An open letter to Mike Arrington

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PLEASE NOTE: Before you read the below post, here is the context: It was written after a very difficult few days following the collapse of the TechCrunch UK franchise in December 2006 due to the falling out of franchisee Sam Sethi, who I was working with, and TechCrunch owner Mike Arrington. It was also a time when my wife was ill in hospital. The wider context is this: I started my own blog about Web 2.0 and startups in 2006 (tbites.com), but later joined TechCrunch UK with Sam Sethi. Despite promising that there was advertising money to be had in this franchise I was never paid a cent by him for several months. Just as this was making future prospects difficult he fell out with Arrington over his blogging of the Le Web conference. Annoyed with Arrington’s lack of backing of a UK colleague I then worked on a new TechCrunch competitor, Vecosys.com, with Sethi for 4 months while my wife was ill, hoping, all the while, that Sethi and I would secure financing for the idea. We didn’t. Unable to continue working with Sethi on such a precarious basis I parted ways with him to stay at home and help my wife and two children. Sethi went off and launched Blognation.com in mid-2007, a global technology startup blog for 25+ other bloggers. In December of that year he was later accused by two of his main US bloggers of not paying wages, contracts or expenses despite re-assurances that he would and that BlogNation was ‘days’ from securing funding. Sethi denied all of these accusations. Meanwhile, I was not involved in all that. I earnt almost nothing during this time. My wife recovered fully. By August 2007 my annoyance with Mike Arrington had dissipated and we had conversed about re-starting TechCrunch UK as a proper arm of TechCrunch, not a franchise. I duly re-launched it, and at the time of writing I am happy to say that it is going very well.

This is an open letter to Mike Arrington, founder of TechCrunch, from me in my capacity as the former co-editor of TechCrunch UK & Ireland. It is written in light of the events surrounding Le Web 3 and the firing of my co-editor Sam Sethi.

(If you support this view, please Digg it, thanks)

Mike

Please take this as – for what it’s worth – my formal resignation from TechCrunch UK & Ireland. Since I was locked out of the blog with no warning on Wednesday anyway, this is really just a formality. (I am somewhat reminded of times in the past when proprietors have locked the gates to journalists whose copy they did not approve of, but perhaps that is a too grandiose an analogy).

I am sorry it has come to this, but I think my position is untenable given what’s happened.

To be clear, I think your decision to “fire” Sam was wrong, and I plan to say so on my blog with this letter. I feel that this is a case of censorship and by suggesting we remove Loïc Le Meur’s “asshole” comment from a TechCrunch UK post about Le Web you took away from him the opportunity – once his inflammatory comment was out there and immediately captured around the web – to backtrack and apologise and join the conversation about how he was going to improve Le Web 3 next year. If he had done so, the whole incident would have been dismissed and probably forgotten as a rash comment after a badly received conference. We’re all grown-ups after-all.

You asked my colleague and co-editor Sam Sethi to remove the comment in what appeared to be a personal favour to Le Meur (given TechCrunch had no contractual or financial involvement in Le Web 3) and any other comments referring to Le Meur’s comment.

By this stage that was going to be hard. A lot of people had now captured Le Meur’s explosive comment and commented on it themselves, not just on TechCrunch UK but on their own blogs.

What were we going to do? Delete the whole web?



Knowing that Le Meur’s comment was now very much “out there”, Sam’s following post was designed to “put his money where his mouth was” and explain his position after being called an asshole. In that context he had to reference Le Meur’s comment otherwise the post wouldn’t have made any sense.

When this post appeared, Le Meur had already had a long time to retract or at least explain, and he would have been alerted about the comments about his comment via email. As one of France’s biggest bloggers, he ought to know the score.

In the “/putting-my-money-where-my-mouth-is” post Sam was also ‘stepping up to the plate’ and saying if the Web community deems a TCUK event as bad then ‘call us out on it’, by all means, just as Le Web 3 had been criticised. As Bomega.com said of this mixing of Le Meur’s comment and the announcement of a TCUK event, “It is less than elegant but I wouldn’t say it is enough to fire someone.”

But that post was removed by you.



And readers denied the opportunity to comment.

However, here is the Google cache of the, now deleted, post.

In this, Sam also encouraged Le Meur to enter the debate about Le Web 3 by posting on his own blog. Sam wrote that if – after being called an asshole – Loic could also step up to the plate and argue why the event was good, and convince the annoyed attendees and the blogger community, he would apologise for his, pretty mild, criticism.

“But equally”, Sam wrote, “if you feel that you may have got it wrong, even slightly, then I guess you have the opportunity to do the same on your own blog and to explain why the agenda was hijacked by French politicians?”

You say in Crunchnotes that in this post Sam ignored Le Meur’s apology to Sam over email. But while the post did have some irony and gentle ribbing of Le Meur, Sam did say: “I have no doubt that Loic and his team worked really hard and I congratulate them for their superb organisation, speaker roster, sponsors and attendee list”. He also said “I fully understand that Loic must have felt totally pissed off with my post but all I said was what many people spoke to me about in the corridors at the event.” This, to me, does not sound like Sam was ignoring Le Meur’s apology to him.

However, it’s also emerged that (and this is something I was going to write up on TCUK&I, but now can’t) that Le Meur fully engineered the “surprise” appearance of Nicolas Sarkozy, French presidential candidate, thus hijacking his own conference for what appears to be political ends. On that revelation alone, Le Meur should be wary of leveling insults at others.

As regards the TechCrunch UK events. I understand you are a busy man, but the ideas about events we have promoted on TCUK for weeks now should not have come as a surprise to you. This was an attempt to build the business here not just as a franchise in the UK but it also would have benefited the TechCrunch US brand, obviously. Sam wasn’t doing it to “futher his own business interests” [sic.] as you say in CrunchNotes. You own the brand. We don’t.

Again, on Crunchnotes you say our event plans “were not specifically approved.” Well, a) this was supposed to be a franchise operation, not two employees with you as line manager and b) there are a lot of things we have done to make TCUK successful and until now you didn’t seem to object to other public announcements about events (or even communicate at all about them, I might add. We thought you trusted us to get on with the job, and we did, but our email inbox from you about anything we were doing is pretty bare).

I also disagree with you in your view that it is unethical to criticise a competitor event, when it has already been trashed far more roundly by others. I would say it is far more unethical to ignore the sentiment of one’s readers – who’s views are plain to see – and whitewash one’s editorial coverage, than massage it into a limp, inaccurate article for the sake of a favour. In this case a favour to a conference organiser.

Sam’s last and final post (again, captured by bloggers) was just an attempt to say he was leaving, given that he had been summarily dismissed by you (can you dismiss a franchisee?) with wafer-thin due process. After such an immediate firing, I think you owed him that last opportunity.

But you removed that post as well.



This made the whole thing even more interesting to people with RSS readers, long memories and blogs. This is Blogging 101, surely?

Now, there are a couple of very interesting themes here, which I won’t level at your door, but would make great articles. The first is the gradual emergence of a kind of ‘cigar-chomping, controlling proprietor’ behaviour amongst some of the most successful blogs. I’m thinking “Citizien Kane 2.0” here. The second is the “Read/Write… and Delete Web” where blogging and user generated content is coming under attack from those who want to control or lock down the conversation. Now that I find myself free, I may well pitch them to a newspaper or magazine. Or just blog them.

Anyway, in closing let me say thanks for letting Sam and I attempt to build TechCrunch UK & Ireland. It’s become clear there was a space for this kind of coverage in the UK. I worked hard to achieve this success, with Sam. I was even still posting at 2am on Tuesday night prior to my wife going into hospital, a fact which has prevented me from responding more fully until now.

You will be interested to know that the traffic to TechCrunch UK & Ireland has gone up about five times over the last few days – though I guess you would consider this to be for the wrong reasons. As someone who has been in the media business for a while, I would say an editor who has increased circulation by that much – without causing world war three or faking the story – is usually worth keeping, not firing. (Here are the Technorati stats).

Lastly, let me just say that I do not wish to make this personal.

I just beg to differ with you, that’s all.

Regards

Mike Butcher

(Former) Co-Editor

TechCrunch UK & Ireland

Skype: mikegbutcher

Blog: http://mbites.com

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