» Tech Writers In Denial: The Michael Arrington Case Study

Tech Writers In Denial: The Michael Arrington Case Study

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(pic, Joi Ito)

I have read so much B-S- about Michael Arrington’s supposedly displaced integrity as a writer that I thought I should set the record straight.

Mike has been an investor in my company Seesmic since day one, here are some of the posts Mike wrote about Seesmic:

Don’t Screw Your Partners Over A Marketing Promotion

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Developers In Denial: The Seesmic Case Study

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Both of those posts were discussed during Seesmic board meetings with my main investors wondering how I could deal with Mike as an investor attacking his own investment like this in public. Seriously, “he could have told us off the record”. Yes, he could have, but he chose to write about it in public on TechCrunch instead.

I was well aware of that risk when I took the investment and I was sure it would happen and it did, as expected.

What is everyone trying to say about Mike, that he would pimp his investments in TechCrunch? Sure, read the above posts again and put yourself in the CEO and board shoes when an investor writes such posts. We took TechCrunch down because of too much traffic with Steven Spielberg, Harisson Ford and George Lucas on Seesmic, that post was well deserved.

The post about Twitter going after developers buying them proved to be 100% right and the best advice an investor could give to his investment, “those guys don’t want you to build what you are building anymore this way”.  It was very instrumental in us pivoting into a business app and my board to accept how fast we needed to react.

I bet most CEOs would have preferred to get the message in private, it wouldn’t have had the same impact though, and surely wouldn’t have put so much attention in both cases to Seesmic, and that’s always good. I have to admit I got really upset at times by how hard Mike went in public on us, -almost like he had to- just because he was an investor. I was wrong, it was just the same as he would have been regardless of the investment.

If Mike invested in your company, don’t expect a better treatment, don’t expect more posts, don’t expect negative news not posted, on the contrary. You will get less posts as Mike always thinks about that investment as a problem and many negative ones when they’re deserved.

Oh yeah, you get some good posts too, but even then, the title has to be negative: “Thank You Seesmic for Sucking Less

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I am sure some of you will read me saying “right, but he asked his team to write about Seesmic”. Yeah, right, if that’s what you’d think then you don’t know MG, Erick, Leena, Alexia, Jason, Sarah, Butcher, Robin and all the members of the team. Sure thing, they wrote a lot about Seesmic, but so did many other sources when we launched hot products and did not write, as they should not, when we did not.

Look at Sarah’s title on this post “Seesmic: From Near Death…”. Nice title, right? And look at the disclosure:

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This “may come as a surprise since Mike is so hard on Loic” but he is an investor. Yep, it does come as a surprise to most people each time he writes about Seesmic so hard, it doesn’t come as a suprise to me.

Oh, and when we were in feature war with Tweetdeck before Twitter acquired them (and ended the competition) Twitter clients were very popular in tech news for a simple reason, the tech bloggers were using them all day long and were very interested by all the innovations we were providing. They were covering sometimes some very small new features and we were of course enjoying the coverage not only from TechCrunch, but many tech blogs.

I know Mike actually sent an internal email to all at TechCrunch to “stop covering every feature we were launching” “just because they aren’t news” and the posts literally stopped. The team wasn’t posting because it was one of Mike’s investment, just because they were excited by the features.

One day I was discussing some confidential ideas about Seesmic with Mike and I joked “Mike, am I talking to the investor, the friend, or the reporter blogger?”

He answered “it’s always reporter blogger first”.

I still shared with him the confidential data and he never released it or threatened me in any way to release him, in other words he always had access to investor only information in my company but never used it unless I released it in public.

Oh, and I have read a lot of B-S- about the supposed “give me exclusive news or we won’t ever cover you again”. You can ask the TechCrunch competition I have always briefed more tech bloggers than TechCrunch when we had news, under embargo, and TechCrunch never broke an embargo they accepted (as the other tech bloggers I trust) and never complained. Sure, sometimes they did not cover it, that’s their right.

Anyone who doubts Mike’s integrity doesn’t know him or did not take the time to look at the facts. You can say what you want about Mike, like him or not, but he’s done more than anyone else for the startups worldwide. It’s indeed a sad day that he leaves his baby TechCrunch, for him, for his team and for the entrepreneurs.

I am sure Mike will do well and TechCrunch and his team will also do well, there is too much talent there. AOL’s new challenge is to keep them without Mike, and that won’t be easy. I think that the TechCrunch brand is big enough to survive many departures. AOL will likely keep it a success regardless. Good luck to all, it would be a shame to break TechCrunch and Disrupt, I trust AOL won’t screw it up.

As far as I am concerned, I would take other investment from Mike in heart beat if he would want to invest in anything I do, and I would also invest in his new fund if I was investing (but I’m not, I just focus on Seesmic and LeWeb).

If Mike was that terribly dishonest and biased person some writers like to think, he would not have created such a success and be trusted by so many Silicon Valley legends. Watch what LinkedIn’s founder Reid Hoffman has to say about him leaving.

Oh and before I forget, if you are a startup entrepreneur and can get any funding from Mike, take it, but make sure you know about the possible consequences, because Mike won’t stop blogging and sharing. Great advice and attention on your company will come at the price of not screwing up, but you should still take his money, I can explain more why in a future post.

Would you take his money?



  • Justin K

    Now if I search TC for Seesmic I get 4210 results. Covered quite a bit. Lets look at another major player say Tweetdeck (bought by Ubermedia) – 2580 results.

    Why would Seesmic be getting so much more coverage?

  • Guest

    all TC tweetdeck posts: http://www.crunchbase.com/company/tweetdeck/posts
    all TC seesmic posts: http://www.crunchbase.com/company/seesmic/posts

  • http://www.postlinearity.com gregorylent

    the whole arrington story is an insult to readers … and i blame ariana huffpo … what a fake concept, “journalistic principles” 

  • http://www.postlinearity.com gregorylent

    charisma and public personableness of the founder?

  • Mason

    It’s journalism 101. There is a perceived bias when he runs a site called tech crunch and a fund called crunchfund. If Mother Teresa did the same thing she’d get called out for it too. It’s a tall order to ignore the history of Journalism and make an exception for one guy. The facts don’t matter, it’s the perception of the thing.

    And no, I wouldn’t take his money. Not because of the above, but because of the way he’s treated people I admire like Caterina Fake.

  • http://ouriel.typepad.com OurielOhayon

    great post loic.

  • http://www.competitionhunter.com guest

    Seesmic is based in the Valley and Tweetdeck wasn’t?

  • Kavan

    Agree with @Mason. It is not a issue with Mike’s integrity. It is basic journalistic independence that needs to be adhered to. Without it TC will lose their credibility as an unbiased news source.

    Journalistic independence of this sort, is far more important for TCs future than independence from Arianna.

    TC won’t be the same, but it never was going to be. It has grown up and for me has lost a lot of it’s charm. Take yesterday’s TCDisrupt, most of the companies had already raised $2M. They are super polished and are really just using Disrupt as a free launching pad. I prefered the days of TC40 and TC50 where we got to see the scrappy bootstrapped startups. Not all if them were good but it felt more real.

  • Anonymous

    Agree with Mason. Perception is reality and even the slightest appearance of conflict of interest muddies the waters for most observers.

    Mike’s bull in a china shop attitude also doesn’t help his likeability factor when controversy arises.  His style and grace also make it oh so easy to incite the anti-Mike vitriol we’re seeing now.  As the saying goes, “the bigger they are, the harder they fall”, and many are taking great pleasure watching Mike tumble.  It’s human instinct, like it or not.

    Thanks for your perspective Loic, however, I’m not sure your declared and obvious biases will go very far to changing the opinions of the more objective (yes, I said it) masses.

  • http://kempedmonds.com kemp

    HootSuite 468 Results.

  • http://kempedmonds.com kemp

    82 – all TC seesmic posts
    79 – all TC tweetdeck posts
    11 – all TC hootsuite posts

  • http://twitter.com/Fourthletter58 Fourthletter58

    So the question is why defend a jouralist that gave your company such a hard time, oh yes of course he’s an investor !
    Past articles don’t matter things like this need to be out in the open it’s how anyone with a moral code operates.

  • http://twitter.com/dneumann Dan Neumann

    EXACTLY. Frequent mixed coverage of a startup is as good as any investor can hope for. Staying in the press is critical to attracting new users. Even if that press isn’t always glowing. 

    No one said Arrington would be dumb about how he pimps his investments through his blog. The sheer volume of posts on Seesmic is clear indication of bias.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fluxresearch Clyde Smith

    Just trust in Michael?

    You could also consider his public attacks on Seesmic to fit the ahole pattern of getting his way by taking things public.

    I’m not saying that’s what happened but I am saying that his supporters seem to be in denial on a number of levels.

    And we certainly all know that aholes always have a lot of fans because, at a certain level, many people are drawn to abusers.

  • boing

    If journalism is a filter to PR it must be independent. It would be ok if Techcrunch was outside Huffington Post Media Group, a part of AOL Ventures for example. I think most of the VCs, Start Ups, Readers could live with this. Techcrunch always was special and it is a shame that Huffpo killed it this way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.mooney Paul Mooney

    In the attention economy there is no such thing as bad publicity, if Mike had never published a story about Seesmic your other unnamed investors would be livid.

    Isn’t this blog post just another commercial?   

  • Anonymous

    Should be quite interesting to see how that all works out.

    anon-tools.au.tc

  • Vivek Joshi

    Great post Loic. But does this mean that we should give Mike a free pass, just because he is Mike? What happens with the next tech writer who wants to do the same thing? Who decides where their moral compass lies?

  • http://twitter.com/SteveWilhelm Steve Wilhelm

    The point is, Seesmic didn’t warrant that much press, good or bad.  

  • http://www.loiclemeur.com/ Loic Le Meur

    Mike never claimed to be a journalist. Wrong argument.

  • http://www.loiclemeur.com/ Loic Le Meur

    It probably even didn’t warrant to exist.

  • The Other Mike

    Yet you say in your article above that he told you he is a “journalist first”

  • The Other Mike

    Oops, I mean “reporter first”

  • http://www.loiclemeur.com/ Loic Le Meur

    Nope, I wrote reporter, but you’re right he probably actually said “blogger” first I will edit my post.

  • http://www.douglascrets.com Douglas Crets

    just because he writes negative stories about you, doesn’t mean a. he’s no longer an investor, and b. he’s not biased.  

    Ethics doesn’t care if you are positive or negative, it cares about whether you are perceived to be in someone’s pocket or not in it. 

  • http://twitter.com/upright Brent

    Exactly. Even when Seesmic received negative attention, it’s worth so much more than being neglected. 

  • http://www.loiclemeur.com/ Loic Le Meur

    I never claimed that Mike wasn’t giving attention to Seesmic, there are many other investments he made that did not get that attention, and your point is?

  • http://www.loiclemeur.com/ Loic Le Meur

    agreed Douglas, and I never perceived him as in my pocket, as I tried to explain on my post.

  • http://www.loiclemeur.com/ Loic Le Meur

    you sound to me like a first class troll :-)

  • http://www.loiclemeur.com/ Loic Le Meur

    updated. blogger.

  • http://www.loiclemeur.com/ Loic Le Meur

    Seesmic was video conversation before Twitter app and is now social CRM mobile, we got coverage for many other things than Twitter app, you’re comparing only 18 months of our history.

  • http://www.loiclemeur.com/ Loic Le Meur

    I don’t care. I generally expect any journalist / writer to be have an opinion and show it somehow, this way I am never disappointed.

  • http://www.loiclemeur.com/ Loic Le Meur

    merci Ouriel :-)

  • RicharddonaldJones

    Loic Le Meur …your flat attempt to cover for your “investor” is garbage. You should resign 

  • http://www.loiclemeur.com/ Loic Le Meur

    LOL that’s an idea

  • http://twitter.com/moon moon

    You’re being evasive and I think you only want people with a stake in Seesmic to write about Seesmic

  • http://www.loiclemeur.com/ Loic Le Meur

    Disqus allows to “mark a comment as spam” I wish they created a “mark a comment as stupid” or “mark as troll”

  • http://twitter.com/seeingfurther James Crane-Baker

    I’m not expert in journalistic ethics but it strikes me as quite hypocritical that the NY Times would call out Mike for being unethical when they themselves are investing in the same spaces they write about…

    http://www.nytco.com/company/Innovation_and_Technology/AcquisitionsandInvestments.html

  • http://masongentry.com Mason Gentry

    Fine, let’s say Mike isn’t a journalist. He’s a blogger and the strict rules of old media don’t apply to him. Even still, as a person of influence, people will speak up when they perceive a conflict of interest. 

    Remember when Dick Cheney hired Haliburton to do reconstruction work in Iraq? People we’re outraged because it appeared he was trying to help out his old buddies.

    Or think about a judge who is assigned to a case in which he knows the defendant. Most of the time he’ll remove himself from the case. 

    Our culture’s obsession with fairness isn’t just a journalistic thing, it’s an American value. 

  • http://twitter.com/moon moon

    There’s a saying in my country, “when you’re in a hole stop digging”, sooner or later you’ll have to explain what has really been going on at Seesmic  

  • http://www.loiclemeur.com/ Loic Le Meur

    It’s already been pretty well documented!

  • http://www.nunomachadolopes.com Nuno Machado Lopes

    I respect your view and your belief that Seesmic was in no way privileged in its association with the investor – but it’s time we all grew up and became professional. It’s been a sad 2 weeks. I read TechCrunch and was deeply disappointed with all the amateurism from Mike Arrington and from the TechCrunch writers. Personal rants filled with F*ck all over the place – too much emotion and not enough self control. I can’t believe that many complained of AOLs lack of editorial independence yet writers were allowed to use swear words and voice their own personal opinions proclaiming the end of that which feeds them. Life is full of choices and Mike chose to sell to AOL, the writers at TechCrunch have decided (to date) to stay on, yet they rant and swear. 
    In general, most of the constructive comments on the web weren’t attacks on Mike’s character yet many people, including yourself, seem intent on defending his personality and his principles. I don’t doubt them. I do doubt his capacity to be rational as we humans are all but rational. We are not robots. It’s not that clear cut and so that we can own a piece of the online media, we have to ensure we have the trust of the audience – and that’s not bargained, argued or explained – its earned. Hence the whole argument – in principal, it is humanly impossible to be completely void of biased, all the time – be it positive or negative.Loic Le Meur keep up the great work and enthuse us with the principles on which we should build our platforms and not on your personal experience with Mike Arrington, which again, I respect but deem as irrelevant to the main issue at hand – complete editorial integrity.Thank you

  • http://twitter.com/moon moon

    Only by people with a stake in Seesmic and we’re just coming around to realizing what your relationship with Arrington was all about.  

    The future doesn’t look too good for Seesmic, Twitter is evolving and TweetDeck must be central to their plan. Zuckerberg might be your Friend today, but he’s a strange guy and could unFriend you anytime he wants.  What about this Google+ ??? 

    Seesmic could be in the Deadpool by years end

  • http://kjemperud.net/ T. Kjemperud

    Seriously. So many stupid trolls in one comment area! Great post Loic! :)

  • http://www.loiclemeur.com/ Loic Le Meur

    Thanks Thomas, I thought I was only surrounded by trolls

  • http://twitter.com/mikesimonsen Mike Simonsen

    It amazes me how so many people think they are somehow entitled to any semblance of “fair” or “unbiased” coverage or hell, any coverage whatsoever in any media let alone a tech blog that publicizes product launches. You’re a startup, you are selling a product. I am sorry to break this to you, but you are not news.  

    Mike is a blogger and investor. He can choose to write about you or not. He can write about his friends or not. He can write about his investments or not. My guess is that Mike writes about A) things that interest him and B) things that get pageviews. Maybe not even B, they just happen to correlate. 

    This is not an ethics issue. Mike should invest in, and write about whatever the hell he wants. I like to know what he’s invested in. Watching Mikes investments go up and down is good reading. You should say thank you and be on your way. 

  • http://www.loiclemeur.com/ Loic Le Meur

    Hey Mike, thanks for your comment but I don’t get your point, I think you did not understand my post (likely my english or something). I wasn’t complaining in any way, this post is a reaction to the avalanche of posts about Mike’s integrity, I thought should share my views. I did not and I am not complaining, I agree, Mike writes about whatever he wants, mostly your A) indeed and B) what makes news.

    Sorry, but I don’t get your comment, maybe again my english.

  • http://www.loiclemeur.com/ Loic Le Meur

    Hey Mike, thanks for your comment but I don’t get your point, I think you did not understand my post (likely my english or something). I wasn’t complaining in any way, this post is a reaction to the avalanche of posts about Mike’s integrity, I thought should share my views. I did not and I am not complaining, I agree, Mike writes about whatever he wants, mostly your A) indeed and B) what makes news.

    Sorry, but I don’t get your comment, maybe again my english.

  • http://franzstehrn.blogspot.com franzstehrn

    Loic, you don’t believe in your company/ product anymore?

  • Anonymous

    Loic,

    People who disagree with your point of view are trolls? Interesting position to take.

    I assume you’re relatively new to the US, but do you happen to believe in on of the pillars of American culture, the 1st Amendment and freedom of speech?  If so (and you actually do), you must accept, respect and defend the the opinions of those who you deem to be vile or “trolls” as you say in the online vernacular. Otherwise, you’re in favor of censorship and autocracy… pure and simple.

    After all, you could also say that Hitler believed in free speech and open dialogue… as long as he agreed with you.

    You can’t have it both ways Loic. If you’re going to make your opinions public, you must also accept that some people will disagree with you. That dynamic is surely one of the characteristics which makes the Internet such a powerful force.  Prior to the Internet, broadcasted opinion was limited to the media elites and their extremely self-serving, narrow perspective.

    Judging from some of your replies, you’re not interested in hearing anything that doesn’t slap you on the back and say “good job Loic I agree with you, keep up the good work”.

    Obviously, this is a heated and controversial topic at the moment but I reckon the comment thread here is relatively tame compared to some blog discussions I’ve come across recently on the issue. This discussion, relatively speaking, has the feeling of unicorns and rainbows.

    I don’t know anything about Seesmic (never used it) or its level of exposure on TechCrunch, however, based on your article, I believe your assertion and argument that you believe you didn’t receive any favorable treatment from Mike, even when it was in his financial interest to do so.  Conversely, one could also argue that “even bad news (or coverage) is good news”, meaning, at least you’re in the sphere of public awareness – positively or negatively.

    Surely you can recognize that some (call them cynics if you like) may still doubt Mike’s objectivity will remain in tact going forward.

    His employers obviously did believe there was a potential for conflict of interest, and that fact has brought us to where we are today.

  • http://www.loiclemeur.com/ Loic Le Meur

    sarcasm

  • Anonymous

    Loic,

    You took down my recent comment. Ahh, poor guy.

    Did it hit home too hard for you? Reason is a sound you don’t like to hear apparently. I suppose if you can’t successfully argue against the criticisms I posed, the only alternative is to sweep it under the rug, so as to artificially maintain your hollow Silicon Valley street cred. A strategy of supreme courage and intellect… you must be so proud.

    Very funny… and revealing of your professional maturity, integrity and intelligence.

    Not surprised you believe your own hype considering the denial and arrington-style-bully-boy tactics you’re demonstrating in this comment thread. Looks like Mike’s style and grace has rubbed off on you more than you think.  Good luck with that.

    Tally up the likes on comments that disagree with your post to help you get a reasonable perspective on reality. And to find a proper troll, just look in the mirror.

    If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the fire. Stick to product development, cause you’ve got no blogging game and your opinion is about as universally popular as a baby seal hunt.

    Is that comment trolly enough to warrant one of your trademark bitter, arrogant replies?

  • Nicholas Bradley

    Loic, while I appreciate that Mike and TC team disclose their conflicts of interest when they write a piece, I don’t buy your point. You claim that these posts about your company are negative… I guess the implication is that they affect your company’s user base negatively. Come on.. really? The posts aren’t about even about your product, they are about your opinions as a business, and the only one that *is* about your product is positive (sucking less is still going to make users come try you out, since there is something new that might be better). The coverage does not paint you guys as a product that nobody should use, they aren’t a negative review for users at all. 

    What’s much worse than your “negative” coverage is your competitors’ coverage.. that is, none at all. Is Mike disclosing all the companies that he didn’t cover, because they compete with his investments? Look, I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with TechCrunch, I’ve enjoyed reading it thus far, but now that it’s clear it’s not really about the users, and that companies will be written up based on the investments of CrunchFund (and don’t tell me that Mike is a superhuman, somehow capable of forgetting about his dollars invested in these companies), I’m no longer a supporter. Conflicts of interest matter, disclosed or not, and I prefer a news source that isn’t involved directly in the products it covers. I’ll probably still follow TechCrunch just to keep up on the products that Mike likes (which coincide with what I like a lot of the time), but I’m hardly going to be led to believe that it’s impartial. It is not. 

  • Nicholas Bradley

    Loic, while I appreciate that Mike and TC team disclose their conflicts of interest when they write a piece, I don’t buy your point. You claim that these posts about your company are negative… I guess the implication is that they affect your company’s user base negatively. Come on.. really? The posts aren’t about even about your product, they are about your opinions as a business, and the only one that *is* about your product is positive (sucking less is still going to make users come try you out, since there is something new that might be better). The coverage does not paint you guys as a product that nobody should use, they aren’t a negative review for users at all. 

    What’s much worse than your “negative” coverage is your competitors’ coverage.. that is, none at all. Is Mike disclosing all the companies that he didn’t cover, because they compete with his investments? Look, I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with TechCrunch, I’ve enjoyed reading it thus far, but now that it’s clear it’s not really about the users, and that companies will be written up based on the investments of CrunchFund (and don’t tell me that Mike is a superhuman, somehow capable of forgetting about his dollars invested in these companies), I’m no longer a supporter. Conflicts of interest matter, disclosed or not, and I prefer a news source that isn’t involved directly in the products it covers. I’ll probably still follow TechCrunch just to keep up on the products that Mike likes (which coincide with what I like a lot of the time), but I’m hardly going to be led to believe that it’s impartial. It is not. 

  • http://www.loiclemeur.com/ Loic Le Meur

    I’m sorry you did not get my point, I tried to explain.

  • http://www.loiclemeur.com/ Loic Le Meur

    I’m sorry you did not get my point, I tried to explain.

  • Nicholas Bradley

    I got your point: you guys are in it together. Thanks for sharing.

  • Anonymous

    Winner, 2nd and 3rd place finishers at TC Disrupt all backed by Arrington… what a coincidence!  No, no conflict there Loic. Wouldn’t possibly happen.

    Think that just blew up your post’s conclusions and your juvenile opinions. LOL LOL LOL

    Think I can hear your phone ringing… it’s your PR manager telling you to shut up!