AOL says Michael Arrington no longer works at TechCrunch
Like most every story about Michael Arrington, this one just got more complicated -- in less than 24 hours.
The latest: With the blogosphere burning up with questions about the ethics of having Arrington continue to be involved in TechCrunch while investing in start-ups alongside Silicon Valley's most powerful investors, AOL is now making a point of underscoring that he's out at TechCrunch and AOL's Huffington Post Media Group.
A recap: Arrington is the colorful personality behind TechCrunch, the mini media empire that he sold to AOL last year. He told us Thursday that he was starting a $20-million venture fund. He said his new title at TechCrunch would be founding editor and writer. In that role, he said he would not exert editorial control and would fully disclose his investments in blog posts on TechCrunch.
Arrington also told us he would continue to break news. He even inserted a clause in the venture fund's limited partnership agreement that gives him carte blanche to report on anything he learns except as an investor.
But on Friday AOL began putting out the word that Arrington no longer works for TechCrunch. Instead, AOL says, he works for AOL Ventures as a professional investor. In that role, he could contribute unpaid blog posts to TechCrunch.
Now that is pretty much what AOL has said all along. But its CEO Tim Armstrong told the New York Times on Thursday "TechCrunch is a different property and they have different standards."
Those standards seem to be a moving target. We cannot reach spokespeople at AOL or the Huffington Post to clarify exactly what those standards are and if Arrington works there or not.
AOL spokeswoman Maureen Sullivan told All Things D's Peter Kafka that Arrington's relationship with TechCrunch is "still to be determined, and it's important to make sure that Arianna [Huffington] is super comfortable with that relationship. ... I think that everyone is going to be very careful that there isn’t influence on coverage."
Arrington, who has a knack for becoming the story, also could not be reached for comment. He told the New York Times early Friday: "I have no idea what AOL's final position on this will be."
AOL's new position on Arrington seems to be the one recommended by one of Arrington's chief critics, All Things D's Kara Swisher.
"In fact, the creation of a $20-million investment kitty that Arrington has dubbed CrunchFund is simply the formalization of a long-standing arrangement that has already been going on since he founded his popular tech blog.
"That is to say, in which the basic standards of journalism are first warped by calling it newfangled truth-telling and then endlessly corroded by using a wily and unusually aggressive combination of favors and threats to extract, from start-ups and VCs in need of press, both exclusive access and information.
"And now, inevitably, money.
"This could have been a lot cleaner, of course, by Arrington simply resigning from TechCrunch, becoming a VC and perhaps starting a new blog where his agenda is much clearer...."
-- Jessica Guynn
Photo: Michael Arrington in 2008. Credit: Randi Lynn Beach / For The Times