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.

Gillette, toxic masculinity, and the “war on men”

“Gillette seems to send the message that we can be better by being the men who heroically intervened in these various scenarios.’

toxic masculinityThe Gillette The Best a Man Can Be “short film” on Toxic Masculinity has become a phenomenon in a very short time. Two of the bloggers I follow, Arthur and Chuck, have already written about it. They favor the ad, and so do I. But that’d be a brief post.

I’m also interested in other reactions. Common Dreams says ‘Gillette Must Be Doing Something Right’: Toxic Men Freak Out… “So-called ‘men’s rights activists’ are mad that the shaving razor company has started a campaign calling on men to not be misogynists, jerks, and bullies.”

Some of the right-wing sites I follow naturally have followed the issue. GOPUSA quotes the CEO of branding firm Crutchfield + Partners that Gillette could quickly alienate its long-time supporters. “Does the customer want to be told they’re a naughty boy? Are you asking too much of your consumer to be having this conversation with them?” he asked. “It’s about execution. Sometimes brands stretch themselves too fine, and they snap.”

It then shared some of the negative comments: ““Get woke, go broke. Stick to selling razors.” “When did shaving have to get political?” “How to irreparably damage a brand in under 120 seconds: A Documentary.” And “See this is actually genius. What Gillette is doing here is trying to lower our testosterone to the point we won’t have to shave anymore.”

RedState complained that “Gillette seems to send the message that we can be better by being the men who heroically intervened in these various scenarios. The man who stops his friend from hitting on a girl, the guy who angrily prevents a man from telling a girl to smile, the man who rejects the idea that treating women as objects is okay.” Well, yes, it is.

I was most annoyed by the dismissive “Side note.” “I’ve never experienced a man telling a girl to smile more. I’ve seen women do that to other women, but not a man. I’m not saying it has never, or still doesn’t happen, but in my 35 years of life, I’ve yet to experience a single male member of our species advise a girl to smile more.” I’ve known lots of women who’ve experienced it, and I’ve seen it myself.

Should business be involved in “political” positions, such as toxic masculinity, risking the bottom line? Last I checked the ad had 321,000 thumbs up but 695,000 thumbs down.

Perhaps the company can be comforted by a statement by The American Psychological Association: “Socialization for conforming to traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behavior, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict, and negatively influence mental health and physical health.”

I see the ad following in the tradition of The ‘Dove Real Beauty Pledge’. The Procter & Gamble ‘The Talk’ ad “showing how black parents have discussed racism with their children over several decades” won an Emmy.

Will the ad hurt Gillette’s bottom line? Perhaps. Conversely, Taking Risks Can Benefit Your Brand – Nike’s Kaepernick Campaign Is A Perfect Example.

Gillette’s website details plans to “donate $1 million per year for the next three years to non-profit organizations executing programs in the United States designed to inspire, educate and help men of all ages achieve their personal ‘best’ and become role models for the next generation.”

Time’s Up: “Silence helps the tormentors”

“Neutrality helps the oppressors, not the oppressed.”

Jodi Kantor, New York Times
Beyond being gratified that the #MeToo/Time’s Up movement has come to pass, I have been fascinated how it seems to have really come together only in the past six months.

I’ve seen Jodi Kantor, one of the New York Times reporters along with Megan Twohey, who broke the Harvey Weinstein story, several times on TV, usually on CBS This Morning but also on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. And it was the Weinstein scandal, not only his reported illicit behavior but also the cover up, that unleashed the torrent of responses.

As Kantor has assessed the revolution: “My colleagues Emily Steel and Michael Schmidt had done the story about Bill O’Reilly, his long trail of settlements with women. That was a light bulb moment. Editors at the Times…ask[ed] the question, ‘Are there other prominent male figures in American life who have covered up serious problems with treatment of women?'”

And she sees how the momentum built. “You could make an argument that the women who came forward about [Bill] Cosby affected the women who came forward about the men at Fox News, who affected the women who came forward about President Trump, who affected the women who came forward about Silicon Valley, who affected the women who came forward about Harvey Weinstein,” who was less well known than the women who reported his actions.

A week after Oprah Winfrey’s Golden Globes speech – ““I want all the girls watching to know a new day is on the horizon” – she spoke to seven powerful Hollywood women for CBS Sunday Morning and explored how much pain some of them still have with their #MeToo experience.

Winfrey asked Reese Witherspoon, who had “spoken of being assaulted on one of her first movies, at age 16,” how speaking out has “led to a greater sense of empowerment and control over it?”

“Well, I don’t know if I’ve gotten to that place yet,” Witherspoon replied. “As you can see, I’m very emotional about it. But I keep going back to somebody sent me this Elie Wiesel quote that said, ‘Silence helps the tormentors, it doesn’t help the tormented. And neutrality helps the oppressors, not the oppressed.'”

America Ferrera had posted about an incident when she “was nine years old being assaulted by a man who I was then sort of forced to see afterwards for a long time. And what struck me about my experience was his certainty that I would be silent. And he was right. He was right for 24 years.”

TV producer Shonda Rhimes says what most of the women were saying: “At a certain point there has to be room for reconciliation in a world… But a lot of people don’t think that right now — and a lot of women have the right to not feel that right now.”

Men need to understand that when women have been aggrieved for a VERY long time – Ferrera put it well: “Speaking of this moment, as a culture we’ve gone from not listening, hearing or believing women, and how were we going to skip over the whole part where women get to be heard, and go straight to the redemption of the perpetrators? Can’t we live in that space where it’s okay for perpetrators to be a little bit uncomfortable with what the consequences will be?”

I suppose this kind of sucks for men. But the status quo for women has sucked far, far longer.

Jena Friedman on Conan O’Brien’s show

#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.