Social media carries great promise, but we repeatedly see reminders of why it is that corporate America and mainstream consumers are so reluctant to engage fully in the opportunity. Sometimes it seems like a wound that simply will not heal when new media sullies itself by acting in juvenile, petty, and utterly disagreeable ways.
Erick Schonfeld of TechCrunch exposed that scab last night when he wrote about the changing of the guard at the popular DEMO technology conference. Chris Shipley, the host of the event for the past 13 years, will yield way to Matt Marshall of Venture Beat over the course of the next year. Initially they will work together jointly, with Marshall going solo after that.
TechCrunch headlines the piece “DEMO Gets Desperate: Shipley Out, Marshall In.” Schonfeld says that Marshall inherits a “dying brand” and faces an “uphill battle.” One might presume that some explanation would be offered for this — perhaps news of cash flow problems with DEMO or at least dramatically declining revenue.
Yet that isn’t the case. Rather, TechCrunch has its own competitor to DEMO, the TechCrunch 50. When it was launched, one of the key points that founders Mike Arrington and Jason Calacanis stressed was that it would not be “pay to play” as they allege DEMO is because presenters at the latter typically pay about $20,000 to participate.
Nowhere in the Schonfeld piece does it note that TC50 also charges presenters, just not their main stage one. Commenters pointed out that many are charged $3,000 to participate in offstage demonstrations at TC50.
Now, this isn’t a piece about journalistic ethics or even a debate over whether TechCrunch and similar entities (like Media Bullseye) even qualify as journalism. Nor is it about which conference is better or more ethical or a better venture or anything like that. Those are debates for another time and place.
The point is that the tone and tenor of the Schonfeld piece alienates the mainstream. Certainly it appeals to TechCrunch acolytes (and there are many of them), but it does nothing to broaden the appeal of TechCrunch or other blogs. Indeed, it is the sort of thing that many communicators must regularly attempt to explain to potential participants in social media. Many, of course, will argue that it is not TechCrunch’s obligation to help broaden their appeal. After all, they seem to be profitable with their existing audience and high-tech entrepreneurs (myself included) cannot fairly be described as part of mainstream media consumers.
I take no issue with TechCrunch and others having a unique, even aggressive, viewpoint. I do, however, wish that there would be greater consideration given to disagreeing without being disagreeable. Must Schonfeld write “It is fine by us if DEMO sticks to its model of extorting startups.”? Probably not. Need they include a photo of Chris Shipley where they X her out? Probably not. Did Schonfeld need to delete a link in the comments from former TechCrunch writer Marshall Kirkpatrick pointing to a piece on his generally respected ReadWriteWeb blog? Probably not. Was the snarky allegation Schonfeld made against Kirkpatrick really necessary? (“Trying to trick the search engines, Techmeme, etc. into thinking that I linked to your post is sneaky.”) Probably not.
A healthy debate is valuable. Even the occasional sharp elbow may be welcome. But disagreement need not become incivility.
Perhaps an anonymous commenter calling himself simply “Al” summed it up best, not just for this post, but for social media generally: “Class and humility? Are you new here?”