Thursday, December 14

Blurring Blog News

Someone was bound to get it wrong sooner or later and unfortunately for Michael Arrington at TechCrunch, it was him. Maybe.

Arrington is the editor of TechCrunch US, a weblog which is dedicated to "obsessively" profiling and reviewing new Internet products and companies. Founded in 2005, the weblog reviews those that are making an impact (commercial and/or cultural) on the new Web space. In addition to TechCrunch US, Arrington oversees TechCrunch UK, which was edited and published by Sam Sethi.

As the story goes, Sethi did his job. He wrote two honest, but critical reviews of this week's social media conference Le Web that mirrored the feedback that most delegates and attendees shared, with Loic Le Meur receiving the brunt. According to most reports, Sethi's critical review of Le Web drove a wedge between him and Le Meur, which escalated to Le Meur writing on Sethi's blog: "You are just an asshole."

The next day, Sethi was fired. The offending posts were removed. All comments were removed. And Arrington announced that TechCrunch UK was being put on hold. According to blogger Drew B, more posts were deleted beyond TechCrunch, including an EirePreneur post titled "Arrington falls out with Sam Sethi, surprise victim of Le Web3."

Arrington, by his own hand, will be the next victim on a much grander scale as the Web media is chastising him and calling his ethics into question since he fired someone for, in essence, doing their job. He should have expected as much, given that his blog is defined as "obsessively profiling and reviewing new Internet products and companies." The definition alludes to the idea that he was creating a non-biased technology-focused Web news organization.

Now it seems that this is not the case as Le Meur obviously held more weight over Arrington than his UK counterpart. Unfortunately for TechCrunch, two years of hard work is about to go up in smoke after a few minutes of poor judgement. Sure, TechCrunch is a commercial entity. All media outlets are.

What Arrington did not consider however, is that honest reviewers do not buckle from outside corporate pressure, no matter how big and influential they seem or if advertising dollars are at stake. (This is the stuff you learn working for print publications, and I've worked at and managed several). Even if he disagreed with Sethi, it should not have resulted in termination, especially since it was painfully obvious Sethi had sided with the vast majority of delegates that attended. Simply put, it seems if he would have written a pro Le Web commentary, it would have been a lie.

The ethical dilemma of whether or not to cater to corporations is not new for print or electronic media. It happens every day. Both views are right with respective consequences.

As publisher and top editor, Arrington certainly has the final say about the stance his blog will take on any subject. There are plenty of publishers out there willing to cater to certain corporate interests. The consequence is credibility. It will be hard for his readership to consider his opinion unbiased anymore. Of course, being little more than ''public relations'' publications can mean big bucks.

However, if he really wanted to do what he set out to do — write honest reviews and allow his partners to do likewise — well then, reporting the truth is the ultimate ethical guideline. And, even if he disagreed, he would have stood by Sethi every step of way. Certainly it might have meant being blacklisted by Le Meur, but better Le Meur than the entire world.

When I managed a publication a few years ago, I often found myself in a position between being a publisher who had to bring home the bacon and the editor who had to report the truth. The decision was easy for me. If I couldn't be honest, I'd rather not write about it no matter what the consequences. The result was a publication that was respected with plenty of advertisers happy to make up for any that fell by the wayside because of editorial/advertiser disputes.

But that was me as a publisher. Arrington obviously sees the world differently, given he went even further than most pay-for-print publishers and deleted a published opinion because he found it objectionable for reasons only he would know. A second commentary refuting Sethi would have been the wiser decision.


Rich on 12/14/06, 1:22 PM said...

Famous Last Words:

"Sam and I exchanged words this morning and I said he basically fired himself with that second to last post promoting his events. But nothing had been publicized and we certainly could have discussed a work around, public apology, retraction, etc. But the next thing I knew he’d posted on the blog about his dismissal. Until that happened, everything was reversible. After he took that step, the situation was no longer able to be resolved." — Michael Arrington


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