Well, when we’re wrong, we’re wrong: I didn’t think AOL was going to pull the trigger, but they just did. Apparently, at TechCrunch Disrupt — Michael Arrington’s cuddlefest of sycophantic entrepreneurs, wannabes, and the Real McCoy, who mostly attend to have their asses kissed — Michael Arrington just announced the acquisition of TechCrunch by AOL. AOL’s CEO Tim Armstrong is on stage talking about it right now. Arrington just hit his payday.
“I’m sorry for the distraction,” Arrington noted, as he took away the attention from all the budding entrepreneurs who paid to be there and get press so he could have an awesome press conference full of people drinking his Kool-Aid.
“This deal came together because of the entrepreneurial network here. This is a big day for AOL,” notes AOL CEO Tim Armstrong. Arrington said he planned to stay with the company for three years, but who knows how much he’s going to butt heads with the bureaucracy of AOL once the ink’s dry.
But the move definitely represents something interesting: Arrington’s always been a cantankerous guy who isn’t one to be kept on a short leash. Two major media moves took place last week, one involving a New York Times writer who went to the Huffington Post (for money), the other being Yahoo’s John Cook, who left to go back to Gawker. Both of the writers’ former homes have tight, strict standards and a large bureaucracy with crazy amounts of day-to-day red tape to deal with before one hits the “Publish” button. Arrington and TechCrunch never have. And while AOL certainly seems like the kind of place that would have that same red tape, if in fact Arrington and his company still get to do what they do under AOL, the move means that larger corporations are finally catching on to the need to Let Bloggers Be Bloggers instead of faceless drones who have to have their publish buttons babysat. On the other hand, if that isn’t the case, then Arrington just castrated his company, and for the next three years, himself.
UPDATE: Here’s a nice one from the history books: In March 2008, former Gawker.com and Valleywag writer Nick Douglas — who went on to write the official book of collected Tweets, Twitter Wit, and now works for AOL as the editor of URLesque — took a great position on why nobody should buy TechCrunch:
Before he started Silicon Valley’s most influential blog, Michael Arrington (pictured demonstrating caution and humility in Business 2.0) was a successful lawyer, but this didn’t make him much of an analyst. Despite frequently getting his story utterly wrong, he built influence by covering every startup that would talk to him. Tech writer Paul Boutin figured it out: TechCrunch wasn’t a news source, it was a phone directory, and that’s what the Valley wanted. Arrington used his local influence to earn a few scoops, and now he’s an unignorable player in tech reporting.
But it’s all him. Most press about TechCrunch is actually about Arrington. None of his writers are breakaway talents. And while the blog probably makes over a million a year in ad revenue, TechCrunch also makes plenty from its conferences (and “parties” where startups pay to demo products for liquored up biz-dev guys). As with Gawker, the publisher makes the brand. If Arrington sold but stayed in charge, he might have to stop writing dramatic posts like “When will we have our first Valleywag suicide?” If he left the blog, what’s left? A staff of amateurish writers who can’t get the scoops Arrington gets?
It was also a sentiment echoed by other media writers last night: