Why TechCrunch is over

Disclosure: I write a lot for VentureBeat, a TechCrunch competitor, and over the years I have also written for BusinessWeek, AdWeek, ReadWriteWeb, CNET and InfoWorld. I write for fun, and don’t get paid, and can submit articles anywhere I like. So I have no personal gain from diminishing TechCrunch. I am simply pointing out why I don’t ever send them my content. I am in a place in my life where I can speak truth to (supposed) power, and yesterday’s shenanigans at TechCrunch prompted me to write this post.

On a bimonthly cadence over the past six months, Michael Arrington has made increasingly inflammatory posts on TechCrunch. It is one thing to take on made guys like Jason Calacanis and Dave McClure, no matter how irrational the basis. Yesterday, however, Arrington - in a vain effort to save his eroding site - seriously crossed the line and attempted to destroy the reputation of Mike Brown, a decent, hardworking guy.

The facts:

Fact #1 - TechCrunch has lost over half of its readers in the past six months.

In the last six months, TechCrunch has declined from 2.6m to 1m monthly uniques.

Fact #2 – Arrington has made increasingly inflammatory posts on a bimonthly cadence since the sharp traffic decline last September

  • September 2010 – Arrington writes that a group of angel investors getting together to discuss the state of their industry is collusion. However, in order for there to be collusion you need to have a market monopoly, and these guys' buying power is not that strong, as DST showed when they jumped into the superangel game. Angels have banded together like this for years – the first such group was Band of Angels, which did not magically materialize. It started with a group of angels getting together to discuss how they could optimize their processes by agreeing on a common set of conditions for the startups in which they would invest. This post was coincidentally put out in the midst of the steep drop in traffic and during acquisition negotiations with Aol.
  • November 2010 – Arrington writes that Jason Calacanis is insane because he is mad that TechCrunch ripped off his conference idea. Indeed, Jason Calacanis may be insane. But so is Arrington. The exact grounds upon which Arrington complains about Calacanis suing him about, he sued JooJoo about. Compare and contrast:

    Calacanis has the idea to do a conference to launch startups. He contacts Arrington to do it with him. They collaborate and do a few successful conferences together. Arrington decides that Calacanis is a prick and doesn’t want to work with him. So he does his own conference, which looks like pretty much every other conference. Calacanis says they stole his idea and sues them. Calacanis eventually drops the case and Arrington gloats.

    Arrington has the idea to do a tablet computer. He contacts JooJoo to build him one. They collaborate on tablet ideas. JooJoo decides that Arrington is a prick and they don’t want to work with him. So they make their own tablet, which looks like pretty much every other tablet. Arrington says they stole his idea and sues them. A federal judge throws out the vast majority of the case and Arrington says nothing.

    Exact same thing, huh? Except Arrington posts big emotional outbursts arguing both sides of the same coin. And ironically, both Arrington and Calacanis copied Demo.
  • January 2011 – Arrington writes that it is unethical that Engadget buys ads to feed traffic to its site. The reality is that all large content sites buy cheap ads that drive traffic to the more expensive ads on their sites. It’s called business and making money. The real issue here is that compared to Engadget, TechCrunch is a podunk site. All of the Engadget editors end up quitting within a couple of months - who wouldn't after being treated like that by a coworker.
  • March 2011 – Arrington and Sarah Lacy write a completely slanderous article about Mike Brown saying he committed insider trading. They did not bother to do basic fact checking or even ask Mike what happened about whether actual insider trading had occurred. The article was soon amended with contradicting viewpoints, but they left the insider trading title up in order to drive traffic, and throughout the next day two days are promoting the article as a top exclusive with the same title. Seriously uncool.

Fact #3 – The days of TechCrunch and Arrington being a kingmaker are over.

Yes, there was a time when if a small startup was written about in TechCrunch it would get a lot of attention and probably get funding. Those days are behind us. For example, Arrington keeps pumping up Wavii and talks about how investors are "flocking" to see the startup. Did it get funded? No. VCs are investing in companies that are actually interesting and viable, not just companies that are promoted in TechCrunch. [An edit in homage to HN] A startup is much better off getting a thumbs up from Paul Graham than Arrington.

Fact #4 – The writing on TechCrunch has gotten incredibly stale.

If not for MG Siegler (Apple fanboyism aside) and Erick Schonfeld, TechCrunch would be a content-free environment. The rest of the writing has become incredibly self-referential and stale. Paul Carr has the magical ability to consistently write articles that say nothing other than what he did yesterday. Sarah Lacy keeps writing about startups in Indonesia that no one cares about, because even startups in first world countries like France can’t seem to make it. Alexia Tsotsis has no clue about underlying technology or any context but continually injects her opinions and should instead write for PopSugar. Steve Gillmor occasionally adds a rambling grandpa perspective. Robin Wauters, Leena Rao and Jason Kincaid are all competent at summarizing the news, and even add a bit of context, but their content is no different than what you can read elsewhere.

Folks like Vivek Wadhwa, Mark Suster and Ben Horowitz contribute incredibly insightful, interesting articles to TechCrunch. Like myself, they are uncompensated and writing for fun. I think at some point these guys are no longer going to want to be affiliated with what is going on at TechCrunch and will transition their content to VentureBeat or BusinessInsider.

Fact #5 – Arrington is that special kind of prick and everyone is starting to clue in.

There are people in this world that expect to be treated one way, and treat others the exact opposite way. I have met Arrington a few times, and every time he has been unpleasant for no reason whatsoever. But if anyone slights him in even the smallest way, he flips out. The parallels between the JooJoo lawsuit and the Calacanis lawsuit perfectly illustrate this cognitive dissonance.

I hope that the Mike Brown incident, which I think will result in a libel lawsuit that Aol will have to settle pronto, will finally make this fact about Arrington known to all. Yes, it must be hard to live amidst a rapidly declining site, in the shadow of Arianna Huffington, who in comparison is a media genius that is all about making the world a better place. But why drag innocent folks like Mike Brown with you on the way down?

Update 4/2 10:50am: Yes, I have a scathing wit. I usually make fun of multi-billion dollar companies like Google and the occasional multi-billionaire, because it really doesn't matter. I feel that TechCrunch is fair game since they have been writing intensely defamatory, unfounded stuff and are now pointing their guns at rank-and-file folks. In essence, this is a taste of their own medicine. I know that Compete has sketchy numbers but it is usually right about big overall trends, and TechCrunch regularly uses Compete graphs to point out how sites are in decline. :)

Update 4/3 10:30am: TechCrunch has substantially changed their article and have made it much more balanced. However, they continue to maintain that Mike Brown violated Facebook's insider trading policies and have kept "Insider Trading Scandal" in the title. Insider trading is illegal, and what is described is not illegal. TechCrunch should replace every instance of the word "insider trading" with "internal stock trading policies." For an example of real reporting, check out this Financial Times article, which does not use the word "insider" a single time, because (1) they know how damaging the word is, and (2) they are not trying to get pageviews at the expense of someone's reputation. In other news, it was commented that I shouldn't plug my own site in this article so I removed that sentence.

Update 4/4 12:30am: And they're still at it. TechCrunch is defending the use of the phrase "insider trading" by now scoping it to the "internal rule at Facebook he broke" - I assume on advice of counsel. Then in doublespeak they acknowledge that it was perhaps a "naive mistake" and not the equivalent of "insider trading at a public company", but that the SEC will still "come down on secondary markets" because of trades like this. Huh? How about some context? It should be noted that virtually all public and private companies have no such rules for rank-and-file employees, the SEC could care less, and Arrington and Lacy can go buy Aol stock tomorrow morning if they like. When people read about the "Facebook Insider Trading Scandal," what comes to mind, an employee breaking an internal rule against buying stock, or Gordon Gecko? What gets more page views, "Facebook employee breaks internal rule" or "Facebook Insider Trading Scandal"? There is a huge difference between breaking an internal rule and breaking the law, as the Financial Times well understands, and clearly TechCrunch does not. Shame.

Update 4/22 4:00pm: Today BusinessWeek is reporting that "TechCrunch...incorrectly reported Brown...was fired for insider trading." Thank you BusinessWeek for setting the record straight. Ironic considering that Sarah Lacy got her Silicon Valley start at BusinessWeek and it is a publication with very high journalistic standards.