I rarely get writers block, but I’ve aborted multiple attempts to write about the leadership change at TechCrunch yesterday. So I’m going to keep it simple.
I’m exceptionally bummed that so many people have left TechCrunch. Of the top ten all time tech writers according to TechMeme, six were from TechCrunch: myself, MG Siegler, Erick Schonfeld, Leena Rao, Jason Kincaid and Robin Wauters.
Of that group, only Leena remains at TechCrunch. And many other stars have left as well – Paul Carr, Sarah Lacy, Vaughn Brown, Heather Harde and Greg Kumparak.
When I was fired from TechCrunch I at least knew what was coming, and I tried to position it for the best possible outcome. Or at least to avoid the worst outcome. I failed, that worst outcome has absolutely materialized, but I had a fighting chance.
With Erick gone all of the top leadership of TechCrunch, and the majority of the writing talent, have left.
Putting the why aside, one thing’s clear to me. Arianna Huffington seems to enjoy fucking with TechCrunch in her leisure time. She put all her weight behind Schonfeld when I left. But within a few weeks the rumors were that she was furious at him for the way the news broke about MG Siegler joining CrunchFund.
I doubt Erick even realized, but he was a marked man from that day on. Yes, something that petty can piss her off.
So now Eric Eldon is in charge, who joined TechCrunch after I left. I’ve known Eldon for years, and I think he’ll be really good at running TechCrunch. The kumbayah moments have already appeared. The staff, out for blood a week ago with Kincaid leaving, for now, is sated.
But when Jonathan Abrams joked yesterday that “In the future, everyone will be editor of TechCrunch for 15 minutes,” it was funny because it rang true. It’s hard to keep your job running TechCrunch these days.
In the old days of TechCrunch we were pretty good at deflecting the constant gripes from the old school press and the mobs they occasionally kicked into existence.
TechCrunch still has to deal with that, but in the modern era they also have to watch their back, because they have a very touchy psychopath conducting a game of musical chairs to the death. In other words, she has the TechCrunch staff running around in circles, afraid they’ll be the next one out.
As Paul Carr quipped yesterday, a good first move by Eldon would be to refuse to hire a number 2 who’s name is Eric(k). That hasn’t worked out too well for the last two people to run TechCrunch.
But more seriously, Eldon does have a tough job. He has to get page views up, which have declined by around 50% since I departed last year (with Siegler singlehandedly the majority of the loss). TechCrunch has never cared much about page views. But AOL cares a lot about page views. So TechCrunch needs to start caring about page views too.
He also needs to try to keep TechCrunch on the top of the TechMeme leaderboard. It’s an important indicator of the quality of writing, and the number of scoops.
If he can avoid embarrassing Arianna and do those two other things, he should be able to keep his job for a good long while.
Next I could write about how pleasing Arianna and having editorial independence simultaneously is impossible. But I won’t.
I could also write about what TechCrunch could do to bring some of the shine back, but I won’t do that either. I gave my advice on that to Eldon privately by phone yesterday, along with my congratulations. He can take it or leave it. But either way, I won’t take credit, or bitch if they fail. Like Sarah Lacy at PandoDaily, this is his show. His era.
Now, if things do go sideways, I do have some public advice for him. Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight with Arianna. She’s smart and she’s mean as hell and she tends to win her fights. I lost. Erick had no chance whatsoever. The poor guy woke up yesterday thinking that everything was peachy. He went to bed without a job.
Good luck to you.