Thursday, September 8, 2011

Michael Arrington: Callow Pundit

I've been through so much in the online biz world since I started Chowhound in 1997 that I don't shock easily. But this shocked me: Michael Arrington, founder of TechCrunch, who has for years tried to position himself as a savvy expert on tech biz issues, sold out to AOL a year ago. And now he's publicly posted this:

"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. Editorial independence was never supposed to be an easy thing for Aol to give us. But it was never meaningful if it shatters the first time it is put to the test.

We’ve proposed two options to Aol.

1. Reaffirmation of the editorial independence promised at the time of acquisition. Given the current circumstances, that means autonomy from Huffington Post, unfettered editorial independence and a blanket right to editorial self determination. To put it simply, TechCrunch would stay with Aol but would be independent of the Huffington Post.

or

2. Sell TechCrunch back to the original shareholders.

If Aol cannot accept either of these options, and no other creative solution can be found, I cannot be a part of TechCrunch going forward."

Memo to naive entrepreneurs: the folks who buy your company get to do whatever they want with it. Period. The shower of assurances which rain down prior to closing are mere lubricant allowing you to make a deal you very much want anyway (in Chowhound's case, there was no choice: it was either sell or shut down). When Mike and Frankie on "American Pickers" wheedle you out of your family heirloom, telling you it'll go to nice people who will love it as much as you do, they're throwing you emotional rope, that's all. The assurance is a meaningless, unbinding bit of nicey-nice fluff. Only ditzes take it seriously. And only dunces bluster with public outrage when it doesn't turn out that way.

You took the money. You sold out. There is a sound basis for the pejorative shading of the term "sell-out", and there's nothing more pathetic than a morally aggrieved sell-out. If Arrington believed the assurances, he's a hobbyist, not an entrepreneur...much less a biz pundit.

When CNET was engineering its acquisition of Chowhound, a ton of promises were made, and I didn't feel particularly savvy in knowing to smirk wearily as they spewed forth. I fully recognized that selling means sold, and while I wasn't happy with some of their subsequently choices - and I certainly advocated for what I felt to be the site's best interest - I never questioned CNET's prerogative to do as it likes, assurances be damned. And I'm just a food guy, while Arrington's a supposed authority on just these sorts of business issues.

Arrington's not going to buy it back. His bluff is as empty as were their assurances. This is just whining.

1 comment:

wfrostphoto said...

From what little I know of Michael Arrington, I think he has a very skewed view of his own self importance. Leave it to Ariana to teach him some humility, and teach him how to play power games.

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