After Arrington: Anarchy at TechCrunch
Ousting the tech blog's founder leaves a power vacuum in Silicon Valley
Michael Arrington is out at AOL. For Real. After presenting his ultimatum, AOL has fired the TechCrunch editor, reports Fortune's Dan Primack. "Not TechCrunch editor. Not AOL Ventures employee. Michael Arrington is on his own." After a week-long saga, which began when Arrington announced that he was starting an AOL-backed venture fund, Arrington's status at the media company, which bought his popular blog last year, was suspect. We've chronicled the ups-and-downs, and now it seems TechCrunch as we knew it has come to an end. Or has it? With Arrington's reported ousting, the fates of Arrington, TechCrunch and AOL are all still very much up in the air.
Is he even really out? Given the volatility of the situation--Arrington's status has changed at least four times over the week--it's very likely that AOL could waver on its positioning, points out VentureBeat's Matthew Lynley. "But AOL has been so wishy-washy, there’s no telling what will happen now." Also, Fortune has the only story reporting the news, and even Primack, who was "led to believe the decision is final," admits it wouldn't surprise him if AOL reversed their positioning.
TechCrunch can continue just fine without Arrington. So AOL no longer employs Arrington, the popular blog will continue to dominate as long as it can keep its audience, tone and writers. TechCrunch's success relies on its scoops, which tech companies decide to leak to the blog because of its large and loyal audience. If AOL can keep those eyes, even without Arrington, TechCrunch will continue its dominance. But the people come because of the blog's swag argues AVC's Fred Wilson. "But TechCrunch also has a voice, a swagger, a 'fuck you' attitude that comes from Mike. That can also live on without Mike if AOL allows it. 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." Arrington, of course, embodies said swagger. Yet, one person--even a big ego like Arrington--can't bring down an entire irreverent empire.
Wait, no it can't. Just how loyal are Arrington's readers and writers? Very, argues Mediaite editor at large Rachel Sklar in a tweet. "AOL bought TechCrunch because of it's large & intensely loyal audience. That @Arrington could whisk away, along with his former staff. #dumb." But it's not really the audience that AOL needs to worry about adds Reuters's Felix Salmon in a tweet. "It's the staff. @arrington could just hire them all away."
Without its spunk, readers nor tech companies with scoops will flock to the blog. And people move on quite easily explains Wilson. "The TechCrunch audience, including me, will find new sources of news, information, and entertainment elsewhere if that's what needs to happen."
Either way, Arrington will be just fine. Without AOL as his employer, and even without the TechCrunch brand, the big name blogger slash venture fund owner will do just fine. His persona made TechCrunch--not the other way around. He just needs to find the next TechCrunch or CrunchFund argues Wilson. " His reputation is made and as long as he finds his next platform, be it a venture fund, a blog, or both (how can anyone have both a blog and a venture fund????), he will remain a hugely influential force in silicon valley and tech." And with a loyal following, it doesn't look like that will be a problem--he could start a Tumblr and he'd do well, as Splat F's Dan Frommer suggested. "Fuck it man, let's start a tumblr reviewing startups."
AOL is the one that should worry. AOL might lose TechCrunch, which they paid $30 million for, especially if the bloggers leave. "Most likely to a new media property which most likely will be started by some number of ex TechCrunch employees. That's how it goes in media these days. Big companies don't control media assets as strongly as they used to," explains Wilson. AOL has already suffered from this PR hellstorm, losing a bunch of loyal tech readers won't help.
And thus, the saga continues.