在TechCrunch今年早些时候举办的Disrupt大会上，TechCrunch创始人迈克尔•阿灵顿将《赫芬顿邮报》创始人阿瑞安娜•赫芬顿请上台，两人进行了十分钟的交谈。阿灵顿说：“我们俩怎么都成了美国在线（AOL）的人？”他们一起探讨了美国在线收购TechCrunch（据传成交价为2,500万美元）和以3.15亿美元收购《赫芬顿邮报》（The Huffington Post）的事。几分钟后，他想知道跟自己这样脾气暴躁的人打交道，阿瑞安娜会不会感到紧张。“你是我的老板。我得向你汇报工作。我们已经呛过好几次了。你也跟我一样觉得尴尬吗？我不擅长在别人手下干。将来能行得通吗？”
然而，好景不长。上周晚些时候，《财富》杂志（Fortune）详细披露了阿灵顿计划推出自己的风险投资基金，TechCrunch的所有者美国在线将向该基金投入1,000万美元。消息一出，这家苦苦挣扎的互联网公司掀起了一波泄密的高潮：阿灵顿仍将撰文，但不会获得报酬。阿灵顿将彻底“下课”。同时，TechCrunch的写手们也加入了论战，发帖哀叹，称唯一的出路可能是最极端的，那就是这家大受欢迎的博客网站被公然扼杀。阿灵顿发表了态度强硬的最后通牒，要求美国在线恢复其“编辑独立性”，或是将这家网站回售给他。该网站的多产写手MG•席格勒发表了一篇文章，名为《我们熟知的TechCrunch可能要玩完了》（"TechCrunch As We Know It May Be Over"）。
在过去六年，TechCrunch将自己粉饰成新创企业界的“上帝”。新创企业家们从四面八方赶来朝拜TechCrunch，寄希望能沾上一些“灵气”，当然，也希望得到金钱回报。企业家们纷纷在网络上撰文，《向TechCrunch毛遂自荐的两个成功案例》（"Two Cold-Emailed TechCrunch Pitches That Worked."）之类的帖子层出不穷。而新创企业们纷纷支付费用，希望能在TechCrunch举办的自我营销大会TechCrunch Disrupt上，将自己和TechCrunch挂钩。一些颇有名气的公司（这些公司通常来自TechStars或Y Combinator创立的新创企业孵化基金）有实力不买TechCrunch的帐。但如果他们胆敢这么做，就会收到TechCrunch的挑衅邮件，质问他们为何不在第一时间奉上公司最新动态的独家报道权。
一段时间过去了。现在涌现出很多TechCrunch的追随者。《华尔街日报》（The Wall Street Journal）旗下的AllThingsD、VentureBeat、DealBook、《纽约时报》（The New York Times）旗下的Bits、《纽约观察家》（The New York Observer）旗下的Betabeat、GigaOM、Business Insider、当然，《财富》杂志也是其中之一。他们并非完全复制TechCrunch。（毕竟，TechCrunch的唯我主义很难被复制。）不过从新闻业的角度而言，这些网站会迅速填补由于TechCrunch倒闭而留下的空白。
At TechCrunch's Disrupt conference earlier this year, Michael Arrington brought Arianna Huffington on stage and the two played "The Odd Couple" for 10 minutes. "How the hell did we both end up at AOL?" Arrington asked, musing on AOL's purchase of TechCrunch for a reported $25 million and The Huffington Post for $315 million. A few minutes later, he wondered if she was nervous about dealing with someone as irascible as himself. "You're my boss. I actually have to report to you. And we've already had a bunch of sticky situations. Is it as awkward for you as it is for me? I'm not good at reporting to people. Is it going to work?"
Huffington sat hands clasped and legs crossed. "So far it has worked," she said smiling.
But "so far" only lasted so long. Late last week, Fortune broke the details of Arrington's plans to start his own venture capital fund and that TechCrunch-owner AOL (AOL) was pumping in $10 million. That launched a torrent of leaks from the struggling Internet company: Arrington would still write but not be paid. Arrington would be dismissed entirely. TechCrunch writers, meanwhile, jumped into the fray, publishing posts lamenting that the only way forward might be the most drastic: a full, public disemboweling of the popular blog. Arrington issued a stark ultimatum, that AOL restore "editorial independence" or sell the blog back to him. "TechCrunch As We Know It May Be Over" shouted a headline from the site's prolific MG Siegler.
But what would the startup scene be like without the blog that currently animates it? A whole lot better, actually.
Over the past six years, TechCrunch has fashioned itself into the startup scene's Buddha. Entrepreneurs come from near and far to pay their respects in hopes of some karmic -- and fiscal -- reward. Entrepreneurs are writing posts like "Two Cold-Emailed TechCrunch Pitches That Worked." Startups are paying money for the privilege of being associated with TechCrunch, via its self-promotional TechCrunch Disrupt conference. The buzzy firms -- usually ones coming out of startup incubators, like TechStars or Y Combinator -- have a bit more power to ignore the blog. But when they do, they can expect dogged emails asking why they didn't offer their news to TechCrunch first -- and exclusively.
This worshipping ritual, then, is as transactional as it is spiritual. And it creates a feedback loop: TechCrunch is the most-reputed site because of its scoops. Startups offer TechCrunch scoops because it's the most-reputed site. And, of course, TechCrunch and Arrington's stock rises further as a consequence.
It wasn't always this way. Arrington, a former lawyer and entrepreneur, created TechCrunch in 2005, when a disorganized startup space was still grieving over the losses of the 2000-2001 dotcom crash. Startups needed a champion, and they found one in the blunt Arrington. Traffic soon jumped, which brought the magazine profiles wondering whether someone as unpredictably temperamental as Michael Arrington could be a force for good. Arrington willed TechCrunch into a thriving site and business, sucking up so much oxygen that few other independent sites were able to challenge him.
For a time. Now, many sites do what TechCrunch pioneered. The Wall Street Journal's AllThingsD, VentureBeat, DealBook, The New York Times' Bits, The New York Observer's Betabeat, GigaOM, Business Insider and, yes, Fortune are all in the game. None of them are exact replicas. (It's hard to duplicate TechCrunch's solipsism, after all.) But as far as journalism is concerned, these sites more than fill the space a defunct TechCrunch would leave behind.
Startups, too, would be fine. They would be free to shop their exclusives to a variety of outlets without retribution. And for those startups entering markets already clotted with competitors -- say, daily deals -- the absence of TechCrunch would allow for more competition. No gatekeeper means there's no arbitrary decisions about which are favored and which are not.
"We want to use TechCrunch as a petri dish for disclosing and discussing multiple conflicts of interests that journalists are not discussing," Arianna Huffington said when she was on stage with Arrington. One contamination does not need to lead to an epidemic.