Unbelievable as it may sound, the soap opera that has engulfed the popular tech blog TechCrunch and its corporate parent AOL is still going on.
On Wednesday, former TechCrunch editor and founder Michael Arrington — who had left his post at the helm of the blog back in September 2011 due to an acrimonious clash with AOL chief content officer Arianna Huffington over Arrington’s private, AOL-backed tech venture capital fund — took to his new blog “Uncrunched” to blast Huffington for the impact she’s had on his former website.
“Arianna Huffington seems to enjoy fucking with TechCrunch in her leisure time,” Arrington wrote.
The catalyst for Arrington’s ire this time around was the announcement out of TechCrunch on Tuesday that his successor, Erick Schonfeld, would be leaving his post as editor-in-chief of TechCrunch and would be replaced with a new “Eric,” Eric Eldon, a TechCrunch writer formerly of VentureBeat.
“We’re going to put our heads down and focus on the basics,” Eldon and TechCrunch writer Alexia Tsotsis wrote in a post announcing the shift.
Whatever one makes of that news, it was quickly followed by some unequivocally bad news concerning TechCrunch’s traffic after Arrington sold his baby to AOL for $30 million in September 2010.
“The site has lost almost every one of its top writers and traffic has fallen sharply, dropping by 35 percent from a year ago,” wrote Jeff Roberts at PaidContent, using data obtained from Web traffic firm comScore. (Boing Boing called these numbers into question.)
Indeed, to Roberts point, TechCrunch has lost a long list of its marquee names in the wake of Arrington’s departure, from Apple specialist M.G. Siegler to the caustic Paul Carr to TechCrunch CEO Heather Harde to, most recently, Jason Kincaid. Many of the TechCrunch alum have begun blogging at a rival site, PandoDaily, founded by another marquee refugee, Sarah Lacy.
Arrington places all the blame for this turn of events on Huffington, who sold her own Huffington Post blog empire to AOL for $315 million in February 2011 and has since quickly taken over all of AOL’s content operations, a position that was never quite a good fit with the staunchly independent and ethically blurry TechCrunch.
And the colorful Arrington isn’t shy about letting Huffington and the world know what he thinks of her, writing in his Tuesday blog post:
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 musical chairs to the death game with them right now.
Huffington, for her part, has maintained a public silence when it comes to matters of TechCrunch.
Either way, staff discord is about the last thing that AOL needs for its media properties now, as the company struggles to keep the limited forward momentum it’s gained in transitioning its revenue stream from dial-up Internet connections to ad sales based around the content of its numerous blogs.
AOL’s latest quarterly earnings were better than expected, but the company still posted a 66 percent decline in earnings from 2011. At the time, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong was asked about the turnover at TechCrunch and “shrugged it off,” in the words of The Hollywood Reporter: “‘We are adding talent,’ he said, calling the blog ‘a very strong brand’ with ‘very strong people.’”
Full disclosure: I was a blogger at AOL News from January 2010 to November 2010. During my time there, I did not interact with anyone at TechCrunch. The Huffington Post did not sell to AOL until after I had left, and I had no interaction with anyone at The Huffington Post prior to that combination.