SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA — From the very beginning, TechCrunch was part and parcel with Web 2.0. Founded by Michael Arrington in 2005, the site began as a personal technology blog but rapidly transitioned into a full-scale publication, drawing in millions of page views a month by the end of 2007. Unlike most of his peers, Arrington didn’t come from a journalistic background, instead studying law at Stanford, but he left this career to work in technology startups such as Real Names, Zip.ca, Pool.com and Edgeio. From the beginning, Arrington has proselytized about Web 2.0 interaction as the future of the Internet–and his site’s ever-expanding audience numbers can be seen as proof of his theories.
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TechCrunch offers prolific coverage of the tech startup scene, but it’s worth noting that some of its most notable successes have occurred offline. “The events actually go back all the way to the beginning when [Arrington] would just throw parties in his house, and the YouTube guys would show up and all these startup guys were there before they were known,” says editor Erick Schonfeld. “The parties got bigger and bigger and they kind of got out of hand, and he realized he could get sponsorship for them because the people who were there were people that a lot of sponsors would want to influence, or that people would want to get access to.”
TechCrunch hosts the Disrupt conference annually as well as the Crunchie Awards (alongside GigaOm and VentureBeat), an event celebrating not just internet and technology innovations but also the most compelling startups each year, which are supplemented by various smaller events year-round focused more on individual issues such as real-time streams or smart phones. Not only do they provide the site with an opportunity to directly interact with the industry it covers, they also supply the site with a great deal of breaking news due to how many new businesses, services, and products are announced at these conferences while simultaneously generating revenue.
Conferences have become an important part of the site’s identity, but behind it all is still a well-written website featuring coverage by an experienced team. TechCrunch has shown a particular knack for breaking stories, thanks to its industry ties, and the site aims to compete with the biggest names in journalism. “We break a lot of news in the tech world, and we try to break it before not just other tech blogs, we try to break it before The Wall Street Journal does, before The New York Times, and often we do,” says Schonfeld. “We’re deeply sourced and we understand the space. So not only do we break news but we also have a point of view about that news and what it means.”
Schonfeld bills TechCrunch’s coverage as a combination of blog-like opinion writing and deeper reportorial journalism. TechCrunch has always stressed that its reporters should both break news and have a point of view about what they’re covering. When covering a development in cloud-based computing security, for instance, reporter Sarah Lacy used the story as a frame to discuss business software issues and what effects this particular deal would have within the overall marketplace. The facts of the story may not hold much interest to readers outside of the industry, but TechCrunch’s analytic approach to blogging aims to frame the facts in such a way that they’re compelling to a wider audience.
AOL acquired TechCrunch in September of 2010 (the sale was announced during the site’s very own Disrupt conference, of course), but, according to Schonfeld, not much has changed since the purchase. “They’re very hands off, and I have to give them credit,” said Schonfeld. “Too often a big company will buy a smaller company and try to integrate and take over and it’s easier to mess things up than leave them alone.” The relationship with its new parent has, however, allowed for a great expansion of the site’s reach in both content production and audience. AOL now regularly features TechCrunch’s articles on its homepage, and the site can make use of AOL’s video resources in New York.
As a result of its forward-thinking approach to journalism and illustrating what Web 2.0 sites can potentially be, TechCrunch has proven itself not just a valuable outlet in its own field but also an example for how a media site can stay successful during such a tumultuous period for the industry. “To put it in context with other media publications it’s worthwhile to compare the online reach of TechCrunch with even the Washington Post or Forbes or any major newspaper or magazine’s site. Our total reach is about ten million uniques a month right now across the network (a vast majority of that is at TechCrunch),” said Schonfeld. “[TechCrunch is] probably smaller than the New York Times, obviously, but not that much smaller. And definitely bigger than the technology section of The New York Times.”
City: San Francisco, Calif.Sean Gandert is a contributor to CJR.