Oh man. A few years ago, just after I resigned from TechCrunch over AOL’s ousting of Mike Arrington (how funny that seems now), CNN’s Howard Kurtz invited me on to his show to discuss the flame-out, and to ask me a question: Is TechCrunch “done”?
My answer at the time was that while TechCrunch itself would probably continue to exists as a “content” “brand,” the TechCrunch that Mike Arrington founded, and that I had come to love in a Stockholmy way, was certainly done.
It was hardly the boldest of predictions: Remove the pugilistic founding editor from a news site known for its door-kicking approach to reporting and its only a matter of time before everyone follows him out the door, especially when AOL starts sending around Powerpoints explaining “The AOL Way” to wedge SEO keywords into every story.
And sure enough, in the months that followed, that prediction came true and truer. Sarah left, MG left, Jason left… even Heather left. Then came the second wave: The ousting of Schonfeld, the guy who had sold his soul to Arianna to briefly take the top job.
Schonfeld’s replacement, Eric Eldon, knew there was no point in trying to rebuild old TechCrunch. Instead, with AOL’s blessing, he began dialing down the site’s famous Arrington-era controversy and replacing it with a steady news feed of products announcements and press releases that paid huge dividends for pageviews. More importantly for the site’s future stability, he also rebuilt TechCrunch as a site that anyone with a pulse and a laptop could run (although to be absolutely sure, AOL created two “co-editor” positions — presumably, as with nuclear launch keys, to ensure that no one person could do anything too damaging.)
Eldon has also since quit, but last I checked, traffic was higher than ever and still growing. Meanwhile, the Disrupt franchise ensured that, if not massively profitable, TechCrunch at least brought in more revenue than Patch. CrunchBase continued to be the division’s killer app, especially after AOL “fixed” Arrington’s initial vision for the service and stopped allowing developers to use it for free.
It’s remarkable, and remarkably telling, that whereas Arrington becoming a partner at Crunchfund was once considered WSJ-worthy news, now the announcement that yet another staffer is swapping journalism for venture capitalism barely demands a footnote at the bottom of a post about football. TechCrunch is dead, long live AOL TechCrunch.
And then yesterday came the final nail: AOL has appointed a new “President, Media Brands,” which apparently is what TechCrunch belongs to now. That president is Luke Beatty, the one-time founder of Associated Content. As TechCrunch itself explained, Beatty is the site’s “new boss.”
Beatty is certainly a capable leader, and a great entrepreneur, having sold AC to Yahoo for around $100 million. But if you had any doubt about what TechCrunch has become, and what it’ll continue to become, consider this paragraph from TechCrunch’s own welcome interview with their new leader. Take a shot for every buzzword. And see if you can spot the word journalism anywhere in what follows…
Beatty told me that his purview is “premium content and premium utilities.” We didn’t get into too much detail about his plans (it sounds like he’s still transitioning from a pure product focus), but he did say, “Mobile experiences are going to require utility at some level, and as content brands we have to figure that out.”
And then consider how (old) TechCrunch responded to Yahoo’s purchase of Beatty’s Associated Content back in the day, in a post entitled “What is Yahoo thinking?”
It remains to be seen where on the quality spectrum Yahoo’s new content farm will sow its seeds. Maybe Yahoo just wants the technology platform and access to all of those crowdsourced contributors. But it didn’t need to pay $100 million for that. At the very least, it gives Yahoo a way to cheaply create content around trending topics as determined by its search data and traffic patterns on its properties. Associated Content can also help with Yahoo’s mobile and local efforts by providing cheap, customizable profiles of local businesses and points of interest against which Yahoo can also sell ads.
Done and done.