TechCrunch and AOL Slamdanced Before They Made Sweet Love

TechCrunch acknowledges it won’t be able to cover AOL in the same way. Can we infer the future from its past coverage?



You probably heard that AOL bought TechCrunch. In a post from yesterday, TechCrunch head Michael Arrington tells the story of how AOL’s CEO, Tim Armstrong, made an overture to Arrington in May, and how talks began in earnest in July. The purchase immediately raised questions about how TechCrunch would cover AOL and Armstrong, and Arrington sought to address–or maybe spin–those questions. TechCrunch wouldn’t have to create internal checks to make sure it was hitting hard on AOL; quite the opposite: “In the end, we’ll probably have to create internal checks to ensure that we aren’t more critical of AOL than we otherwise would be just to prove our editorial independence.”

In light of the recent purchase, we thought it a good idea to do a close reading of some of TechCrunch’s coverage of AOL and Armstrong. Although the positive reviews are out there, it’s the biting stuff that might make for interesting water cooler talk. Such as…

“The utter stupidity of this is staggering. AOL has released very
private data about its users without their permission….If you are an
AOL customer, I feel sorry for you….AOL is hitting bottom when it
comes to brand image. This story comes on the heels of the recorded
phone call with customer service disaster as well as a just-in story
about a woman who is unable to cancel her deceased father’s AOL
account, nine months after his death.” —Arrington, August 6, 2006


“Prepare for the launch of AOL UnCut (currently in open beta), a near
perfect clone of YouTube…. The only significant difference between
AOL Uncut and YouTube is that YouTube supports tagging, whereas UnCut
doesn’t…. I am seeing an increasing trend of the big guys simply
copying what successful startups are doing.” —Arrington, May 16, 2006

And finally…

“So what really scares me?… the rise of cheap disposable content on a mass scale, force fed to us by the portals and search engines. On one end you have AOL and their Toyota Strategy of building thousand of niche content sites via the work of cast-offs from old media. That leads to a whole lot of really, really crappy content being highlighted right on the massive AOL home page … Hiring a bunch of people who couldn’t keep their old media jobs and don’t have the stomach to go out on their own and then slapping little or no editorial oversight onto these masses of sub-par journalists leads to an inevitable conclusion – cheap, crappy content. And that crappy content is given a massive audience on the AOL portal.” —Arrington, “The End Of Hand Crafted Content,” December 13, 2009.


By May of 2010, a TechCrunch post by Arden Pennell advertising TechCrunch’s May conference had signaled that someone had seen the light, “AOL, in particular, is reinventing itself under CEO Tim Armstrong … we’re thrilled to announced Armstrong will be speaking at Disrupt.” And yesterday, Tim Armstrong himself got his first byline on a TechCrunch post, with the title “We Got TechCrunch!” “Details are in the press release below,” he wrote. One of many disappointed anonymous commenters wrote, “I think the very way this acquisition was announced hints at the darker days ahead for Tech Crunch. He just copy pasted a press release. Do you even understand this medium, Tim?”

These are just a few data points in a longer and more nuanced history of TechCrunch’s coverage of AOL and Armstrong. But one thing’s for sure; obviously TechCrunch must think more highly of AOL and its taste, now that it has acquired TechCrunch. And even though Arrington promises to keep biting the hand that now feeds him, AOL’s Armstrong can probably rest a little easier if he was still smarting from Arrington’s old post about all of AOL’s “cheap, crappy content.” Now, it seems, it’s the snark of TechCrunch’s own readers that Arrington and Armstrong alike will have to worry about.

[image credit: TechCrunch]


About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal