Once again we're reminded that TechCrunch is not journalism, just a rumour and speculation blog unwilling to do the work required to get stories right.

Around 1am July 7 TechCrunch posted What the Hell Happened to the Free Version of Google Apps. The first sentence asserted "The free version of Google Apps is history.". And later, "they just killed the Standard product entirely." The sourcing was Arrington's own observation that the link to the free option was gone from the web page. And the post said "We're emailing Google for comment." (Note the present tense; did he email just when the post was published, in the middle of the night?)

The story turns out not to be true. An update appeared on TechCrunch several hours later from Google explaining "In experimenting with a number of different landing page layouts, the link to Standard Edition was inadvertently dropped from one of the variations". And there the link is, back again on the front page. In other words, TechCrunch rushed to publish a story before bothering to check any facts. Not doing any investigation, not giving the subject a chance for comment. Just speculating on the basis of one observation. It's nice for TechCrunch to at least update the story with some actual facts after publication (including a snarky retraction) but the damage has already been done.

For a second and much uglier example of TechCrunch's journalistic practice, there's the story of whether last.fm colluded with the RIAA to expose its users to prosecution. TechCrunch said they did, last.fm strongly denied it, then TechCrunch came back with a followup three months later. This second post from TechCrunch isn't bad, it has actual sourcing (albeit anonymous) and a bunch of detail. Only last.fm and CBS both denied it again. And TechCrunch is so compromised there's no way to know what to believe. The story is completely tainted. (The Guardian did a great opinion piece about this debacle.)

Why do I care? Because I care about journalism and I care about truth. And because TechCrunch is influential and is taking over the role that tech journalists used to fill. And the process they follow doesn't safeguard the truth. The Google Apps and Google PC false stories just cause confusion. The last.fm story did real harm to their business. Journalistic practice comes out of decades of experience in acting ethically and working to get the story right. It kills me to see an important blog throw all that out.

Update: Arrington responded to my criticism in Techcrunch comments. He's now asserting "It was a removal of the links to see how conversions to paid went." He also told me to "Go kick a cat or something. You'll feel better afterwards." Guess he's having a bad day.
  2009-07-07 18:04 Z