There is a thin line which separates two awkwardly different worlds. When it comes to editorial independence, there are a lot of things that come in mind: stress, pressure, money. The highly reviewed and commented conflict between TechCrunch and AOL gives us the same argument once again.
About one year after the TechCrunch was acquired by AOL, their relation started to become a tough one. One year ago Michael Arrington, TechCrunch’s founder and current editor in chief, fiercely defended, even against his own collaborators’ opinions, the fact that the blog could benefit by being sold to AOL in a transaction rounding 20 million dollars. On that occasion Arrington talked about how this deal will help them solving some technical issues so they won’t have to worry about them and the TechCrunch guys could focus on writing. Well, the honeymoon didn’t lasted (as expected?) and recently Arrington announced his imminent retirement from the blog, in other words that means he could be fired from his own creation.
Problems started to arise when Arrington initiated a risk investment called “CrunchFound” with full AOL support. This movement was strongly criticised by bloggers and even The New York Times published an article arguing against it. Recently MG Siegler, TechCrunch’s Creative Director, wrote an article suggesting that AOL had the intention to get rid of Michael Arrington. More recently AOL continued increasing its size among digital media by acquiring The Huffington Post.
When Arrington started to manage the new AOL TechCrunch website, this position wasn’t well accepted by the people from Silicon Valley and the disrupt between AOL and TechCrunch got bigger. Few days ago Siegler published a couple of articles about how Arrington’s position couldn’t affect the editorial freedom of TechCrunch people because despite his title as Editor in Chief he refused to use any power he could have to influence writer’s style and he repeatedly said “the title has never meant much”.
The dispute finally reached its highest point when Arrington wrote an article on the blog telling how AOL pretended to cut the editorial independence which was supposed to be settled by the time AOL bought TechCrunch. Arrington gave AOL two alternatives: TechCrunch continue working with AOL but independent from Huffington Post and keeping their editorial independence or AOL should sell the TechCrunch blog back to its original stakeholders. Put simply the options are: AOL let TechCrunch work its way or let them go with its dignity and some money.
If AOL chooses another option, Michael Arrington would resign from his position as editor in chief and “the site will continue working, but it will never be the same” as Siegler said.
Bets are placed and we are all waiting to see the final result, a result which could affect or help a very big player in the tech-media over the last years. In the end if TechCrunch writers will loose their editorial independence, we hope they won’t loose their determination and found another website. The precedent is not far away, just remember that the old team from engadget site(managed by Joshua Topolsky) left AOL boat and started another project called TheVerge who will be launched this fall.