Aside from a few tweets, I’ve mainly stayed out of the latest TechCrunch brouhaha. These things tend to flare up every few months, and they ultimately end up meaning nothing. But I would like to address one thing in particular, because The New York Times’ David Carr names me specifically in his article on the matter today.
More generally, it occurs to me that a lot of these posts are based around a fundamental misunderstanding of how TechCrunch actually works. Journalists seem to think they can write about TechCrunch as if they’re looking in a mirror. That is to say, they think our operation runs in a similar manner to theirs and they use that as a jumping off point for misguided (but predictable) outrage. In reality, what they’re looking at when they look at TechCrunch is a crystal ball.
So gather ‘round everyone, to learn how TechCrunch actually works.
First and foremost, the concept of an “editor” at TechCrunch is essentially just a title and nothing more. Generally speaking, neither Mike nor Erick (TC’s two “co-editors”) are overlords that dictate what everyone else covers. With a few exceptions (mainly for newer writers), no one person even reads posts by any other author before they are posted.
Traditional journalists may be appalled to learn this. But this is a big key of why TechCrunch kicks their ass in tech coverage. We’re fast and furious in ways they can’t be, because they’re adhering to the old rules. Are there benefits to those old rules? Sure. But in my opinion, the benefits of the way we work far outweighs the benefits of the way they work.
If you want a more objective take, simply look at the number of tech stories we’ve broken over the years versus the number any old school publication has. Our system works.
And it works because instead of a reliance on top-down management and editing, the emphasis is on hiring the right people. TechCrunch works because we’re a bunch of driven reporters with great instincts that excel at working independently. Sometimes junior writers hone those instincts by watching senior writers and asking questions. And there is plenty of good, healthy collaboration. But for the most part, it’s very a much a trial by fire — only the strong survive.
That’s why the notion of Mike switching titles is silly and hollow. If you’ve seen Martin Scorsese’s film Casino, it reminds me of casino boss Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro) switching roles every few weeks to keep the gaming board off his ass.
Titles do not matter at TechCrunch. If they did, I would have petitioned to be “Super Ultra Editor Supreme” long ago. Instead, my business card reads “Creative Director” (hopefully I don’t have to explain this). And my TechCrunch profile reads “Kick Ass Pool Party Coordinator”.
Mike’s new title could be “Janitor” — he’d still be the creator and name associated with the brand.
At the same time, unlike Casino, Mike wouldn’t be switching from a role of ultimate power to another role of ultimate power with a different title. But that’s only because again, there has never been anyone with ultimate power running the show — at least not in my nearly three years with TechCrunch.
Mike certainly could have that power if he wanted it. Again, he is the creator and the driving force behind the site. But he’s smart enough to know that the site wouldn’t function as well that way.
Instead, he sits back and lets the rest of us do what we do. Again, he’s hired extremely well. He knows we’ll kick ass without any oversight from him. In fact — and I think he’d be the first to admit this — sometimes any guidance from him can be a distraction. “Hey did we hear about this?” “Yes, Mike, we covered that two weeks ago.” “Oh. Okay. Carry on.”
All of this is why most of the posts this past week have totally missed the boat. Carr’s post today implies that I may have written a favorable post about Supyo because Mike had invested. He cites me writing, “The new project is nothing if not interesting. Think Chatroulette done right.”
First of all, given the two people involved in the project, Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, I think anyone who knows anything about our industry would be intrigued by this startup. Second, I could have written “Supyo looks like a piece of shit.” and guess what Mike would have said?
Of course, I wouldn’t have written that because the key is that I hadn’t actually seen or used the product. I was simply remarking that given the pedigree of those involved and what I had heard about it, that it was likely to be something compelling to watch.
And yes, I disclosed Mike’s investment, as Carr notes.
Carr also wonders if past and future investments might dictate what we don’t write about. As in, competitors of the companies invested in. But again, this notion fails to grasp just how autonomous TechCrunch is. It’s perfectly feasible that a TechCrunch writer could cover a competitor to an investment, and no one at TechCrunch (including Mike) would think twice about it — or possibly even realize it at all.
In fact, the situation may prove to be a problem for the opposite reason. One of us may write about a competitor to an investment — or about a portfolio company itself — without realizing there was an investment. This may lead to an accidental lack of disclosure — but it’s definitely worth noting that so far this has never happened.
The point of all of this is that most of the articles written this past week about TechCrunch have absolutely no idea how TechCrunch works. People think it’s run like The New York Times, but in reality, it’s run much more like a fast-paced blog written by a bunch of individual writers. And that’s exactly why it works.
Because we break so many stories and get so much traffic, publications like The New York Times look at us and see themselves. And they shriek in terror at the notion of those involved with the publication investing in what the publication writes about…
…oh wait, The New York Times does that too.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the hypocrisy runs deep here. But the individual author backlash can still be explained apart from that. Even if it’s just on a subconscious level, each of these authors must know that the future of their business looks a lot more like TechCrunch than The New York Times. Love it or hate it, that’s the truth. It’s inevitable.
When backed into a corner, as Thanksgiving approaches, turkeys squawk.
But ultimately there is only one thing that matters: information. People don’t care how they get it, just that they get it. If they don’t think they can trust it from one source, they’ll find another way to get it. It really is that simple. The market will decide. All this back-and-forth is meaningless.
Don’t believe me? A day after half of the web was ready to start boycotting TechCrunch last week, I broke the news about Amazon’s Kindle tablet. The result was TechCrunch seeing visiting patterns decidedly opposite of a boycott.
Information is all that matters. All the rest is bullshit.