Mike did what any publisher would do

by Mathew on December 13, 2006 · 23 comments

Mike Arrington takes a fair bit of heat for the stuff he does at TechCrunch — even I have taken a shot at him when I think he has overstepped his bounds, like I did when he made those comments about Dave Winer and Rafat Ali the other day (see post below) — but for the record I think he is getting a lot of unnecessary crap about the dismissal of Sam Sethi from TechCrunch UK.

Much has been made of the fact that Mike doesn’t consider himself a journalist, and how TechCrunch isn’t journalism but something else that combines — or even embraces — conflicts of interest among those its covers, etc. etc. But for what it’s worth, I don’t think Mike has done anything different with respect to Sam Sethi than any editor of a magazine would do under the same circumstances, unless there are significant details that haven’t come to light (there’s a good roundup here).

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As far as I can tell, Sam got called an asshole by Loic Le Meur for the review he gave Le Web, then Mike and Sam differed about whether to remove that comment (because Loic felt badly about it), at which point Sam not only left the comment up but wrote a post (archived here) in which he said TechCrunch was going to start having its own conferences in the UK and Le Web was history.

I would agree with Mike that the latter move crossed an important ethical boundary. If you’re the editor of a magazine — which is what I think TechCrunch and Gigaom and PaidContent and other similar networks might as well be — you can’t trash a conference and promote your own in the same breath. That’s just not on. And I think Mike was right to make it an issue. In other words, I think Tom Morris is wrong to call it an example of Old Boys Club 2.0.

It’s too bad Sam and Mike couldn’t work it out, but I give Mike some props for putting it all out there on his blog and taking the inevitable fire from the armchair quarterbacks who see it as an arrogant American throwing his weight around in the UK or whatever. I think he did what had to be done.

Update:

Sam Sethi has pointed out that he and Mike were 50-50 partners on TechCrunch UK (which I don’t think was widely known), and that as far as he is concerned it was the decision not to remove Loic’s offensive comment that soured the relationship between the two. Mike’s post, however, makes it clear that it was the decision to promote TechCrunch UK’s events at the same time as he was trashing Le Web.

Mike Butcher, co-editor of TechCrunch UK, has posted a long open letter to Mike about the incident, and Duncan Riley has posted hilarious PDF of the entire debacle. To complicate matters further, there’s a comment on the TechCrunch UK post about Sam’s dismissal from “TCAdmin” (which is the name Mike Arrington had been using) saying: “I was being such a stupid arsehole I am so sorry. TCUK will be back shortly.” Someone spoofing the name, or has Mike reconsidered?

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  • http://www.blogkits.com Jim Kukral

    Indeed, well said Matt.

  • Observer of Human Nature

    Tom Morris called it Old Boys Club 2.0, not Dave Winer.

  • Mathew Ingram

    Oops. Right you are, um… Observer. My bad.

    And thanks, Jim.

  • Ian Fenn

    For me, the issue is really whether immediate dismissal was an appropriate course of action. This may be commonplace in the USA (I don’t know), but here in the UK there are quite specific disciplinary procedures that need to be followed – and the immediacy of this dismissal suggests that they weren’t.

  • http://www.blogkits.com Jim Kukral

    Ian, I don’t know, it’s Mike’s company right? His call, right?

    Are you saying in the UK you can’t just let someone go even if you “just feel like it”? And in Michael’s case, that doesnt sound like what he did.

    I’m a publisher as well of a much smaller online journal (ReveNews). If my writers were paid employees, which they aren’t so this is all conjecture, I think I would have done the same thing.

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  • Mathew Ingram

    Thanks for that perspective, Ian. It may well be that Sam has some recourse under British employment rules (although that doesn’t mean he has to exercise it). I still think he did the right thing.

  • Sam Sethi

    Thanks for the post. Some clarity here. Mike did not fire me as is wildly reported. I owned 50% of TCUK. So as a partner its pretty hard to fire your partner if I did not want to go. I made a call about an event that TechCrunch France was a co-sponsor of.

    I had a choice to remove/censor the comment from Loic and then take the backlash myself or leave it out there. I chose the latter and forced Mike’s hand. We agreed to dissolve our partnership. But don’t the the fact get in the way of a good story.

  • http://mediavidea.blogspot.com Pramit

    It is sad when you support Arrington’s actions. Just because we are now writing on magnetic discs does not apply we can delete posts and comments with impunity.

    MediaVidea has a pots titled ‘Ethics 101 for blog network owners’
    http://mediavidea.blogspot.com/2006/12/ethics-101-for-blog-network-owners.html

  • Mathew Ingram

    Thanks for the comment, Sam. The way you describe it, keeping the comment by Loic was what soured things between you and Mike — but he says it wasn’t that at all, but the decision to promote your conferences and other events at the same time as you were trashing Le Web. Care to comment on that? That’s the part I have problems with, not the decision to embarrass Loic by keeping his comment up — I’m all for that.

  • http://blog.snipperoo.com Ivan Pope

    The issue here is not whether Sam could or could not or was or was not fired. The issue is that the UK community has invested some time and effort in Sam and Techcrunch UK and suddenly it is whipped away for no good reason. This is blogging, a conversation, not The Times. We’re supposed to be inventing a new way of doing things. Like speaking truth to power. Yet, when push comes to shove, a powerful player in one country can call the shots over the community in another country.

  • Mathew Ingram

    Fair enough, Ivan. But I would argue that, blogging or not, it is simply unprofessional for someone who was involved in a conference in some way to trash that conference and at the same time promote their own competing events. That hardly qualifies as “speaking truth to power.” If Mike had dissolved his relationship with Sam just because he refused to remove Loic’s comment, or because he gave Le Web a bad review, then I would be one of the first to criticize him for it.

  • Ian Fenn

    Now a little more clued in on the specifics, I think Ivan’s point is valid. This debacle is a real shame – particularly for UK Techcrunch editor Mike Butcher, who has also been caught up in this and barred from posting to UK Techcrunch. Now, he probably would have a case… For what it’s worth, I didn’t interpret Sam’s posts as trashing a conference to promote competing events. He’d mentioned the proposed events in previous posts too. It was a kind of ‘I’m putting my money where my mouth is’ post – certainly nothing I didn’t expect from a blog. On the other hand, allowing a partner or sponsor or whatever to dictate the removal of comments they haven’t authored, when there’s no legal justification, that’s really not cool. Additionally, I would’ve thought that calling Sam an asshole is the least of Loic’s problems right now.

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  • Alain

    Sam, Mike’s post precises that techcrunch was a sponsor. You fired your own house and yourself with it

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  • http://www.greatapps.blogspot.com John Wilson

    Mathew, I can only presume that you weren’t a reader of Techcrunch UK (and evidently neither is Mr A) because these events have been trailed for several weeks on the TCUK blog. They were planned as platforms for Startups to promote themselves to investors like myself (rather than for prospective French Presidential Candidates to pursue their electoral ambitions). In my book, that hardly counts as competing with Le Web and was also a widely praised initiative by most of the UK community.

    As regards profiteering – to my knowledge, the blog posts on TCUK made no reference to these events being “paid for” events or otherwise. Many UK events like Mashup, GeekDinners, LondonGirlGeekDinners, Minibar and NMK run to cover costs, organised by enthusiastic community members. So unless Mr A was simply presuming that scalping the audience would obviously be part of the game, I’m also not sure how an unethical position had been taken.

    Given Mr A’s reported chummy relationship with Le Web event organiser and that of the staff of Techcrunch France, was it TCUK stepping away from the party line that is the real issue prompting the split?

  • Mathew Ingram

    You’re quite right, John — I wasn’t a reader of TechCrunch UK. I’ve got all the TechCrunch I can handle with just the U.S. one. And I realize that Sam had been planning these events in advance — but the post in question still seemed to me to combine criticism of Le Web (which may well have been justified) with promotion of TCUK events, and I think that crosses a line. Others clearly disagree.

    Was Mike’s action partly motivated by the fact that he is friends with Loic and was involved in some sponsorship or helping role with Le Web? Probably. But I still think his decision to part ways with Sam was defensible. Maybe he should have tried a little harder to smooth things over, because it sounds like Sam had built up a good relationship with the tech sphere in the UK.

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