Can Erick Schonfeld Keep the TechCrunch Swagger Alive?

As the veteran editor steps into the top job, his departing colleague is torching the fields behind him.

Image via Flickr user jdlasica

For the last decade, Erick Schonfeld has been the lone wolf of tech media, working as the East Coast point man for tech publications headquartered in Silicon Valley “He’s the kind of reporter who can handle anything you throw at him, from a trendy Web 2.0 startup to a Fortune 100 titan,” said Josh Quittner, who was Mr. Schonfeld’s old boss at Business 2.0. “For us he played the one man band.”

Sign Up For Our Daily Newsletter

By clicking submit, you agree to our <a rel="nofollow noreferer" href="">terms of service</a> and acknowledge we may use your information to send you emails, product samples, and promotions on this website and other properties. You can opt out anytime.

See all of our newsletters

The thirty-nine-year-old father of three lives in the suburbs near Chappaqua, forty five minutes north of New York City. (He left a tip on Foursquare about his morning commute from the Metro North station: “Get here early and snag a metered parking spot.”)

At public events he tends to wear slightly oversized suits in tan or grey, frameless glasses and a thick head of dark curls. “He’s a very sober person, even keel, not easily upset,” said Mr. Quittner. “When I started we had a number of people working for us on the East Coast, but by the end it was just Erick.”

Two weeks ago, Mr. Schonfeld, never a shrinking violet, took a big step into the spotlight. He had been, for the last four years, the co-editor of TechCrunch, a level headed counterpart to Mike Arrington, the pugilistic provocateur who founded the site as a personal blog. But the last year has been an eventful one for TechCrunch. Mr. Arrington sold the site to AOL a year ago, after which AOL merged with the Huffington Post, setting up an inevitable clash between two of the biggest egos in media: Mr. Arrington and Arianna Huffington. After Mr. Arrington announced he’d formed his own tech fund and would be investing in some of the same companies TechCrunch covered, he was forced out in a dramatic shake-up. That’s when the mild-mannered editor was asked to step in for one of the media’s biggest bomb throwers. He accepted the position, and immediately found his old partners leveling their formidable rhetorical firepower at him.

“The truth is, Erick was Arianna Huffington’s choice, not TechCrunch’s,” wrote Arrington acolyte Paul Carr, in a resignation post that he published on TechCrunch (where else?) as Mr. Schonfeld was boarding a plane. Mr. Arrington followed up a few days later on his new blog, Uncrunched, noting, “Public executions of leaders tend to have a severe chilling effect on whoever takes over, and Arianna Huffington is, without a doubt, the current editor in chief of TechCrunch.”

With his influential ex-partner publicly undermining his authority, many wondered if Mr. Schonfeld could keep the site together. Prominent tech investor Fred Wilson had already written on his blog, “TechCrunch is a big question mark. If AOL can keep the rest of the team together, then TechCrunch has a bright future.” The key, wrote Mr. Wilson, was that Techrunch “Has a voice, a swagger, a ‘fuck you’ attitude that comes from Mike. That can also live on without Mike if AOL allows it. They need to keep the remaining team, the voice, and that attitude if they want to remain at the top of the world of tech media.”

That may be Mr. Schonfeld’s biggest challenge for the moment. The two remaining writers best known for their swagger are Sarah Lacy and MG Siegler.

Ms. Lacy is on a fourth-month maternity leave. And late Monday night, Mr. Arrington announced that MG Siegler would be coming to work for him as a venture capitalist at his new Crunchfund, though he would continue to pen a TechCrunch column on Apple.

A weary Mr. Schonfeld phoned Betabeat, shortly after the news about Mr. Siegler broke. “Obviously, MG was a great asset to us, and I would have loved to keep him on as a writer,” said Mr. Schonfeld. “But I’m glad I found a way to keep his voice on the site.”

Mr. Schonfeld noted that this move into venture capital was long in the works, a notion Mr. Siegler seconded in a blog post. But the timing, so soon after Mr. Arrington’s departure, did not look good. “It doesn’t really matter how it looks, it matters how I perform,” said Mr. Schonfeld. “I’ll stand by that, over the time to come.”

Can Erick Schonfeld Keep the TechCrunch Swagger Alive?