The tech media world--which has never lacked for employment-related melodrama--outdid itself over this past week, with intrigue stretching from Silicon Valley to Silicon Alley--including, yes, Yahoo!'s headquarters in Sunnyvale. And since the excitement revolved around the digital-media scene, it all unfolded in emails, blog posts and webcasts, brought into full public view.
At Yahoo! competitor AOL, the soap-opera style plot line has become a virtual telenovela. AOL executives are currently engaged in "complex severance negotiations with TechCrunch founder and editor Michael Arrington," according to All Things Digital's Kara Swisher.
Earlier this week, Arrington--addressing the controversy surrounding the launch of a TechCrunch-branded, AOL-backed venture capitalist fund--drew a line in the sand. Arrington demanded that his new AOL overlords either give TechCrunch the editorial independence they purportedly promised him when the company acquired the popular tech and startup blog for $30 million in 2010--i.e. without Arianna Huffington's oversight--or else sell the property back to him. Some, including Swisher's sources, say that the negotiations could eventually end up in court.
Representatives for AOL and the Huffington Post did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Meanwhile, TechCrunch columnist Paul Carr--who says he has been inundated with emails from journalists--quoted a senior TechCrunch staffer as saying, "No one knows anything. It's bizarre. Surreal."
Carr himself says he will resign unless Arrington is allowed to choose his successor.
"TechCrunch lives or dies on its editorial independence," Carr wrote. "Right now, that means TechCrunch--in the person of its founding editor--must be allowed to pick its next editor-in-chief. Arianna Huffington has made clear that she wants Mike gone and TechCrunch to be assimilated into Huffington Post, under her direct control.
"That means whoever she might pick as 'editor' will be little more than an avatar for her; a cardboard cut-out installed to do her bidding," Carr continued. "That's so ridiculously unacceptable a situation that the idea makes me feel physically sick. It will be the death of TechCrunch and everything we've all worked for these past years."
The Atlantic Wire has compiled a list of possible scenarios for the soap opera's finale--including a high-profile spin-off. (Sadly, the domain name CrunchBunch.com is already taken.)
"Most likely to a new media property which most likely will be started by some number of ex-TechCrunch employees," Fred Wilson, noted venture capitalist, wrote in a blog post. "That's how it goes in media these days. Big companies don't control media assets as strongly as they used to."