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.

Favorites: Prince (2018-2020)

I blame SE and RJ

PrinceCertainly, I started listening to Prince anew after he died in April 2016. But he launched into my favorite songs from my favorite band territory because of Sheila E. and the niece Rebecca Jade. Surely, I don’t have to worry about J. Eric Smith’s band requirement. Prince led, for a time, the Revolution, and other times he’s playing 27 instruments.

Sheila sang at a club in New York City in August 2017. Rebecca was one of the background singers. They performed a half dozen Prince songs, including an RJ solo on Raspberry Beret. Then I saw them at the New York State Fair in Syracuse in early September 2019. More Prince tunes.

Let’s Go Crazy: The GRAMMY Salute To Prince was filmed at the Los Angeles Convention Center on January 28, 2020, two days after The 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards. The all-star lineup of artists performed songs from the catalog of “the 38-time GRAMMY® nominee and seven-time GRAMMY winner.” Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, and Sheila E. were pegged to be the musical directors. Rebecca Jade was a last-minute replacement for another back-up singer.

The tribute concert, originally aired Tuesday, April 21, the four-year anniversary of the superstar’s passing, and was rebroadcast on Saturday, April 25 on CBS. Rebecca Jade was singing with about half of the artists, including Earth, Wind, and Fire; Foo Fighters; Gary Clark Jr.; St. Vincent; Miguel; Juanes; and of course, Sheila E.

Songs

I own all of the Prince albums from the 1980s on vinyl or CD. 1999, Purple Rain and Sign O’ the Times are my favorites. Making YouTube links prior to 2016 was… a challenge. Song list is vaguely leading to my favorite.

Starfish and Coffee – it’s a song I saw on The Muppets
It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night – live, and it does that Wizard of Oz thing
Kiss
Uptown

The Cross
Raspberry Beret
Controversy
Purple Rain

Delirious
Little Red Corvette
When Doves Cry
I Would Die 4 U/Baby I’m a Star -I always hear these together

Nothing Compares 2 U, featuring Rosie Gaines
1999
Sign o’ the Times
Let’s Go Crazy. I have the 12″ of this, too.

Nearly favorites: Jethro Tull

Songs from the Wood

Jethro TullOne more interruption of my favorite songs by favorite artists assignment. This to laud J. Eric Smith’s choice of Jethro Tull for 1978-1982. Probably another Top 10 group of mine in the 1970s.

As best I recall, I have four Tull LPs, plus the greatest hits CD. Benefit, Aqualung, and Thick as a Brick came out each year from 1970 to 1972. Then Songs from the Wood, from 1977 that I certainly bought in the cutout bin. So the earlier music was from my college years. Songs from the Wood, which was a surprising success, reflected what felt like a very different time in my life.

I’m going to paraphrase one of Eric’s paragraphs. “There’s also a complicating factor with Thick As A Brick… originally being released as a single 45-minute long song split over two sides of a vinyl platter. While subsequent compilations and reissues have broken those big song cycles down into smaller bits, the chunking and labeling have been inconsistent over the years, so it’s hard to meaningfully cull cuts from the great disc, and [he and I] have chosen not to do so in creating my Top Ten.”

But if I were, it’d probably be this.

Songs, roughly 10-1

Aqualung. Eric left this off his Jethro Tull list. I could not if only for my recollection of a late sometimes-friend and I air-guitaring this all over his living room.
Locomotive Breath, #62 when rereleased in 1976.- I love the chugging sound that replicates a train.
The Whistler, #59 in 1977
Hymn 43, #91 in 1971. “Songwriter Ian Anderson described the song as ‘a blues for Jesus, about the gory, glory seekers who use his name as an excuse for a lot of unsavoury things.'”
Mother Goose

Velvet Green. Do I like this because it has “Green” in the title? Of COURSE not.
Bourée. Hey, I’m a sucker for Bach.
Songs from the Wood
Living in the Past, #11 in 1973. I’m also a sucker for 5/4 meter.
Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day – I used to say, WAY too often, the title of this song. Because it feels true, still.

References to Billboard pop charts.

King Crimson, for Dustbury (Cat Food)

chit-chat, chit-chat, chit-chat

King Crimson.1982
King Crimson.1982
In doing those Favorite Songs by Favorite Bands posts, J. Eric Smith picked King Crimson as his current favorite. The band didn’t make my list, because I don’t have enough of their albums. I do enjoy their music, in their various incarnations.

Meanwhile, this week is the first anniversary of the death of the legendary blogger Dustbury, a/k/a Charles G. Hill. I wrote about him here. “Charles was the person most likely to comment on a piece I wrote about music. He would add an anecdote or an obscure detail. Or write about it himself.”

I made some passing reference to the song Cat Food by King Crimson as one of my favorites. It’s on Eric’s list too, BTW. Chaz electronically chuckled at that obscure reference.

Unfortunately, the links I made to his blog don’t work anymore as his blog has closed. FORTUNATELY, it still lives on via the Wayback Machine.

Some King Crimson

Epitath. “Confusion will be my epitath.”
Red
In The Wake Of Poseidon
Frame By Frame

Pictures Of A City
The Court of the Crimson King
Cat Food

Indiscipline. I had a boss who would look at the business he built. He’d say some of these lyrics:
I repeat myself when under stress
I repeat myself when under stress
I repeat myself when under stress
I repeat myself when under stress
I repeat-

(Actually, we ALL said THAT…)

The more I look at it
The more I like it
Heh, I do think it’s good
The fact is…
No matter how closely I study it
No matter how I take it apart
No matter how I’ll break it down
It remains consistent
I wish you were here to see it!

21st Century Schizoid Man

I’ve probably quoted part of this song on this blog more than any other

For instance, back in 2006. Elephant Talk – I own, and prefer the dance remix.

Talk, it’s only talk
Arguments, agreements
Advice, answers
Articulate announcements

Babble, burble, banter
Bicker, bicker, bicker
Brouhaha, balderdash, ballyhoo
Back talk

Comments, cliches, commentary, controversy
Chatter, chit-chat, chit-chat, chit-chat
Conversation, contradiction, criticism
Cheap talk

Debates, discussions
Dialog, duologue, diatribe
Dissention, declamation
Double talk, double talk

Expressions, editorials
Explanations, exclamations, exaggerations
It’s all talk
Elephant talk

Favorites: Johnny Cash (1996-2004)

Unearthed

Johnny Cash.AmericanRecordsHere is another edition of J. Eric Smith’s game show, Favorite Songs by Favorite Bands. Once again, I pulled a solo artist. If I HAD picked a band for this time period, it’d likely be The Beatles again, who had started putting out the Anthology albums.

Over a half-century, I kept discovering and rediscovering Johnny Cash. From his early hits, I knew who he was. He sang the theme for The Rebel (1959-1962) TV show. The prison albums catapulted him to new fame. I watched his great TV show (1969-1972) which had a lot of rock, pop and soul singers as well as country stars; I just discovered it’s being rerun in my area.

But by the early 1980s, I’d largely lost track of him, except for his appearances with the Highwaymen. Well, he had a good quarter-century run. But then he guests on a U2 album, singing The Wanderer!

Shortly thereafter, he did that first American Recording, produced by Rick Rubin, that came out in 1994. And I’m a John R. Cash fan once again. The second disc, with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as his backup band, was also quite appealing. So I had to buy some old Johnny Cash, a greatest hits CD plus Folsom Prison and San Quentin.

The third album was released in 2000, and the fourth in 2002. Right after he died in 2003, Unearthed was released. It contained outtakes and alternate versions of songs recorded for those four American Recordings. It also contained My Mother’s Hymn Book, gospel songs Cash first learned as a child. The final disc is the best of collection from those four albums.

Songs

My favorite Johnny Cash songs lean heavily on his latter period. And I’m limiting it to 10 because otherwise, it’d be 50. Only the top 2 are for sure in those positions.

kappa. Redemption Song, with the late Joe Strummer, written by the late Bob Marley, from Unearthed. There are lots of gems there.
iota. God’s Gonna Cut You Down from the posthumous fifth American Recording, the history of the song appears HERE.
theta. Ring Of Fire. Hey, I’m a sucker for the horns, for the Carters’ harmonies…
eta. We’ll Meet Again – the last song on the last album he released before he died. Incidentally, Vera Lynn, most associated with the song, died this year.
zeta. Personal Jesus. Originally performed by Depeche Mode. 4th American album.

epsilon. I Walk the Line – this song defined JRC for me when I was growing up
delta. I Hung My Head from the 4th American album. I owned the Sting original version first and still recognized that Johnny had usurped it from the composer.
gamma. Rusty Cage from the 2nd American album. Written by the late Chris Cornell of Soundgarden
beta. Hurt from the 4th American album. Written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. The song was nominated for best male video at the MTV VMAs but lost to Justin Timberlake. Timberlake said in his acceptance speech “This is a travesty! I demand a recount. My grandfather raised me on Johnny Cash.”
alpha. The Mercy Seat from the 3rd American Recording. A cover of a Nick Cave song.

Next time period

Beach Boys (2005-2008). My friend Donna George died back in 2002. I had given her a box set of the Beach Boys, and I took it back, with her blessing the month before she died. After the baby was born, I needed musical comfort food and they were the choice.