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.

Patricio Robles

Published 6 September, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (3)

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

Right on. I don't think the people who are actually building interesting products are interested in this whole debate. It's only the mini echo-chamber of journalists worried about losing their entitlement.

almost 7 years ago

Philip Buxton

Philip Buxton, Chief Marketing Officer at Exponential

Well said. And, as TC's MG Siegler said in his rail against AOL (proof enough of its independence?), it's not disclosed conflicts of interest that pose a problem - it's the undisclosed ones (which, by their very nature, we know nothing about!)

This is a world that traditional media still appears not to understand. If TC WAS favouring start-ups in which Arrington had a stake, he would be utterly found out and everything he's built would fall apart. It's just not in TC's interests or nature (I don't believe) to sacrifice it's editorial integrity.

It might have its faults but being anything other than true to what it's writers believe (again as Siegler's post proves) is not one of them.

almost 7 years ago

Angus Phillipson

Angus Phillipson, Director at Byte9

I supect Doug is right, this is bloggers on their high horse about editorial integrity, the flames fanned by journalists (with a capital J).

I rather suspect that (ironically) TC bloggers will consciously or unconsciously shy away for CrunchFund companies, or at least treat them with kid gloves. I guess this will advantage non-crunchfund companies.

Frankly also a smart move from AOL, which will no doubt add to CrunchFund deal flow and the value of their investment, significantly. Let's not forget that it was a business decision. They will have run the numbers.



almost 7 years ago

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