Practical Technology

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The Tech Press: We’re not all Arrington Scum

Michael Arrington continues to try to con everyone, including possibly himself, into thinking he does technology journalism. Normally, I ignore the scum of the technology press. Life is too short. Every field has its fakes, its liars and its prostitutes, but every now and again someone, such as Arrington, falls to the bottom and makes such a splash along the way, that I can’t ignore him.

Arrington, for those of who don’t know him, is the founder and co-editor of TechCrunch, a tech “news” site now owned by AOL. TechCrunch and Arrington are famous gossip-mongers—the National Enquirer if you would—of technology journalism. That’s fine by me. I’m not interested in covering MySpace co-founder and CEO Chris DeWolfe supposed romance with Paris Hilton. More power to you if that’s what floats your boat. After all, there are more readers for that than the kind of things, such as Linux and networking, that I cover.

But, here’s the difference between yours truly, and everyone I know and respect in technology journalism and a Michael Arrington: I don’t own a share of stock in any company that I cover. I don’t get one thin-dime if Red Hat makes a billion dollars. I also don’t make a penny if Microsoft crashes and burns.

Arrington though says, “Over the last several months I have begun investing actively again. We’ve noted these investments in Shawn Fanning’s new startup and in Kevin Rose’s new startup. I have also become a limited partner in two venture funds, Benchmark Capital and SoftTech VC. I am considering investments in a few other venture funds and a couple of startups as well, but have nothing further to announce yet.”

He does recognise that this is a conflict of interest, but he seems to think that this makes no difference to his cover and that anyone in the tech. press that complains about it is simply jealous because we’re “a lot better than them.” Excuse me as I roll my eyes.

Needless to say, a lot of people have commented on Arrington’s stance. AOL, pressed by AllthingsD’s Kara Swisher, finally admitted that in effect, AOL “editorial personnel cannot make investments, except Arrington!.

Amazing isn’t the word for this. So, in short, in AOL it’s OK to be unethical if you’re a big enough fish. If I were working for AOL–which seems determined to get as many writers as it can to write for nothing–I’d ignore AOL guidelines and start whoring my work to the highest bidder. Why should Arrington and his boss Arianna Huffington make all the money by ripping off freelancers and breaking the rules?

Me? I’ll never work for TechCrunch and AOL. I take some pride in my work ethics.

Arrington has gotten into a huff about all this unwelcome attention to his wanting to have it both ways. He wants to cover technology businesses as a journalist while at the same time investing in technology businesses. Arrington whines that the last of the old guard of journalism must be put down.

Please.

Listen, I’m not a big name. I’m long time technology journalism working-stiff. Like Arrington, I don’t believe in a second that there’s such a thing as objectivity in journalism—that’s a whole another argument. I do believe though you owe it to your readers to be as fair as you can to the subjects while keeping in mind your readers’ interests.

Therefore, I believe no one in technology journalism should any investments in the technology business. Period. End of statement. All the journalists I know and respect pretty much agree with me. It’s not even a question.

Sure, I know a lot of people in the technology business. But, a baseball umpire knows a lot of baseball players. I see my job as a journalist to call the game as I see it. Most of the time I think I get it right. Sometimes I get it wrong. But, I never “bet” on baseball.

Being ‘transparent’ about betting on the game, doesn’t change the fact that you can’t possibly be fair if you’re invested in one side winning or the other side losing. The sooner people understand that Arrington is no more a real journalist than Barry Bonds was a real baseball hero the better.