Death of the Times Union community blogs

Information without the Bun

times unionI got this intriguing email from Casey Seiler, the editor of the Times Union, the local (Albany, NY) newspaper, a couple of weeks ago. “Nothing urgent, but please give me a ring if you have a few minutes — cell is … Thanks.”

He’d never contacted me before, so I was most curious. The purpose of the contact was to tell me that the entire page of community blogs located on the TU website would be going away on Friday, February 5.

The Community Blogs started early this century, in 2006, I’m told. But even before that, I had been participating in a program of community websites hosted by the TU. I was creating the ones for my then-church, Trinity UMC, plus Albany United Methodist Society, the FOCUS churches, and one of the other member churches of FOCUS. Since I left Trinity in 2000, this would have been in the late 1990s.

Mike Huber, who had been running the community websites became the majordomo for the blogs. Since I had started this blog in 2005, he knew that I could create content with sufficient frequency. He nagged me regularly, and in January 2008, I finally capitulated.

But what to write? I didn’t want to necessarily replicate this blog. So I tended to post things that were Albany-centric and/or ephemeral. Say an event at my church or offered by the Albany Public Library.

Information without the Bun
ROGER_GREEN_3
Courtesy of the Times Union

There were definite upsides. I could plug events important to me. Occasionally, on the front of the B section of the print newspaper, the TU would print a pull quote from my post. I’d generally learn about this before I saw it. “Oh, you’re in the paper again.” While mildly ego-boosting, it was occasionally frustrating that some people didn’t recognize that it was only a small part of what I wrote.

And the bigger the platform, the more chances for the blog trolls. I’ve seldom experienced this on rogerogreen.com, but a fair amount on Information without the Bun, an obtuse referral to me being a librarian and eating hamburgers. Even when the content was exactly the same, the nasties would always come from the TU audience.

Still, it was fine. I’d write something a couple of times a week. And the newspaper seemed to care about their unpaid community bloggers by sponsoring an occasional event. I remember one at the College of Saint Rose maybe a decade ago where there were short videos of each of us. They created bios of us for the print version of the paper.

The interesting thing was that the agreement read that the TU wouldn’t edit what the bloggers wrote, as long as what we posted wasn’t libelous or profane.

Herder of cats

Then… stuff started happening. J. Eric Smith, who has been blogging since the word was invented, had made what seems to be a reasonable request to keep political mads out of his blog space. It could have jammed him up at work. He explains this in a series of posts here. He ended up leaving in 2010.

In January 2017, Mike Huber, herder of cats, left the Times Union. I’m left to wonder how events of that year would have otherwise played out.

Chuck Miller had a clearly marked April Fools post in 2017 involving Kellyanne Conway which got pulled down, despite eight previous 1 April posts, at least one of which had been picked up by Washington Post. He departed, but he subsequently was always the instigator of promoting local bloggers on his site, and meetups, at the Gateway Diner, a pizza joint, and even at Ken Screven’s lovely apartment.

#Metoo

I was most infuriated when Heather Fazio’s post about sexual assault from October 2017 was deemed too graphic. Or was it libelous? The narrative kept shifting. Chuck and I both reposted Heather’s words: my version is here. Chuck quoted her response to the TU here, and you should read the comments.

I even complained about Heather’s treatment on my Times Union blog, because I could. The headline, I believe was, “Rex: you’ve got a lot of ‘splain’ to do.” Rex being Rex Smith, then editor of the paper, and a guy I actually liked the few times I’ve met him. But this was a crappy decision which he felt obligated to defend. Heather, of course, left, and she too has her own blog.

Yet this conspiratorial flake – whose name had fortunately been exorcised from my brain, Donna something, I think – kept writing absurd post after post for months until even she crossed the line. She was actually brought on board to provide a more conservative position, which I endorsed, but she was a true wingnut.

By then, I had really lost my TU blogging mojo, even as the newspaper abandoned the community bloggers. Periodically, I would literally forget I still had the page, and my recent spotty posting there was proof.

The long goodbye

What seems to have been the last straw from the Times Union’s POV was the Lale Davidson post about Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY). The member of Congress “demanded the Times Union retract what she called a ‘heinous and wildly inappropriate’ blog post. Apparently, the work of fiction pushed a button, not about Stefanik’s absurd challenge of the 2020 election, but her being described as “childless.”

As TU blogger Lawrence White wrote: “I think most people had no idea this was going on. The blog in question does not have a vast readership and nothing had been posted on any of the social media sites I frequent. Clearly, the sting of the original piece would have gone away with only a handful of people even reading it if Ms. Stefanik had let it slide, or dealt with it in a more private manner.”

When Casey Seiler called me to tell me the TU had put the kibosh on the community blog pages, he noted this story. Last spring, one of the bloggers had “swerved from their totally innocuous chosen topic to instead use his platform to spread the looniest conspiracy theories about the origins of COVID-19 that you can possibly imagine. We shut it down immediately.”

So the TU community blogs are dead. Actually, it’s been dying for a while. Of the 80 or so blogs on the page as of January 30, including the staffers’ pages, about a quarter had not been updated in over a year. It seems as though the TU stopped caring about the blogs, and maybe vice versa. While I feel a little wistful, the demise was no surprise.

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“Banned” in a functional sense

The Times Union may not have INTENDED to suppress Heather’s piece.

There was this blogpost that community, unpaid blogger Heather Rusaw-Fazio wrote for the Times Union site in the spirit of #MeToo. It became not visible and the site inaccessible to the blogger because the post did not meet whatever community standards the Times Union thought were being violated.

Which standards, exactly?

Ultimately, Chuck Miller posted the piece on his blog, and I on mine. I referred to it as a “banned” post.

Rex wrote to a friend of mine:

We did not, in fact, silence a woman’s voice. A woman who is the senior editor in charge of engagement – and thus the supervisor of community blogs – took the step of protecting Heather and the Times Union from a potential libel claim. (As publisher of the blog, we are susceptible to libel claims.) We are quite eager to publish Heather’s post, but we have suggestions to make it less likely that we – and Heather – might be vulnerable legally. Since we have a lot of experience in legal matters, we could advise her on this, but at this point she has chosen to remain silent rather than accept any such suggestion. It is very regrettable, but there is certainly no intent on our part to shut down conversation.

What does Heather have to say about this to Rex? This is pretty much the opposite of what Heather was told by TU folks:

There has been very little to no consistency on blogger standards from blogger to blogger or post to post for some, and I hope you take the time to read all of this and truly understand.

Is it the use of f**k? This is the first time I’ve actually censored myself in using the F word in this blog or the Books blog. I’ve said worse and have used the full word minus asterisks in the past with no shut out or removal of the blog. Not consistent.

Is it the word penis? Insertion?
How would you prefer I describe sexual assault? His “thing?”

Is it because it’s pornographic?
The definitions of sexual assault and pornographic content is vastly different. I’ve violated neither the contract I signed, which is valid, until another is presented.
Kristi wrote about mother/daughter porn and it’s still there. Readers have shared others. Not consistent.

Tena specifically mentions “graphic.”
The only correlation between the word graphic and the newly shared ToS to which we must also adhere, is to the word pornographic or child pornography. Show me differently where I’m in violation.

It has been eight or nine months since Huber left, yet he’s being blamed as the reason for no contact information? If you have his equipment or network access through AD, you have access to everything he had, specifically his Outlook contacts. Not one person there has made an effort (in 8 or 9 mos) to take a couple hours to organize your community of independent bloggers?

Let me just present you with the scenario. I was terrified while writing that blog. Every emotion came back to me as it usually does when I allow myself to recall the assaults. I was in tears. I was shaking. I felt like I was going to vomit. I felt like I was going to be dismissed – again. I published and then unpublished. I finally scheduled it for 6 a.m. when I knew my alarm would go off at 6:30 and it would be too late to change my mind.

Then the comments are coming all morning. I received about 30 private messages, 10 texts, couple phone calls, about 5 emails from women saying “me too” and sharing their story with me and saying thank you. I’m finally beginning to understand the impact one story can have. My stomach calms down and I stop shaking. I’m finally able to actually to get food in my stomach.

Then I get the email from Tena. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to explain what that did to me emotionally. I’m sure I don’t have to explain the impact that had on the women who follow me. I shouldn’t have to explain that once again I was shut down, silenced, and made to feel as if I had done something wrong by sharing sexual assault stories. Go to my Facebook page to find out. It’s all public.

Hundreds more are involved now and asking what I want them to do. I’ve been asked if you’ve apologized. No.

Rex, I appreciate your attempt to explain it was all a miscommunication, but it was absolutely wrong and in direct discord with what was agreed to after Chuck Miller’s situation until the “mysterious new Hearst blogger contracts” appear. Communication is supposed to happen prior to pulling a blog.

Shannon, you, and Tena have my email address and I can be reached on Facebook. There is no excuse, especially not Huber leaving you with nothing.

Unfortunately, it’s clear that no one on staff really cares about our little group – and that’s fine. It is what it is, right?

I will call XXXXX tomorrow to gain access so that I can simply delete the post.

Thank you…

Thus the disconnect.

Rex took exception to my term “banned,” and in a limited sense, he is correct. Heather herself had said that if the second overture made to her by the paper, from Rex himself, had taken place initially, and much earlier, the problem might have been resolved.

But I was thinking of “banned” as in what happens in Banned Book Week, when it celebrates items that were banned or challenged.

I was reading a September 28 Times Union editorial. Make absentee voting easy, and it actually explains an effective ban:

Eligible voters in New York may legally cast an absentee ballot only for certain reasons — sickness, disability, infirmity, or being out of town on Election Day. But those who juggle work and obligations like child care, or who lack transportation, or who simply have no time to get to the polls, are left with a choice: forfeit their democratic right, or falsely claim a legal excuse, as some admit they do.

This obstacle is likely a key reason why turnout to choose local, state and national leaders is so poor in the Empire State. This form of voter suppression — intentional or not — is fundamentally little different from strategies employed in states that purposely make it difficult for many people, especially low-income urban residents, to vote, from requiring photo IDs to having fewer polling sites or locating them out of the way for those without personal transportation.

Now, I happen to agree with the sentiment of the piece. But a literalist would argue that, since there was apparently no intentional bias against a class of people, there is no voter suppression, even if the vote is suppressed.

So the Times Union may not have INTENDED to suppress Heather’s piece. But by locking her out of her page, and being slow in communicating with her why, it effectively accomplished the same thing. And she’s going away, which is a shame.

Unsurprisingly, Chuck Miller has a take on this issue.

#MeToo- Heather Rusaw-Fazio’s banned TU post

My fellow Times Union blogger Heather Rusaw-Fazio posted the item below at 6 a.m. on October 17. It was not easy for her to write, obviously.

She received a note from the TU that while they’re sorry what had happened to her, her reportage was too “graphic.” Her blogs have been blocked and she’s been suspended. Per the terms of the TU bloggers, they can’t change the content, but they can block it if it is considered – and these words were circled, “pornography” or “child pornography.”

Reposted with her permission.

#MeToo

Caution – strong adult language/topic

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days but I haven’t been brave enough until tonight. Do I publish my story or do I simply write “me too” for a Facebook status? Is that enough to have a genuine impact? Do I tell you his/their name?

Do I share the names of the Massena NY Police Department officers who dismissed me because I was 15 and had two beers at a high-school party? Or do I share their names because they told the 21-year-old man who was enlisted in the Army that he’s a “good guy” and “doesn’t need the hassle” as they interviewed me IN FRONT OF HIM on the front steps of his house?

No hospital visit, no nurse, no female police officer – just me, three grown men, and a kid my age who hosted the party and protected his big brother even though he knew the truth. The only question I was asked by the police officers was “How much did you drink?”

It’s something that (obviously and rightfully) bothers me to this day because I think about it often. I think about the man “DM” often – his real initials. I even think about his little brother who protected him. I was friends with the little brother on Facebook for a while until he began spewing hate, homophobia, and racism as soon as Trump announced he was running for office. I sent him a private message to remind him his brother is at the very least a sexual predator if not a rapist. Who knows what he had done before and after me?

After this experience I quickly learned that sexual harassment is common, should just be accepted by women, we should be grateful someone is attracted to us, and if reported you will rarely be taken seriously by other men – and sometimes women. In the 80’s, it seemed that was par for the course and unfortunately these lessons stayed with me until my 30s.

The only “men” who believed me were two of my best friends who knew DM. They even went to his house to confront him but he called the police. The same two police officers told him to stay inside until his leave was over and then he could forget about the whole situation and put it behind him. My friends were threatened with arrest but were able to go home with a warning.

At 15, this wasn’t the first or close to the last time I had been sexually harassed but it was the first time I was sexually assaulted – but not the last.

I had never considered myself a rape victim because there had been no insertion, but I woke up right before he could.
I woke up. Read that and understand it. I woke up.

I went to sleep in a room with a girlfriend I attended the party with and we each had our own single bed. I woke up with my sweatpants and underwear around my knees. DM seemed shocked I was fighting him “all of a sudden” and kept asking “What’s your problem?” as he kept attempting to put his penis in me.

I was able to scream loudly and properly give him an elbow in the gut. He got up, called me a bitch and a slut, and left the room. My friend was not in her bed and I wondered if DM had stopped there first. I went home immediately and was terrified to tell my Mom where I had been and what had happened. It was a different friend who encouraged me to call the police. Her intentions were good. Aside from my husband, I hadn’t told anyone this story until last weekend. Not even my friend who ended up leaving that house in the middle of the night. We never talked about it.

The second time (at 17 years old) I was sleeping and had not a drop of alcohol in me. It was the boyfriend of a girl I considered my best friend at the time and he was incredibly drunk. I woke up to find him (a 25- to 30-year-old man – can’t recall exact age) on top of me and all I could smell was alcohol. It was pitch black in the room and I didn’t even know who it was at first. One of her friends walked in while I was fighting his attempt and turned on the light. I was called a slut, a whore, a home-wrecker by both her and my friend and I was kicked out of her home. I told the truth but I wasn’t believed. He wasn’t questioned and as far as I know, she married him and had several children. I have never seen or spoken to any of those people again. (Gratefully, I may add.) I stayed silent after that and never discussed it with anyone until this very moment. I’m shaking with both anger, regret, and sadness.

My stories are not unique or special. What happened to me has happened to almost every woman you know. For years we walked around blaming ourselves for having those two beers, or being friendly, or wearing jeans that are a bit too tight and we continue to keep our mouths shut for fear of being further ridiculed and embarrassed. I made a lot of bad decisions after that, but when you know better you do better. Can I blame them all on these two assaults? Absolutely not, but when you are taught something over and over by the repeated actions of others it sticks with you. You sadly seek attention and validation when what you need is education and maturity – but when and if you remain silent no one can tell you that. No one can teach you that.

The problem is sexism and misogyny are embedded in our culture similar to racism. “It’s just the way it is.” And if you’re not standing up now (or kneeling) to fight it with everything you have, then you continue to contribute to the problem – and that goes for men and women. Unfortunately, there are women who will believe anything a man says and consider “other women” to be seductive or manipulative instead of hearing and believing what they have to say.

The best thing happening right now is that women are becoming less afraid to speak out and this is why we are seeing “me too” across social media. All it takes is one brave person to come forward and then it’s a flood.

Don’t be afraid. You are not alone. We can and will support each other.

To Mike N who loves to make excuses for everything Trump does or is accused of on my Instagram account. See what I did here? Sometimes it takes one action to give women the strength to tell their truth. Sometimes they need other women to lean on. Sometimes they need a man telling them they’re lying. Thank you and f**k you for pushing me.

Husband – thank you for your support and encouragement when I decided I wanted to write about this. I’m sorry you’re reading about the second assault along with everyone else, but I realized as I was writing I’m still carrying a large amount of embarrassment about it. I loved my best friend back then and somehow shifted the blame to myself.

Best friend – thank you for letting me tell you my story last weekend.


Fran Rossi Szpylczyn experienced a similar situation with the Times Union. The issue was supposedly resolved, but here is the post on her own blog.

Mark Evanier shares a Hollywood story of a friend.