and a famous domain name is not why I — or most of the TechCrunch staff and editors I’ve spoken to in the past few days — came to work here. As Fred Wilson wrote earlier today: “TechCrunch also has a voice, a swagger, a “fuck you” attitude that comes from Mike… They need to keep the remaining team, the voice, and that attitude if they want to remain at the top of the world of tech media.” Damn fucking right.

    Presumably, given how much TechCrunch and AOL both have riding on the success of next week’s Disrupt conference, an announcement as to TechCrunch’s future leadership must be imminent. I’m not going to speak for the other members of the team, but my own position is clear: unless Mike Arrington appoints his own successor, guaranteeing that TechCrunch retains its editorial independence, I’m gone. Done. Out of the door.

    Ceding control to the Huffington Post will be the death of everything — the voice, the swagger, the “fuck you” attitude — that makes TechCrunch great; and I’m not going to stay around to watch that happen.

    Four days.

  • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

    Arrington is clearly a pretty awful person. Siegler is just out in la la land with his posts and twitter comments. Pathetic and grandiose at the same time. Techcrunch may be a big deal in blogger world but most people have never heard of it. They don’t seem to get that.

  • http://kodea.gotdns.com Nuno Maia

    @paulcarr is just another idiot with a TC megaphone as proven once again by the delusional-rat piece entitled “Yes, Of Course I’ll Do Something That’s Already Been Done For Me, Unless Something Impossible To Happen Happens”.
    Even at resigning he fails.

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  • Idont

    Duncan, TC has never been the same since you left. I have been reading less and less articles. Now I only scan the titles through Google Reader.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001104794869 Danny Maddox

    Even finding this a month later, inside info sheds a new light on this. Thanks Duncan

  • andres_socha

    is true Mr. Siegler is a very bitter and is not objective is a shame to think that on tech crunch I think missing a lot more

    Ley de Atraccion
    http://eelsecreto.com/category/ley-de-atraccion/