AOL has named TechCrunch co-editor Erick Schonfeld the top man at the tech blog after more than a week of uncertainty surrounding the future of the site’s founder Michael Arrington. “Michael Arrington, the founder of TechCrunch has decided to move on from TechCrunch and AOL to his newly formed venture fund,” according to a statement from AOL. “Michael is a world-class entrepreneur and we look forward to supporting his new endeavor through our investment in his venture fund.” TechCrunch, though, treats the announcement with something of a sneer in a context-free post, headlined, “’Deciding’ To Move On,” highlighting AOL’s questionable language about Arrington’s role in his own fate. Last week was marked by in-fighting between the corporate owner and the tribalistic website, which AOL purchased last year with the promise of allowing Arrington complete control. Things didn’t quite work out that way once more money became involved.
Arrington announced at the beginning of the month that he would be starting a venture capital fund, CrunchFund, with a $10 million investment from AOL, but it was quickly pointed out that maybe a guy investing huge amounts of money in tech companies shouldn’t be in charge of covering those same companies as a journalist. The corporate brass at AOL more or less agreed, eventually, but only after releasing conflicting statements about Arrington’s role in the company and on the blog.
Last week, in what could very well be Arrington’s final post on the site he started, he listed an ultimatum for his bosses at 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.
Arrington’s staff stood by him in the confusion and threatened to resign if he was not allowed to choose his successor. Arrington and TechCrunch writer Paul Carr, an open critic of AOL last week, have not yet said whether or not Schonfeld’s appointment meets their requirements of independence. But Carr did tweet derisively today about the AOL announcement: “Ugh. Just fucking UGH,” followed by, “I would need 1000 tweets to unpack the bullshit from that statement.” If we’ve learned anything about Arrington and his crew, it’s that they’ll have more to say soon.
Update: This morning in San Francisco, Arrington spoke at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference while wearing a green shirt with the text “Unpaid Blogger,” telling the audience of AOL’s decision to sack him, “This is my baby and I built this. So, it’s a sad day.” But Arrington also took a moment to employ what he’s referred to as the “nuclear card” against the New York Times and David Carr, perhaps the biggest media outlet to question Arrington’s ethics as an investor and blogger:
Today on stage he played that card, pointing out that the NY Times is an investor in True Ventures, which backs GigaOm, the tech blog founded by True Ventures partner Om Malik.
Last week Mr. Arrington issued this sly tweet: “I look forward to co-investing with the NYTimes” and linking to this page, where the NY Times discloses its investments and acquisition.