I 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
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.
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.