Contextual Authority, or Who Cares What Arrington Did Before TechCrunch?

The old way of thinking about authority was static and hierarchical. Seniority and rank are crude, linear, black and white tools. While they have the advantage of being simple and clear, even organizations that are thought of as being strictly hierarchical, such as the military, have long abandoned such simplistic thinking.

The Web has brought a new form of contextual authority. Mike Arrington has tremendous power in the Web 2.0 world. This is not because he has any great experience. While Mike is a smart guy, before he started writing TechCrunch, he was just another ordinary lawyer and entrepreneur. In the grand scheme of things, his background is no more or less impressive than Penelope’s.

Mike gained authority because his writing ability (and hustle) allowed him to build a massive audience which trusts him to bring things to their attention. Ultimately, I doubt any TechCrunch readers care about whether or not Mike was successful in his prior life; what we care about is whether or not he keeps delivering scoops and insightful analysis.

(This post is part of a longer comment on Penelope Trunk’s blog.)

3 thoughts on “Contextual Authority, or Who Cares What Arrington Did Before TechCrunch?

  1. Anonymous

    There’s also a difference between authority and credibility. The problem with Penelope Trunk is that her credibility is being seriously questioned given facts that she has provided her audience (both on her blog and Yahoo Finance). The facts are becoming very inconsistent. For instance, how could Penelope quickly climb the corporate ladder in her 20s if she had no corporate job until she was at least 29? It’s difficult to take a person seriously as an authority when their credibility is being questioned. In other words, if Person X lies about their past experiences or greatly embellishes there past experiences with the intent to increase their authority, then they will likely lose their credibility if they are pulled out onto the rug. As such, it doesn’t really matter what Person X did before or after “TechCrunch” since they have no credibility.

  2. I think they both operate under different contexts and it’s thus very difficult to compare. One provides general career advice, the other gives timely scoops. So while what you said about Penelope may be true (I don’t know) what is also true is that her posts tend to be less about current happenings versus Mike who is the go-to guy for “scoops” as Chris puts it…

    So I “sort of” agree with Chris… people don’t only care about the next scoop that Mike gives us because part of what makes people care about Mike’s posts is that he’s delivered consistent scoops in the past. Maybe I’m reading too much into this!

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