When AOL parted ways with tech blogger Michael Arrington, the company was left holding the bag—a bag that had cost it $30 million. Arrington had founded the TechCrunch blog that AOL bought in 2010, and when a conflict of interest arose because of an AOL-backed venture capital fund that Arrington had started, Arrington was suddenly gone from AOL.
We may never know why this played out the way it did, but what’s more interesting is the question of whether TechCrunch matters without its founder and voice.
Smart Web entrepreneurs like Nick Denton made sure that Gawker could survive an unending flow of staff defections, but we will soon see the day when that kind staff swapping doesn’t come without a major price to pay in facelessness. We are entering an era in which more and more personal media brands are going to challenge the power and influence of media organizations of all stripes, and readers are going to want the authenticity that comes with a personal voice.
A Sept. 13 New York Times article says that some bloggers are trying to avoid being too closely identified with their brands in fear that it could drive down their value as acquisition targets. For some that might be true, but it just seems inevitable that more individuals will emphasize that they are, in fact, their media brand, and we’ll see another rise in very focused, and very influential, bloggers.
The media landscape is bound to get even more fractured for PR pros, who are going to have to scramble to keep track of this new generation of bloggers. The audiences will be slivers—but within those slivers will be yet another generation of influential bloggers.