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.

For some, Mr. Schonfeld comes across as the consummate company man. “When Mike sold TechCrunch to AOL, a lot of the writers were very unhappy,” said one former staffer. AOL was about as far from the scrappy, irreverent brand TechCrunch had built as possible, and what had been an intimate business was now going to become part of a notoriously corporate behemoth. “Erick was the opposite of most people. He seemed to relish going to those AOL management meetings.”

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No one Betabeat spoke to for this article doubted Mr. Schonfeld’s talent’s as a journalist. But several of the site’s writers, past and present, worried that Mr. Schonfeld didn’t have the edge necessary to cultivate a new class of TechCrunch writers who would maintain the site’s trademark swagger. “Mike can make you feel like a million bucks, and he can also tear you apart with a few words,” said a former staffer. “Erick was good at patching things up after Mike lashed out.”

Up until now, Mr. Schonfeld’s calm persona had been an asset at TechCrunch. It was a classic good cop, bad cop partnership, with Mr. Arrington lighting the fires and Mr. Schonfeld, along with CEO Heather Harde, making sure the trains ran on time.

But Mr. Arrington’s wrath was also the site’s most powerful tool. He used it to motivate his writers and to inculcate their work with a combative tone that became the site’s trademark.

Mr. Schonfeld threw a few punches of his own last week, slamming rival publication VentureBeat for writing a hackneyed attack on TechCrunch. VentureBeat quickly retracted their story and then apologized. Asked if he felt the need to get more aggressive, to put his own stamp on TechCrunch and to reclaim it from Mr. Arrington, Mr. Schonfeld demurred. “It’s not like I’m new here,” he said. “There will be more continuity than difference and I don’t see a need to sever the connection to Mike. I am not going to change the editorial approach, which was to be smarter and to be first.”

But Mr. Schonfeld did acknowledge that he needed, in some very big ways, to fill the void left by TechCrunch’s departed founder. “I have a lower profile than Mike, it’s a different style.I try not to draw attention to myself, because I prefer to let my stories speak for themselves. But yes, I realize I am the face of the company now. I don’t have to do things the way he did, but yes, I have to come out and be more, be in public.”

Nonetheless, he added firmly, “I’m going to do it my way.”

Can Erick Schonfeld Keep the TechCrunch Swagger Alive?