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So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark —that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back. – Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
I’ll get right to the point: this is my last post on TechCrunch. And it’s my resignation letter. The first resignation letter I’ve ever written, in fact. Usually I get fired.
To those who have been following the recent TechCrunch drama, this post won’t come as much of a surprise. A little over a week ago I wrote that, unless Mike Arrington was allowed to choose his own successor as editor of TechCrunch, I would no longer write for the site. Sure enough, this past Monday, a statement from AOL announced Erick Schonfeld as the new editor.
A lot of outside observers assume that Schonfeld, who has been with TechCrunch since 2007, was Mike’s choice to take over. But, in the interests of transparency, it’s important to clarify what really happened. The truth is, Erick was Arianna Huffington’s choice, not TechCrunch’s.
What I knew last week, but can only write now, is that while Heather, Mike and other senior editorial staffers were making a stand for the site’s editorial independence from The Huffington Post, Erick cut a side deal with Huffington to guarantee him the top job once Mike was gone.
The irony is that had Erick stayed strong for just a few days, he’d would have been appointed interim editor anyway, with Mike’s blessing. Mike and Heather were even considering Erick for the permanent position but had concerns about his ability to retain (in Fred Wilson’s words) TechCrunch’s “swagger“. Mike felt that Sarah Lacy might be a better choice: she has the right personality — and sources — for the job and she actually lives in Silicon Valley (Erick is based in New York). Unfortunately she’s also away for four months, on maternity leave.
The curious thing is that Erick knew everyone at TechCrunch supported him, at least for the interim role. And yet when Arianna called, he answered. Mike and I spoke at the time and he gave me his take on the deal: “at the point Erick began negotiating with Arianna instead of standing firm with the rest of us, he became nothing more that Arianna’s pet. All hope for independence with him at the lead became lost”. (Mike asked me to keep our conversations confidential until the situation was resolved.)
Not three days after his appointment, Erick made his first ethics disclosure as TC’s new editor — insisting that Mike had played no part in the selection of TechCrunch Disrupt finalists. Bluntly put, that was not true — as Mike had to clarify in the comments…
“Erick… Please be careful making statements on my behalf. And remember that reader trust is what matters. You shouldn’t say “he was not involved in the final selection of these companies” just because it sounds nice. Since it isn’t true, you shouldn’t say it at all.”
One of these two men is your new ethical champion, Arianna. The other one is the guy you fired.
For what it’s worth — and this is the point in this post where I suspect Mike and I will part company — I still have a lot of time for Arianna Huffington. I was the first TechCrunch writer to celebrate her appointment as Editor in Chief of AOL and I still stand by much of what I wrote in my post welcoming Our Huffington Overlord. In this situation, though, I think she screwed up badly by allowing her growing personal animosity towards Mike — and, let’s be clear, this fight was almost entirely personal — to rule her head, ejecting Mike completely from the company he founded and installing his polar opposite as a puppet editor. As Barry Diller put it yesterday: “So now, he’s gone, and now they own this thing, which has no voice. Congratulations. What a good piece of business.”
Putting aside my professional feelings towards Erick — and I’ve been writing about those for a long time — the notion that a Silicon Valley blog should be run by a guy in New York is just ludicrous. As such, Huffington’s short-term victory is likely to prove a medium and long term disaster.
Still, even as I was writing the words above, I found my anger towards Erick fading. Despite the fact that he fucked over Mike and Heather — and, by extension, the whole of TechCrunch — I don’t think he’s a bad guy. There are times, in fact, when I positively like him: he works hard, crosses the t’s and is a fine, and experienced, analytical reporter. He’s just — what’s the word? — hapless. He is a man utterly devoid of ‘hap’. Hating him for being expertly played by Arianna Huffington is like hating a baby for crying on a long-haul flight. He doesn’t understand why people are mad at him, he just wants to be fed.
Towards the end of my last book I wrote about the importance of having loyalty to one’s friends and of knowing when to quit. The former principle literally saved my life while the latter I’ve never quite got the hang of — dragging out relationships, jobs, a drinking problem… sentences… to beyond snapping point. This time, though, I think I’ve learned my lesson. This past TechCrunch Disrupt was the best yet — a fitting tribute to Mike, and a lasting reminder of why he and Heather made (make) such a perfect team. Under Heather’s guidance the business of TechCrunch will continue to grow; and thanks to the site’s amazing editorial staff, the scoops and page views will keep on flowing both at home and abroad. But with Mike’s departure, the gonzo spirit that first drew me to TechCrunch — that desire to not just report the story, but to be part of it — has gone. And with it my confidence that if the shit starts flying, my editor will be there holding an umbrella. I really can’t over-emphasize how much Mike, as an editor, made writers feel like he had their back.
(Amusingly, I just looked back at my first ever column for TechCrunch and it contains this paragraph…
The Editorial independence thing was particularly important to me. TechCrunch is a publication that never shies away from a good story, which sometimes means it makes embarrassing or amusing mistakes. I called out these mistakes with glee when I was at the Guardian, and I see no reason why I should stop now. Or to put it another way, the next time Erick asks the question “Did Last.fm just hand over listening data to the RIAA?” I need to be able to say “no, you idiot” without fear of reprisals.
Back in February, when Paul Miller quit AOL-owned Engadget, I smugly schooled him on the five rules of effective stunt resignation. Revisiting that list today, I think I pretty much nailed rules one through three (Go Out In A Blaze Of Glory, Have A Specific Grievance, Timing Is Everything). Which just leaves numbers four and five.
Rule Four: “There’s No One Else Involved”
Since the Wall Street Journal reported my imminent resignation earlier in the week, plenty of folks have asked what I plan do next. Do I have another job already lined up? The answer is no. Once I hit “publish”, I’ll be without a regular writing gig for the first time in five years. This is both terrifying and exciting in equal measure. Sometimes you just have to hurl yourself off the cliff and see if anyone tries to catch you.
Rule Five: Find Someone Else Within A Week
For all of my pseudo-martyrdom, though, the hard fact is that TechCrunch was my regular gig, but not my only one. My “real” job is writing books, usually about myself — and believe me, the last few weeks have offered enough material for an epic — and tragicomic — tale. Don’t be surprised if you hear more on that subject soon. (You do follow me on Twitter, right?)
In addition to book ideas, there are two other potentially very exciting things floating around in my head — either one of which might make for an exciting next chapter of my career. According to my own rules, though, I’ve got seven days of due diligence left before I need to say more. So I won’t.
Except this: thank you Mike. Thank you for always having my back, and please know I’ll always have yours. The worst days working for you were still more interesting and fun than the best days working for anyone else. I hope we’ll get the opportunity to do it again soon.
Thank you to Heather for setting the inspiration bar so high that no future boss will ever quite measure up. Thank you (not for the first time) to Sarah Lacy for being my eternal voice of reason, and to Jon Orlin for the unflagging support — you guys made my days in the office more fun than is healthy. Thank you, in fact, to the entire TechCrunch team for being wonderful colleagues, and great friends; I’m going to miss the shit out of working with all of you. (Except for Jack McKenna: fuck that guy.)
And thanks finally to all of the TechCrunch readers who made it through my columns these past two-plus years. I genuinely appreciate your eyeballs and your brains, and I’ll miss the vast majority of you very much indeed.
And yet. And yet.