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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

TechCrunch: Rewriting Press Releases, Gonzo-Style

Posted By on Tue, Oct 4, 2011 at 11:45 AM


A lot of people love (or until recently, loved) TechCrunch. These seem to be people who want to know every last bit of news about the technology business, no matter how trivial, as soon as it breaks; entrepreneurs looking for financing; or venture capitalists looking for startups to invest in. A lot of other people hate TechCrunch, but in that case, it's harder to pin down the reasons. There are just so many to choose from.

Perhaps helping to clarify, though, is this Q&A with TechCrunch writer MG Siegler, who is following his old boss Michael Arrington to Arrington's new venture capital fund -- imaginatively called CrunchFund -- as a general partner (despite the apparent elusiveness of his finance expertise). Fortune's Dan Primack asked Siegler whether he thinks his time as a tech blogger will help or hinder his work as a VC.

On the plus side, Siegler said, the job he is leaving has helped him hone his "filtering" skills. "At TechCrunch," he explained, "we would see hundreds of pitches a day -- we could not do them all. We had to choose the best."

For people who dislike TechCrunch, but aren't quite sure why, it might be a revelation to imagine Siegler sorting through a bunch of press releases to decide which of them are worthy of being rewritten.

"So that's why I never read TechCrunch," they might say. "When it isn't puerile and inane, it's boring as hell."

Boring, that is, despite the "swagger" that some staffers have said they inject into their press-release rewrites. They have actually applied this word to themselves. Cringeworthy? Oh, yes.

Former TechCrunch writer Paul Carr, upset over Arrington's ouster, publicly resigned last month, posting his, angry, melodramatic resignation letter to TechCrunch without running it past his new boss. He topped the letter with a quote from Hunter S. Thompson.

Apparently, it doesn't occur to some TechCrunch writers that it might be considered absurd to brag about the journalistic "swagger" they bring to rewriting press releases about Android apps and browser plug-ins, or producing callow, freshman-dorm-level screeds about smart phones or whatever. We are, after all, talking about a trade publication here. That the words "fuck" and "shit" are incorporated into it doesn't change this fact -- for some of us, it only highlights it. There's nothing wrong with a trade publication, even a boring one, unless it's trying -- really, really hard -- to be something it's not. To be fair, TechCrunch is hugely popular, so apparently a lot of people like this kind of stuff, and don't see it as absurd at all. But then, a lot of people watch "Two and a Half Men" every week, too.

Arrington was fired from TechCrunch because of the conflicts inherent in the editor of a publication investing in the companies that publication covers. (His defense is that, as long as there's "transparency" and "disclosure," these conflicts somehow magically disappear.) AOL, which owns the site, clumsily went back and forth on whether this should be considered a problem before deciding, amid a wave of public criticism, that it should.

Siegler, though, will continue writing for TechCrunch as an "outside columnist," with Apple as his sole subject. He vows he won't write about the companies in which CrunchFund invests. But will CrunchFund invest in companies that work with Apple, or compete with Apple, or that work with companies that compete with Apple?

It doesn't really matter, because despite Arrington's ouster, TechCrunch's policy on conflicts hasn't changed. Last week, a TechCrunch staffer wrote something about Best Buy, with this "disclosure" at the bottom of the item: "I am a former Best Buy employee, and still appear in Best Buy commercials."

Dan Mitchell has written for Fortune, The New York Times, Slate, Wired, National Public Radio, The Chicago Tribune, and many others.

Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF and @SFWeekly

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Dan Mitchell


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