A Predator in Our Garden

After being stalked by a felon with a gun, and then being spat on by an angry reader, Michael Arrington announced this morning that he was taking a break from TechCrunch, only to have John Cook post a reaction just before lunch concluding that this kind of abuse “comes with the territory.” Journalists, he observes, die all the time — 41 in 2008 alone.

Yes, many journalists risk life and limb speaking truth to power, or bearing witness to wars and poverty; those people are saints of an entirely different order than we are likely to encounter in the startup world.

But few have offered, as Michael has, their living rooms to entrepreneurs needing to save money while traveling, or published their email address so anyone with a good idea can approach them about it. Newsrooms are fortresses for a reason — and newspapers, however much I may love them, reflect that difference.

Beyond the risks Michael faces personally, the great experiment in openness and community that TechCrunch began a few years ago is what’s at stake now, and John seems not to have noticed that.

Would a journalist or blogger organize an ad hoc Collins’ meetup via Twitter, as John has, without the sense of community that TechCrunch has helped to create? Can TechCrunch continue to operate the way it has, as a member of the startup community — and not just a judge — when it has been attacked in this way?

Communities can be strong or they can, at moments like this, fall apart. Now is a time to be strong. What happened to Mike is not par for the course, it does not come with the territory, it is not business as usual, it is not something that Mike somehow, through his popularity, brought on himself.

It is a predator in our garden — this small, happy place where we can finally, really talk to one another –  and it can ruin everything we’ve built — the trust, the openness, the joy in ideas — over the past few years. The only reaction one can have to someone’s being spit on and stalked is to deplore it in strong, unambiguous language.

Whatever John’s post may have said on the topic it fell far short of that.


  • pj

    Completely agree on this post. I’m going to offend someone here, but I’m going to say it: I live in the bay area for a long time before moving to Seattle. I have to say that a lot of things in Seattle are simply second-class comparing to the bay area. And TechFlash and John Cook’s reporting is an example — comparing to TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and GigaOM, TechFlash and John Cook’s previous blog were simply not at the same level. He basically wrote whatever company PR people told him with very little critical thinking. Lately, he has started writing more opinion pieces, and those opinions are just terrible.

    He is definitely not in the same league as Michael A. or Matt Marshall of Venture Beat.

    I don’t understand why entrepreneurs and VC keep singing the praises about John Cook. Sometime I just feel the standard in this town is just not as high as the bay area …

  • http://blog.redfin.com/blog/author/glenn%20kelman Glenn Kelman

    Thanks PJ, but I don’t agree that John isn’t in the same league as these other writers. The depth of his reporting and his ability to dig scoops impresses me. If he were spit on or stalked I would be just as upset as I was when I heard about Michael’s situation.

  • Justen

    No one deserves to be spit on, or stalked. But I think there’s a bit of “you reap what you sow” in this case. Arrington and TechCrunch have done a shitload for startups and entrepreneurs, and the tech industry as a whole, but he’s chosen a very particular persona to do that through. Maybe that’s just who he is, and we should cut him some slack. But he applies a fairly ruthless brand of sarcasm – at times elitist, condescending and arrogant – and I think that’s why a fair number of people have turned on him.

    Something tells me, Glenn – and this is going to sound like shameless ass-kissing – that if you were in his shoes, he’d have a completely different reputation and he wouldn’t be wearing someone’s saliva. I mean, hell, you took on one of the most vicious industries around, and made friendly with most of them.

    It’s all about approach. I appreciate what Arrington’s done, adore his writing, laugh hysterically on occasion at his wit and guile, but I was often uneasy at how he treated people publicly. So I wasn’t too surprised to see something like this.

    He can do what he does differently. There are lots of lessons in this, for all of us, but also a few for him.

  • http://blog.redfin.com Glenn Kelman

    Justen, thank you for the very thoughtful comment and kind words but I am not a critic, as Michael is. I am not as confident of my opinions nor do I write so well. And while I think there is a place for circumspect reporting of the facts — TechCrunch does this too — there must also be a place in our baloney-filled world for someone to stand athwart the baloney avalanche and cry, with real emotion and even indignation, “NO!”
    That’s exactly what I like about Michael; that he is knowing, opinionated, still capable of fresh outrage (do you know how hard it is to be idealistic and cranky at the same time?), that he is fighting a lonely, almost ceaseless battle against the BS and seeping mediocrity that all the rest of just sort of surrender to. As we’re buried in spin on our phones, in our RSS feeds, above our urinals — in every possible channel, everywhere — it isn’t hard to understand why the critic sometimes feel that he has to go ape once in a while to be heard above the noise.
    Of course any critic can easily be called arrogant; it would be more fair to cite examples but it’s probably true too that the act of criticism is unavoidably arrogant, and this is why critics have always had a precarious place in America’s optimistic culture. But whether we’re talking about Herbert Muschamp, Hugh Kenner, Simon Cowell or Michael Arrington, America needs the critic. Without him, as Dostoevsky once said in a different context, everything would be permitted.

  • Justen

    I love that you followed “nor do I write so well” with “stand athwart the baloney avalance…”

    It’s possible for criticism to be respectful. You’ve been intensely critical of the real estate industry, but you’ve done it respectfully and it’s earned you and your company a good deal of credit. Arrington’s criticism too often slips into what feels, at least to me, like spiteful, vindictive insult. You’re probably right that it would be more fair to site examples, but who has the time. :)

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