I have had a little fun over the last month, perhaps about the same kind that comes from watching a train wreck, in watching the fracas surrounding TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington’s decision to start a venture capital fund, and his subsequent ouster from the tech blog he founded. There was some concern that being a venture capitalist could somehow lead to a conflict of interest in his reporting on the blog, and after some discussion AOL (in the person of Arianna Huffington) decided it would be best if Arrington was let go. Fellow TechCrunch writer Paul Carr followed shortly afterward. (We’ve covered a number of stories by both Arrington and Carr here in recent months.)
Of course, a big-name blogger like Michael Arrington doesn’t necessarily need TechCrunch. After all, he built one blog from scratch himself, and it will surely only be easier the second time around. Thus, Arrington has started a new blog, “Uncrunched”. The first post only consists of three words: “Here I am.” But there will undoubtedly be more.
Meanwhile, Paul Carr has founded a new business of his own. Details are sparse on the nature of the business, or indeed even the business’s name, but it will be funded through Arrington’s CrunchFund and based in downtown Las Vegas. It will “directly address an issue [Carr has] written passionately about for both TechCrunch and the Guardian.”
How important is potential conflict of interest to a tech blogger? Is it all right to continue to blog as long as you’re clear about what other interests you represent? I will admit, I had a hard time seeing the problem with Arrington’s decision to go into venture capital. There are plenty of venture capitalists who post to blogs or write opinion columns, and nobody faults them for it. It would be one thing if Arrington were trying to present as an unbiased reporter, but most of Arrington’s posts were already more in the nature of editorials than strictly-unbiased factual reports anyway.
Looking at it another way, of course, Arrington was more than just a writer. He was also the head editor, which meant that his influence over stories went farther than just what he wrote about. He also made editorial decisions as to what even got covered at all, and it’s not so simple to post conflict-of-interest disclaimers on the editing as is is on writing.
I still think that AOL made a mistake in kicking Arrington out of the editorial position, and that TechCrunch needed Arrington more than vice versa. And it’s worth noting that AOL is still supporting Arrington by funding his venture capital investments. But we’ll see what happens. Regardless, this could be an important event in terms of setting the tone for just what behaviors are acceptable from “new media” bloggers, and how that differs from old media reporters.