TechCrunch UK, just a few months old, has been tremendously successful in creating a community for local UK & Ireland Entrepreneurs. However, today I put the blog on hold and terminated our relationship with editor Sam Sethi.
This all stems from Sam’s commentary on the recent Le Web conference in Paris. This has nothing to do with censorship. TechCrunch is listed as a sponsor/partner to the conference, but we have no financial arrangement with them. Loic even cancelled my own trip to Paris to keynote the conference at the last minute (largely because I waited until the last minute to book a flight and the cost to get me there became ridiculous). This was a Six Apart event, not a TechCrunch event.
Sam wrote his initial views of the conference in this post. It’s not what I would have written, but I have no editorial problem with that initial post. It was entirely Sam’s call as the editor of the blog.
Conference organizer Loic Le Meur, however, took offense at the post and left a regrettable comment, calling Sam an “asshole”. I haven’t spoken to Loic directly about why he left the comment, but it is likely he felt betrayed by a partner, and lashed out after being hit all day yesterday with criticism about the conference.
I emailed Loic and told him that while I have no issue with the original post that Sam wrote, I’d understand if he wanted us to delete his comment. He said he would like it removed, and he also apologized publicly on the blog post. I asked (didn’t order) Sam to remove the comment.
If Sam had decided in his editorial discretion not to remove Loic’s comment, that would have been fine. But he didn’t do that. He left the comment in, and then wrote a new post (which I have removed) highlighting the “asshole” comment to embarrass Loic, unneccesarily in my opinion. The fact that Sam did this, ignoring my request not to, and ignoring Loic’s apology, was unacceptable. He saw an opportunity for attention and took it, even at the cost of hurting someone else. I see this all the time – get a well known blogger to lose their cool and then leverage that event for further attention. Sure, Loic lost his cool. But he promptly apologized. He did not deserve to be trashed in a new post.
Even though I think at that point Sam had reached the limits of acceptable editorial discretion, it still would not have necessarily resulted in him having to leave TechCrunch. The actions that finally resulted in his dismissal were additional comments he wrote on that second post, announcing “that TechCrunch UK will be doing a series of seminars and a conference next year as well as a series of smaller meetings in conjunction with friends & partners which have been in the planning for sometime now.”
These events were not discussed with me, and certainly were not specifically approved. The fact that he promoted them while trashing a competing event was a clear conflict of interest and was not appropriate. I do not consider this to be ethical behavior.
None of this had to be aired publicly, but Sam chose to write a final post on the blog after he was terminated stating incorrectly that he was being terminated because of the original post. He has also written elsewhere publicly that he was terminated because he would not comply with my demand to delete a post. That is not accurate either. This is driven entirely from Sam’s ethical lapse in trashing a competitor while simultaneously promoting his own events. That’s not acceptable – readers will not be able to determine if he actually believed what he wrote about the conference, or rather exaggerated his opinions to futher his own business interests.
Basic ethical behavior is not subjective. We will not associate with individuals who choose to cross the line.
The blog is on hold until we determine if/when we will hire another editor and continue writing.
Update: I’ll also say this. Sam and I exchanged words this morning and I said he basically fired himself with that second to last post promoting his events. But nothing had been publicized and we certainly could have discussed a work around, public apology, retraction, etc. But the next thing I knew he’d posted on the blog about his dismissal. Until that happened, everything was reversible. After he took that step, the situation was no longer able to be resolved.