At TechCrunch Disrupt, Tech Celebrities Come Out to Play

Huffington, Ephron, Rosen, Foursquare's Crowley take the stage

“You’re a bit of a rock star here in New York,” TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington said to Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley on Monday at TechCrunch Disrupt, a three-day tech conference at Pier 94 in New York City. “I don’t really see it that way,” Crowley replied. Never mind the Gap ad.

There are many aspects of the media business that the startup community has yet to embrace. One of those, it seems, is the notion of celebrity.

Before Crowley’s interview, the day began with venture capitalist (and Foursquare investor) Fred Wilson, whose distaste for media coverage is well known to those who know him—including his 170,000 Twitter followers—and to journalists as well. As she entered the airplane hangar of an auditorium at Pier 94, one CNNMoney reporter said, “I pissed Fred Wilson off. He accused me of ‘lazy journalism’ because I printed what he had said”—that Twitter’s $7 billion valuation was “ridiculous.” (Adweek also reported that.)

On stage, Wilson compared Twitter’s co-founders to the Beatles: “Ev is Paul, Jack is John, Biz is George, and Jason is Ringo.” No word on whether they're bigger than Jesus. 

After Wilson and Crowley, people more comfortable with their celebrity arrived. The stage sat empty as Arianna Huffington, Jay Rosen, and—go figure—Nora Ephron paused for photos. Flashes went off worthy of a small red carpet before the three ascended the stairs.  Ephron, acting as moderator, said, “We need no introduction,” and, indeed, gave none. (Rosen is a journalism professor at NYU; Arianna Huffington runs content at AOL Huffington Post; Nora Ephron, who seemed somewhat out of place, digitally speaking, is Nora Ephron.)

Maybe Ephron should have introduced herself; after the panel, she was all but ignored as she left Pier 94 and waited outside, alone, for her ride. Inside, people were asking why she had been on stage.

Huffington was in higher demand. Somewhere in the middle of her panel with Ephron and Rosen, TechCrunch's Arrington took advantage of his possession of a microphone to kick everyone else off the stage so he could “have two minutes to talk to my boss.” One audience member guffawed: “God! This guy is so arrogant!”

Though Arrington wasn't even supposed to be on stage, he took the opportunity to call MapQuest—owned by AOL, which also owns TechCrunch—“a huge piece of crap.” Huffington kept her characteristic cool, replying, “That’s what I love about Michael. He can just say anything he wants even if it's not based on fact.”