You’ve probably heard by now that Mike Arrington has sold TechCrunch to AOL. Congratulations to him and to AOL, which has bought itself some talented people, some good traffic and no doubt some headaches down the road.
This paragraph in Arrington’s explanatory post jumped out at me:
The truth is I was tired. But I wasn’t tired of writing, or speaking at events. I was tired of our endless tech problems, our inability to find enough talented engineers who wanted to work, ultimately, on blog and CrunchBase software. And when we did find those engineers, as we so often did, how to keep them happy. Unlike most startups in Silicon Valley, the center of attention at TechCrunch is squarely on the writers. It’s certainly not an engineering driven company.
This description jumped out at me because it was so familiar — and also because it surprised me. I guess I hoped and trusted that the “endless tech problems” that were at the heart of my experience at Web 1.0-era Salon.com (they led me to write a book) were a thing of the past. What Arrington is saying is that the stuff that was hard 10-15 years ago is still hard today. I guess I should have expected that.
At Salon, we had some highly gifted people working for us at different times on the technology side, we built a robust CMS that’s still operating (and that spawned its own open source version), we built our very own pay wall in about a month in 2001, and we pioneered all sorts of useful things in our day. But it was exhausting for an organization that was driven by its editors and writers to also have to figure out how Web publishing worked, technologically and economically; to build systems that would scale well and bend to our needs; and to work out how sales and marketing could make sense in the new medium.
By the second half of the decade I spent at Salon I know I spent far more of my hours dealing with those issues than writing or editing copy. I remember thinking enviously of the position our sometime rivals at Slate occupied; they’d always had the benefit of being tied to a larger enterprise — first Microsoft, then the Washington Post. No doubt that had its own frustrations. But it meant they could concentrate on the fun stuff without having to invent and manage the entire business and technology operation simultaneously.
This is why I always stop and think when I hear friends and colleagues repeat the truism that “the journalism is the hardest part.” We said that a lot at Salon, and I still hear it today, but I no longer think it’s true. Good journalism is always work, sure — but it’s known work. We know what it takes to do it right.
The challenges of independent publishing online, on the other hand, are the real “hard part” of this industry. I bet any entrepreneurial publisher you ask will agree — go talk to Rafat Ali or Om Malik or Pete Rojas or anyone else who has tried to build their own Web-based publishing enterprise over the past decade.
The thing is, if you’re the sort of entrepreneur that I’m guessing Arrington is, the hard stuff may be exhausting, but it’s also what gets you up in the morning. That’s one reason startup founders so often spin their wheels after they’re acquired; designing and building your own little speedboat is just a lot more absorbing than managing how to integrate your personal craft with a battleship-scale corporation. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out for the TechCrunch crew.
- September 28, 2010 @ 22:31:05 [Current Revision] by Scott Rosenberg
- September 28, 2010 @ 20:57:33 by Scott Rosenberg