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9/12/2011
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TechCrunch Disrupt: Arrington Out

Michael Arrington will be running the CrunchFund and AOL will participate, but he will no longer be an editor at the startup-oriented news site that he founded.

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Michael Arrington, founder and editor of the popular TechCrunch website, showed up at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco on Monday to officially announce his departure from the tech news brand that he created.

It wasn't certain Arrington would show up at all: Since revealing plans over a week ago to launch a $20 million venture capital fund, backed by parent company AOL, that will invest in companies that may be covered by TechCrunch, Arrington has been the target of withering criticism about conflict of interest from more traditional journalists like Kara Swisher of The Wall Street Journal's AllThingsD website.

Though Arrington in the past made clear that he doesn't hew to the journalistic vow of disinterest to which reporters are supposed to adhere, he didn't have anyone above him at the time to challenge the notion that there's nothing wrong with profiting from companies that one writes about.

But Arrington sold TechCrunch to AOL a year ago and his new corporate parent found itself in the spotlight for failing to adequately clarify Arrington's status following the CrunchFund announcement.

When Arrington emerged on stage, he acknowledged that there had been "a little drama" about TechCrunch and himself. He praised the editorial team that he assembled and said that unfortunately, he would be the first to leave. He said he will be running the CrunchFund and that AOL will remain a partner. TechCrunch's new editor is Erick Schonfeld, who previously served as the site's co-editor.

Arrington wore a t-shirt printed with two words to describe his new editorial role: "Unpaid Blogger."

Unpaid in this instance refers to Arrington's lack of salary from TechCrunch, but presumably that doesn't preclude the possibility of investment profit arising from the companies buoyed by Arrington's future uncompensated posts.

Insisting that he wanted the conference to be about the companies at the conference rather than his situation, Arrington offered only brief elegy to his past life.

"It's a sad day for me," he said. "This is my baby. I built this."

Arrington then headed offstage to fetch his notes and returned with Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and a partner at venture capital firm Greylock Partners.

Yet the blurring of boundaries evident in Arrington's overlapping roles as journalist, investor, and entrepreneur remained relevant to the interview. Arrington brought up Hoffman's upcoming book, The Startup of You, about the relevance of the entrepreneurial paradigm to everyday life. Information, meet marketing.

"The basic idea is that modern life strategy should mirror what entrepreneurs do," said Hoffman.

Arrington had a bit of sport with Hoffman in response, asking whether marriages should be governed by the "slow to hire, fast to fire" rule or whether children should be managed like employees. But the irony is Arrington already seems to live his life as if he were a startup being bootstrapped to success.

This was perhaps most evident at the conclusion of the conversation, after Hoffman had offered reassurance that Airbnb, a social room rental startup in which he is an investor, has recovered from the fallout arising from the victimization of an Airbnb user.

Noting that the value of Airbnb had risen from about $30 million at the time of Hoffman's initial investment to over a billion dollars, according to a TechCrunch colleague, Arrington expressed admiration. "Nicely done," he said. "You've got to make sure you get me in on these deals in the future."

As he left the stage, Hoffman said, "Likewise."

Forget about conflict of interest and think more on the accrual of interest.

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