Thursday is Michael Arrington's last day at TechCrunch, and he kicked it off by making an announcement. "I'll be launching my new (personal) blog in a couple of days," Arrington tweeted in the early morning hours. The announcement came just after TechCrunch's new editor Erick Schonfeld awarded this year's Disrupt Cup and a giant $50,000 check is a startup called Shaker. The number two and three slots went to Prism Skylabs, a cloud-based video service, and Bitcasa, a cloud-based storage service, respectively. Guess who's a funder for all three of them? Michael Arrington, of course. At this point, it's pretty clear that Arrington could care less about what people think of his involvement with the companies that TechCrunch covers, but it's becoming increasingly clear that TechCrunch has much more to lose than Arrington.
The Arrington-backed companies' clean sweep of TechCrunch Disrupt pleased neither readers nor critics. Both panned the blog for publishing a post about another Disrupt finalist, Bitcasa, that "reads like ad copy" to borrow Gawker's Ryan Tate's phrase. This sort of post, after all, is exactly what journalism watchdogs feared would happen if Arrington started investing in the same startups that TechCrunch covers. That same set of folks had equally critical things to say about the results of the TechCrunch Disrupt contest. Jemima Kiss at The Guardian feels bad for the startups overshadowed by Arrington's ego and makes the case that TechCrunch readers seemed especially doubtful about the Disrupt committees choice of a winner. She also wonders about TechCrunch's future--with or without its founder:
The whole episode marks a giant loss in credibility for TechCrunch, a mangled, undignified departure, unprofessional personal scraps between colleagues and a decidedly fetid atmosphere around what has generally been a vibrant, inspiring and powerful brand. Ultimately, whatever the future of the writers and investors involved, this is a real shame for the entrepreneurs who've worked extremely hard to get this far.
John Gapper at the Financial Times compared TechCrunch's bad behavior to Goldman Sachs in his own scolding column:
The truth is that, no matter how loudly people protest that they have safeguards in place and will not abuse their power, conflicts of interest lead to abuses as surely as rivers flow to the sea. Even if they are disclosed in disclaimers, as banks now do with investment research, bad things will happen.
Meanwhile, Arrington wants it to be known that he still has influence at his old blog and is already sparring with Schonfeld. In his TechCrunch post announcing the finalists for Disrupt, Schonfeld claimed that Arrington wasn't involved in selecting the finalists, a claim that Arrington debunked in the comments. Arrington says that he "had significant input into this list of finalists and spoke to Heather [Techcrunch CEO] for over an hour last night about them" and adds:
Please be careful making statements on my behalf. And remember that reader trust is what matters. You shouldn't say 'he was not involved in the final selection of these companies' just because it sounds nice. Since it isn't true, you shouldn't say it at all.
It's a stumble for Schonfeld, and TechCrunch writers are already expressing doubt about the company's "the new culture of honesty and transparency."
TechCrunch's future is cloudy, but it's off to a rocky start. We don't yet know much about Arrington's new blog project or whether it will compete with TechCrunch for readership and relevance--but we're pretty sure it's not going to be about baseball. Meanwhile, interest over Arrington's new project is high, and Tumblr is already trying to talk him into using their platform. There's also a decent amount of chatter about TechCrunch's writers jumping ship. It's pretty clear that there's bad blood between Arrington and his former bosses at AOL, and he continues to attract negative attention to TechCrunch with his trash-talking. It's possible that Arrington's new project will reroute some of the ill-will that TechCrunch is fielding. That is, unless the Securities Exchange Commission steps in to investigate, as The New York Observer insists is a possibility.