AOL swallows TechCrunch -- but can they keep it down?

The aging 'Net relic snapped up rumor king TechCrunch. Will TC begin censoring itself to serve its new master's interests?

What do you get when you mix a tottering giant from the InterWebs' formative years with the new breed of post-first-ask-questions-later news blogs? We're about to find out, now that AOL has swallowed up TechCrunch.

Yesterday AOL chief Tim Armstrong announced the deal at TechCrunch's own Disrupt Conference, confirming rumors that -- interestingly enough -- originated not on TechCrunch but on GigaOm. The blogosphere has been thrumming with the news ever since.

[ Want to cash in on your IT experiences? InfoWorld is looking for stories of an amazing or amusing IT adventure, lesson learned, or war tale from the trenches. Send your story to If we publish it, we'll keep you anonymous and send you a $50 American Express gift cheque. ]

According to TC founder and spokesmodel Michael Arrington, this won't change how his site operates. If anything, he's afraid TechCrunch might go overboard in criticizing AOL to make it seem more impartial:

Tim [Armstrong] told me was important that we feel free to criticize AOL when we think they deserve it. And the agreement we signed with AOL fully reflects this. In particular, we used the Twitter document scandal as a test. If the same thing happens with AOL in the future, we should feel comfortable posting those documents. And in that unlikely event, we will.

The last thing we want to happen is to end up with same cuddly relationship that the Wall Street Journal has with its sister company MySpace, for example.

In the end, we'll probably have to create internal checks to ensure that we aren't more critical of AOL than we otherwise would be just to prove our editorial independence.

The problem with this argument? The AOL deal already has changed the way TC operates.

TechCrunch has built a reputation for publishing every rumor that crosses its transom, founded or otherwise, which means it has both broken some major stories (like Google buying YouTube) and completely intercoursed the pooch on others (like Google buying Digg).

As Arrington himself notes in that quote above, TechCrunch even published documents obtained from Twitter by a hacker. I can't think of any mainstream sites that would do something like that, because hacks like that are illegal, and publishing the material could be considered promoting illegal activity. (Being a lawyer, Arrington should know that, so one has to assume he just didn't care.)

It would seem TechCrunch doesn't consider itself bound by normal journalistic rules -- like staying within the law, naming its sources, confirming that anonymous sources don't have a vested interest in the deals they are leaking, and admitting when they get a story wrong.

So here's my question: Why didn't TechCrunch break the story about the AOL acquisition? They clearly had it first. The reason is obvious: Because publishing that rumor would very likely have soured the deal. This means the site is already censoring itself to serve its own -- and its new master AOL's -- interests.

I'm betting it won't be the last time. (The wags at eSarcasm have a few other ideas about what might change at the new AolCrunch/Techmerica Online.)

AOL appears to have taken a largely hands-off approach with two other popular blogs it acquired in the past, uber-Hollywood gossip site, and Engadget. And it claims it will do the same for TechCrunch.

But TechCrunch is a different beast. It has Arrington, who has no trouble making bombastic statements and accusing people of malfeasance and illegal activity without displaying any visible proof. (As he did recently, accusing a group of "super angel" investors with collusion and price fixing.) I cannot imagine that kind of thing will fly very well at the more buttoned-down AOL, whose deeper pockets make it a much more attractive target for libel suits.

I'm predicting a major blow up within six months, and that Arrington and AOL will part ways long before his three- or five-year contract is up. How do I know this? Let's just say I've got some confidential sources with knowledge of the deal.

What do you think of the AOL-TechCrunch deal? E-mail me:

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags business issuestechcrunchAOL

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Robert X. Cringely

Show Comments

Cool Tech

Crucial Ballistix Elite 32GB Kit (4 x 8GB) DDR4-3000 UDIMM

Learn more >

Gadgets & Things

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Plox Star Wars Death Star Levitating Bluetooth Speaker

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles


GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy


First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni


For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell


The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi


The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott


My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?