To scale, must TechCrunch become old media?

TechCrunch has broken the mold on media, or has it?

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
3 min read

I really liked Elias Bizannes' analysis of the rise of Michael Arrington's TechCrunch, not the least reason being that I, too, have wondered why I like TechCrunch so much. Or, rather, how to replicate what I like most in TechCrunch. (Also, as a lawyer, I suppose I like the idea that even lawyers can become rich and famous. :-)

While Bizannes takes his reader through Arrington's self-promotion and opportunistic focus on a somewhat fatuous Web 2.0 industry, two things he calls out strike me as the reason that I read TechCrunch.

Quality of content and frequency of content.

I know from blogging that content has a short shelf life. If you can squeeze more than a day's value from posts, you're defying gravity. Because content's value is so fleeting, however, it means you have to relentlessly publish more often, as Arrington does.

But what about the quality of the content? TechCrunch has this, in my opinion, for two reasons, one of which Bizannes identifies:

Don't underestimate the difference quality content has. Arrington has an analytical mind and is a clear communicator - he is a lawyer after all [Note to Bizannes: "clear communicator" isn't necessarily a lawyerly trait :-) ]. Intelligence and an ability to communicate will beat even the most experienced journalist. I've been told that Arrington doesn't understand tech, or at least makes a convincing image of not getting it, which probably explains the why he writes in plain English....

I'll go one step further. It's not just the writing, but rather the sense (and often the actuality) that TechCrunch posts news that no other outlet yet has. Why? Because Arrington has become an industry participant, someone that hears things that others don't, because they're not sitting in the same conference rooms/coffee shops/etc. that Arrington is. This is why I continue to believe an involved media analyst is better than a stock journalist: so long as one's bias is called out, it makes for richer reporting.

This, however, is both Arrington's blessing and curse: TechCrunch is all about him. It's tough to see TechCrunch thriving without him, because it's so dependent on his "deal flow," as it were. Sure, he could hire others with street cred, but it's hard to see the politics of a TechCrunch "bonfire of the vanities" working out. One Michael Arrington at TechCrunch is great. Two? Could they endure each other?

I don't say this as any sort of slight to Arrington, whom I don't even know. Rather, I just say it from experience of working with big personalities. It's hard to fit more than one in a confined space. This is as true in media as it is in software: it's hard to scale beyond Bill Gates, one reason there are very few Microsofts.

Even so, could this be a new model for media? A solar system made up of one (or two?) big "stars," with lesser lights surrounding him or her? Maybe, but the more lesser lights one adds in order to scale, the more the new model looks like the old model. I think TechCrunch is great, but for it to become big I suspect it will have to become less great.