TechCrunch publisher Michael Arrington was recently caught scrubbing an old blog entry to hide a conflict of interest.

Arrington wrote Oct. 27 about Maya's Mom, a Web 2.0 startup aimed for the Oprah crowd that received "around $1 million" in funding. When he wrote about the company in April, he told his readers that Maya's Mom founder Ann Crady Kennedy was one of his peeps:

Disclosure: Ann is a former colleague and so my opinions may be favorably tinted.

This sentence subsequently disappeared, so TechCrunch readers weren't told in October that he was hyping a pal. After he was caught by ValleyWag, Arrington offered a novel defense -- conflicts of interest are what make TechCrunch special:

TechCrunch is a new kind of publication. We don't fit into a neat little box like traditional media, who refrain from financial conflicts of interest with their readers and feel that they are therefore above reproach. They aren't, but they really, really feel that they are, and look down on blogs and other media as the unwashed masses. ...

TechCrunch is different. TechCrunch is all about insider information and conflicts of interest. The only way I get access to the information I do is because these entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are my friends. I genuinely like these people and want them to succeed, and they know it and therefore trust me more than they trust traditional press.

I am an active investor, board member and advisory board member with a number of startups. That isn't going to change. I also write about startups. That isn't going to change, either. Obviously people like what we write on TechCrunch or they wouldn't come back. But no one should think TechCrunch is objective or conflict-free. We aren't. We never have been. We never will be.

Arrington thinks there's something new in a reporter who trades favorable coverage for access, but his actions put him at the end of a long line of journalistic pretenders. Judith Miller of the New York Times could have made this disclosure during the run up to the Iraq war:

The only way I get access to the information I do is because White House officials are my friends. I genuinely like these people and want them to succeed, and they know it and therefore trust me more than they trust traditional press.

Arrington, who recently lost two of his most vocal critics with the shutdown of Dead 2.0 and the firing of ValleyWag writer Nick Douglas, told the Wall Street Journal that he wants the TechCrunch network of sites to compete with CNET.

If that's his goal, he needs to adopt the ethics of journalism and stop making sweetheart deals with the subjects he covers. Every week seems to bring news of another company Arrington has become involved in as an investor, consultant or board member.

I suspect objectivity would interfere with his real goal, which was described to the Journal by another one of his peeps:

Mr. Arrington is a "very ambitious guy," says Keith Teare, the former CEO of RealNames, who notes that Mr. Arrington hasn't stayed at any job for longer than 18 months over the past 10 years. Mr. Teare adds that Mr. Arrington is "extremely focused on money. He wants to be rich."

Mr. Arrington doesn't dispute that. He says he has "never made any real money," even after selling an online-payments company he founded called Achex Inc. to First Data Corp. in 2001. He declines to divulge his net worth but says TechCrunch brings in about $120,000 in revenue a month, mostly from ads, sponsorships, an online job-posting service and the parties it holds.

If Arrington wants to join a world where $1.4 million a year in revenue isn't "real money," he's not going to get there by being a scrupulously ethical journalist.

-- Rogers Cadenhead

Comments

Mr. Arrington has stated his goals (they can be summarized as 'get rich quick'), but I can't quite see his business plan. Somehow I don't think being a scrupulously ethical journalist fits into it, but is he really a journalist?

A new category, something along the lines of 'news-gatherer/entrepreneur' seems to be required to describe the new amoral (or is it immoral?) model of 'journalism'.


 

All Journalist need to become more ethical.

The 4th estate is in trouble if you ask me.

Hopefully blogs like this one will help to keep the average American Journalist

more honest.


 

I understand the business model. But I suspect some of the criticism is too simplistic.

The big money is in getting pieces of deals, stock options, invited into special VC funds like the one which invested early on in Google. It's *not* in paid-placement of start-up PR, that's chump-change (at those levels).

A 5% fee for brokering the Verisign deal is probably worth more than the entire year's advertising net profit for TechCrunch.

I think the real issue is not payola, but the attempts to break down the nonpartisan model of the press - this is partisanship applied to business coverage (which is much less a matter of favoring any one particular candidate, than an overall system).


 

I don't have a problem with advocates writing from a position of advocacy. That's one of the things that makes blogging interesting.

But Arrington's trying to have it both ways. He wants the credibility of objective journalism while he's actively engaged in business deals with some of the subjects he covers.


 

But that is similar to some other major bloggers in general, who also want to have it both ways - the credibility of objective journalism, while engaged in political deals with the people they cover (I'm not talking about the small-fry here, I'm talking about the big-time pundits who are essentially PR operatives). Look at the campaign-finance and political megablogs issue - I think Kos and RedState are the equivalent of TechCrunch. Both want to have the social status of journalism when it's convenient, and also to be money-players and deal-makers in the thick of the field they cover otherwise. And similarly, there's misplaced criticism over trivia of disclosure, where the elephant in the room is that there's relatively huge amounts of money to be made in "consultancy".

Maybe "partisanship" is the wrong word - I'm trying to capture the traditional distinction between being an observer and being a participant.


 

Seems you may be guilty of the same 'crime' of which you accuse Michael Arrington, Mr. Cadenhead. The last time I read your blog and left a comment, was back on November 13th, after your post titled "Senate Democrats: 'The Votes are In, and We Won' "

In your original post, you referenced your continuing emotion over the 'fact' that George Bush stole the election in Florida, back in Y2K. I commented that even the liberal press had ultimately concluded that Bush had won the popular vote in Florida. You didn't respond to my comment, but you did alter your post by dropping the false allegation. In it's place, you inserted the following text;
"Six years ago, George W. Bush emerged from election night with a 1,784-vote lead in Florida and was treated by the media as the winner of the presidential election. This was a dubious claim -- Florida's voting process was a mess and either candidate could have overcome that margin in a thorough accounting of votes cast. As days passed, Gore faced increasing pressure to quit pursuit of a recount, even from members of his own party."

It would seem that a man such as yourself, who claims such a high rung on the ladder of integrity would have at least acknowledged your error, but instead, you just scrubbed the post. Am I missing something here?

Observer


 

I never made the claim that it was a "fact" Bush stole the election in 2000, nor did I edit that entry after it was initially published. Check the Google caches of any of the places that copied that post if you don't believe me.

I don't scrub this weblog to make myself look good. I add updates to correct facts or run a full correction.


 

I went to school with Mike Arrington in HB. I know this about him...

a) He is verbally and sometimes physically abusive to women
b) He is a habitual heavy drinker, and got his first DUI arrest when still in high school (in his RX-7)
c) He is a troll by nature and always has been

Regarding c) he has been called out on this more than once in very recent memory.