Kara Swisher

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Exclusive: Engadget's Top Editors Topolsky and Patel Exit From AOL's Giant Tech Site

Josh Topolsky, the editor-in-chief of Engadget, is leaving the AOL-owned property, one of the largest tech news sites on the Web.

Also departing is Managing Editor Nilay Patel, said sources. [UPDATE: Patel delivers the goodbye news himself in a blog post here.]

Sources said the move by Topolsky (pictured here, although the coffee cup is not permanent) and Patel is not out of the tech news arena and both are considering several options.

[UPDATE: Topolsky just confirmed the move in a blog post on Engadget, which is below, writing, in part: “I’m not leaving the industry or the news game–in fact, I’ve got a few fantasy projects in mind that hopefully you’ll be hearing about soon.”]

Sources said the departures have been a long time in coming, related to a range of ongoing issues the veteran editors have had working for the large New York-based Internet company. Sources said it was not precipitated by AOL’s recent $315 million acquisition of the Huffington Post.

In fact, AOL’s new content head Arianna Huffington had tried hard to persuade Topolsky to stay on, but that “he had already mentally made up his mind to go.”

This has been a regular occurrence at the site, including two top Engadget editors–Paul Miller and Ross Miller, who are not related–who departed the tech site in recent months. Both stated publicly that they did not like the editorial direction AOL was going in, especially a controversial content strategy document titled “The AOL Way.”

In a post in mid-February, Paul Miller was explicit about the issue on his personal blog:

I’d love to be able to keep doing this forever, but unfortunately Engadget is owned by AOL, and AOL has proved an unwilling partner in this site’s evolution. It doesn’t take a veteran of the publishing world to realize that AOL has its heart in the wrong place with content. As detailed in the “AOL Way,” and borne out in personal experience, AOL sees content as a commodity it can sell ads against. That might make good business sense (though I doubt it), but it doesn’t promote good journalism or even good entertainment, and it doesn’t allow an ambitious team like the one I know and love at Engadget to thrive.

In this case, “The AOL Way” was not the main reason for the departure of Topolsky or Patel (pictured here, looking rather fetching), sources said, but was more about the challenges of working within a large corporate entity.

Engadget is one of the largest in tech, with 14 million unique visitors a month. Its main competitor is Gawker’s Gizmodo. AOL also owns TechCrunch, another tech news site.

BoomTown sent an email to AOL execs for comment and am awaiting a reply.

UPDATE: Topolsky just posted a goodbye on the Engadget titled, “Hello, I Must Be Going”:

It’s hard to believe that I’m currently writing the words I seem to be writing, though a casual stock-taking of my senses dictates that it must be true. Here I am, at my computer, typing letters one by one into a plain text document, rolling along through one of the strangest posts I’ve ever penned for this site. Okay, probably the strangest ever.

After nearly four years at Engadget, it’s time to make my exit. There are things I’m after and challenges I want to take on that just don’t fit with my day-to-day schedule here, so off I go.

I didn’t make this decision lightly. The time I’ve spent here has been–without question–the most amazing, rewarding, and just insanely fun period of my life. And I like to think I’ve had some pretty good times. The Engadget staff is easily the greatest collection of human beings I’ve ever encountered, and they’ve made waking up and freaking out over tech news for 12 to 18 hours a day into basically a party. I’ve never worked so hard or had so much fun doing it. I don’t use religious terms very often, but if there’s such a thing as being blessed, I would say the opportunity I had to work with these people certainly made me feel that way.

And it’s not just the core team at Engadget; all the groups at Weblogs (and its director Brad Hill), have been tremendous friends, partners, and peers.

Then there’s you guys — the readers. The hive mind. The Engadget fan-boys and -girls. It’s hard to sum up my experiences with the readership of Engadget in one paragraph. It would probably be hard in a hundred. But I can say that you’re simply the most informed, passionate, and excited group of people anywhere on the planet. Sure, you can get a little crazy sometimes–but what an astounding group of super-geniuses you are as well. Writing and working for the throngs of people who visit this site every day has been a huge challenge, a learning experience, and just kind of awe-inspiring.

But as I said, it’s time for me to step away. I’m not leaving the industry or the news game–in fact, I’ve got a few fantasy projects in mind that hopefully you’ll be hearing about soon.

Don’t worry though, Engadget is going to keep doing what it does best: being awesome. We have an amazing staff of senior editors and writers that will keep the machine chugging along (and growing!) for years to come. My friend and our editorial director Josh Fruhlinger will be taking on a bigger role in our day-to-day during the transition, and I won’t be completely disappearing from the site–I’ll stay on as editor-at-large, to advise and direct when necessary. I’ll also be sticking around to host more episodes of the Engadget Show, so you can continue to get your fix (if you’re into nerdy video shows about gadgets and technology, that is).

And with that, I’m shuffling over towards the door, just underneath that dim exit sign that keeps blinking on and off, its fluorescent bulbs cracking with some syncopated rhythm all their own. It’s just started to rain a little bit outside, but I’ve got my coat and umbrella. I’ll be fine, and so will you.

Till we meet again…

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