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.

“Endangered Species? The Future of Journalism and the 1st Amendment”

Where does responsibility lie for the provision of authentic and credible news?

A joint program of the League of Women Voters and the Women’s Press Club of New York State

When: Thursday, April 20, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Where: Delmar Reformed Church, 386 Delaware Avenue, (at the Four Corners), Delmar, NY

Who:
Panelists
* Rex Smith, editor of the Times Union and host of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio’s “The Media Project”
* Rosemary Armao, director of the University at Albany journalism program and a panelist on WAMC’s “The Roundtable”
* Robert Heverly, an associate professor at Albany Law School.
Moderator
*Angela Ledford, professor of political science at The College of Saint Rose and professor in residence at the state Assembly.

Why? The forum will consider the challenges to the First Amendment and the practice of journalism in the current political environment. Possible answers to the following questions will be discussed:
*How does social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, affect the news that voters need to receive in a functioning democracy?
*How do we distinguish “fake news” from the real news?
*Where does responsibility lie for the provision of authentic and credible news?

How to Participate: The public is encouraged to attend this compelling program. There is no charge for admission, but donations are encouraged. After costs, all donations will go toward programs sponsored by the two organizations including Women’s Press Club scholarships for young journalists going into the field. Come and be part of an ongoing public discussion of this important issue.

About the Program Sponsors:

The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.

The Women’s Press Club of New York State, Inc. is a nonprofit organization formed in 1966 by a small group of women journalists committed to supporting women in journalism and communications.

What is patriotism?

Hyperpartisanship, which is rampant in America, often paints people like me as unpatriotic; this, perhaps unsurprisingly, really ticks me off.

American flag background - shot and lit in studioRight before Independence Day, PARADE magazine ran this poll of the “most patriotic cities” in the United States, which was actually based on Amazon.com’s “comparison of America-themed flag sales between Jan. 1. and June 24 on a per capita basis among cities with more than 400,000 residents.” I don’t find literal flag-waving to necessarily equate with patriotism.

Indeed, I was taken by this piece by Daniel Nester in the Albany Times Union, A flag stirs feelings of uncertainty, which is also about human relationships.

Flag-waving, depending on whom you talk to, is either something one overthinks or doesn’t think about at all…

I’ve never owned any flag, unless Phillies pennants or rainbow Gay Pride banners count.I’m not what you would call a flag-waver. Now that I had one, I felt more puzzled than partisan. What if I spilled something on it? Burnt it in the fireplace by accident?

This debate turned into an allegory for my relationship with my country. Right wingers like my father revere flags and distrust government; lefties like me find flag-waving an empty gesture and place more importance on public trusts. I was of the same mind as Samuel Johnson, who wrote that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

I’m rather of the same mind as Nester, who I have met in real life, though, in fact, I do have some little US flags in our house, almost all of them secured by The Daughter

Rex Smith, the editor of that same publication, what my friend Dan Van Riper calls the local Hearst rag, wrote on July 4:

Real patriotism demands accommodation of our vast differences. American democracy is fueled by disagreement: Losers and winners are equally entitled to express and hold their conflicting beliefs. You’ve got to love a country that really delivers on that promise.

So it’s hard not to view the rise of hyperpartisanship as an unpatriotic development. It’s not enough nowadays to argue passionately over issues. Now the path to victory usually includes character assassination and vows not to have anything to do with the other side. Instead of viewing issues pragmatically, and resolving conflicts with a solution that works best for the most people, politicians and thought leaders now pitch arguments as moral conflicts and demand dogmatic allegiance.

Hyperpartisanship, which I noted a few days ago is rampant in America, often paints people like me as unpatriotic; this, perhaps unsurprisingly, really ticks me off. I mean What IS American culture? I may spend the rest of my life figuring that out.

I’d probably be categorized as a liberal – though I wouldn’t necessarily write that in my Times Union blog, like Ken Screven did – I find it useful to read other points of view. That doesn’t mean that I need to read/listen to Rush Limbaugh, because I’ve deemed him an unreliable reporter, let’s say. Still, I find no need to sign online petitions to have his show canceled.

Wish I had written this: glorifying war is a sin.

I see myself as a patriot. I vote, ALWAYS. I do really well on those online citizenship tests, such as this one (50/50, thank you very much) and this one and even this one, as an old political science major should.

Blind allegiance, though, is not my thing. Which reminds me, I know the fourth verse of the Star-Spangled Banner, from memory, and more songs deemed patriotic than most – did you know Hail, Columbia [LISTEN] was essentially the national anthem before 1931? – a function of learning them in fourth and fifth grade.

Speaking of music, here’s Only in America, performed by Jay & the Americans from 1963, which was controversial in its creation. It was banned by some stations for the shocking suggestion that Only in America can a kid without a cent get a break and maybe grow up to be President, though it was embraced by the nascent Cuban refugee community.
***
“Bad politicians are sent to Washington by good people who don’t vote.” – William E. Simon (63rd U.S. Secretary of Treasury, Philanthropist)