Michael Arrington of TechCrunch tells AOL, ‘Give us back editorial control or turn us loose’

September 7th, 2011
Wall Street Bull

Flickr Image: Craig S.

Michael Arrington, founder of TechCrunch, a blog focusing on technology startups, continues to cause quite a stir in the journalism world. Arrington announced last week that he is starting his own fund (CrunchFund), with the help of AOL, that will invest in small startup companies and has been under a barrage of criticism, mostly from journalists, for this unique arrangement.

Their main complaint is that Arrington, and other TechCrunch writers, can use the site, a highly trafficked blog ranking number 2 on Technorati’s list of Top 100 blogs (as of today), to potentially post comments and promote the same companies his fund holds positions in. 

As reported by Claire Cain Miller in the New York Times, the journalism world is claiming this type of arrangement violates the covenant of all journalism; reporters should avoid conflicts of interest by maintaining distance from the people, organizations and issues they cover. And, once again, fuels the debate over whether bloggers should be held to the same standards as journalists.

“Journalists write with the principle of public illumination,” said Edward Wasserman, the Knight Professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University, in the above mentioned article. “If it’s helping a group of investors make decisions or advancing one’s own portfolio, you’re not really in the journalism business. You’re in the private enrichment business.” 

To complicate matters even more, Arianna Huffington, AOL’s editorial chief, recently told David Carr of the New York Times that Arrington would be relinquishing all editorial control of TechCrunch so he can run his new fund. (Read the full article here.)

Arrington sees it differently and told another New York Times writer that “I am TechCrunch and TechCrunch is me,” according to this Reuters article.

Hoping to clear up some of the confusion surrounding the issues and set the record straight, Arrington wrote a recent blog post about “editorial independence,” stating: “I believe that AOL should be held to their promise when they acquired us to give TechCrunch complete editorial independence. As of late last week, TechCrunch no longer has editorial independence. Some argue that the circumstances demanded it. I disagree.”

Arrington is demanding AOL relinquish all editorial control, insisting TechCrunch remain autonomous from and independent of the Huffington Post or that AOL sell all TechCrunch shares back to the original shareholders, regardless of his own personal role with the company going forward.

Things should really get interesting if Arrington regains editorial control, especially if his fund begins to thrive and he starts to show a return on investment to AOL, who incidentally has 10 million reasons for wanting his fund to succeed.

So what do you think? Should bloggers and journalists be held to the same standards of transparency and avoiding potential conflicts of interest? Do the latest developments at TechCrunch, Huffington Post, and AOL affect the on-going evolution of the media and how we practice media relations and PR?

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