The debates over what constitutes journalism, and what the future of journalism will look like, rages on.
Last week, a firestorm erupted when TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington announced that he was launching a fund to invest in technology startups.
TechCrunch, of course, which is now owned by AOL, is a blog focused on technology startups, and while Arrington will apparently be off the editorial payroll, he'll still be able to contribute as an unpaid blogger.
Adding fuel to the firestorm: the fact that AOL itself is investing in Arrington's fund.
Needless to say, the perceived and potentially very real conflicts were not hard for observers to identify.
Some defend Arrington's move, citing the fact that he's never been a traditional journalist and arguing that he's quite transparent about his conflicts, but the New York Times raised eyebrows even amongst Arrington's detractors over the weekend with its sharp criticism of Arrington.
Even though the discussion over the ethics of TechCrunch's founder starting a venture capital fund while keeping one foot in the door of the blogosphere is an interesting and entirely worthwhile one, there's one thread that is common throughout much of the criticism being leveled at Arrington, TechCrunch and AOL: that TechCrunch can make, or break, a startup.
Look no further than the New York Times' David Carr, whose scathing article states point blank:
Coverage in TechCrunch can make or break a start-up, and what about those companies that are not F.O.M.’s (Friends of Mike)?
There's no doubt that a glowing profile may benefit a young startup, and that a negative post (or no post at all) could potentially be harmful. But is it really the case that a startup's destiny hinges on a TechCrunch post?
The realistic answer, put simply, is 'no'. Many startups have received love from TechCrunch, yet failed to gain traction.
Yes, some TechCrunch favorites have gone on to achieve grand levels of success, but there's no evidence that TechCrunch was responsible for that success, and chances are TechCrunch has lavished praise on far more startups that haven't gone anywhere than it has on startups that have.
Statistically, it's quite simple: most new businesses don't go on to achieve YouTube-like success; a very small fraction do. TechCrunch writes about a lot of new businesses, so while it has caught some young companies that went on to hit the jackpot, it has also profiled a ton of failures too.
For startups, the truth of the matter is that a great TechCrunch review is not likely to drive the kind of long-term growth and traction that is needed to build a sustainable business.
Can it expose your company to a lot of people very quickly? Sure, but an article in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal or Financial Times can do that too, and such an article won't deliver the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow either.
At the end of the day, startup success isn't the result of great PR alone. Just as venture capital doesn't come with guarantees, and an all-star team of founders is no vaccine for epic fail, PR can't convince the world that vinegar is wine.
Those who want to rail against Michael Arrington for his latest undertaking would do startups, and journalism, a favor by ditching the notion that it can.