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Tuesday, September 06, 2011

How TechCrunch is like Weblogs, Inc.

Paul Carr writes in the latest defense of Mike Arrington:
"TechCrunch is not a publication with a single voice. TechCrunch is a collection of writers, brought together by Mike Arrington to write about the technology industry as they see it."

It's funny to read this because it is largely how Weblogs, Inc. ran for many years (before being largely digested and turned to effluent by AOL, for better or worse). I try to keep this spirit alive with a few changes.

On TUAW, every writer for us should have a voice. Granted, if you read a post by Kelly Hodgkins you may not get as much "spice" as when you read a post by Erica Sadun. Kelly tends to hit the news stories, and Erica does more opinion and developer stuff. I specifically avoid the royal "we" on posts because I think individual writers should speak in their own voice -- as long as it is clear and effective.

In fact, when I started at Weblogs, before the acquisition, I remember Jason Calacanis going on record to say, "the bloggers are the stars." That's exactly how it should be! Why else would you go work somewhere and be a part of the blob, just another molecule suspended in jelly handing off nucleotide chains in an effort to metabolize the news each day? That's insanely boring and ultimately can become a commodity (as we're seeing, sadly).

However, I do exert some editorial control in that lately I've clamped down on the number of rumors we post, specifically about new Apple hardware. I've also asked writers under NDA to respect the NDA on our pages (unlike numerous competitors of ours). While not publishing rumors isn't doing our net page views any good, and not publishing juicy details of NDA materials can be seen as a competitive disadvantage, the overall idea is to establish a baseline of credibility with our audience. Over time I think this is best. I mean, how many times are you going to read "Product X arrives THIS WEEK!" before you realize people are just playing the numbers and wasting your time? I'm not playing that losing game. We have to have standards.

But I also think TechCrunch was established with standards and M.G.'s latest post was a bit unnecessary. It comes off a bit petulant, as though no other human could ever fill in for Mike... Well, that could be true. But at the same time, if everything Paul Carr has said is true, there should be few worries. Mike set the tone, set the standard of excellence and laid the foundation for what TC has become today. If the writers are autonomous, what's the problem? Other than the few posts Arrington wrote each week, some of which were absolutely fascinating. I particularly loved the one where he outed a sort of cabal meeting of VC's.

As Robert Scoble pointed out on Google+, almost no one from the early days of Engadget still remains there, but Engadget is still an important tech blog. There are very few of any of us from the early days of Weblogs, and Jason and Brian left long ago -- yet we persist. Blogsmith is still in use, Joystiq, Engadget, TUAW and Autoblog are still going gangbusters. RIP to Cinematical, DownloadSquad and a dozen or more others, however...

My point is this: by finding great talent you've set the stage for success. That's what Arrington did. That was a founding principle of the success at Weblogs, Inc. as well. As Brad Hill used to say when he was Director of Weblogs within AOL, "find great writers and set them free." To Mike Arrington I would say, "mission accomplished." Just look at the impassioned, intelligent writing coming out of TC in your defense. Well done.

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