Please bear with me as I write this post. Because something happened to two of my friends yesterday.
And even this morning, I’m still seething over what happened to them, and why it happened in the first place.
As you know, many women are heroically sharing their stories of surviving sexual assault. They’re posting the hashtag #metoo on their social media feeds, and some are explaining what happened in those horrifying moments. These are stories that must be told. We have to move past the days when Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby and the like can use their power to coerce women into doing things against their will. Heck, we have a man who boasted about “grabbing a woman by the pussy” and now he’s the President.
Two community bloggers from the Times Union – Fran Rossi Szpylczyn (she writes the “There Will Be Bread” religious blog) and Heather Fazio (who pens both the books blog and her own feed as well) decided they would share painful moments from their past. Moments that they were afraid to discuss, moments where they felt powerless and helpless and unable to confront those who assaulted or abused or attacked them. These were moments guarded only to themselves, moments where they were afraid to say anything at that time for fear that they would be dismissed or ignored or, even worse, accused of enticing the unwelcome contact.
The courage that both Heather and Fran mustered in creating these blog posts is nothing short of remarkable and amazing. Here’s Fran’s post; here’s Heather’s post. Read them before you continue to read today’s post.
You probably noticed that those links are from my blog. I offered to host Fran’s and Heather’s posts yesterday, and I was glad to do it.
See, after they posted their blogs on the TU site and told their stories of survival … the blogs were removed from the TImes Union portal, and both Heather and Fran were suspended from their blogs for violations of terms of service.
What, you think I’m kidding?
This is what Heather and Fran saw later that morning after they posted their blogs.
Think about that for a second. These brave souls bared their most horrifying secrets … and got their words ripped away.
Tell me, what would you think of that?
“You can’t post in graphic detail what happened … ” Why the hell not? After all they went through?
As for “graphic content” – when Heather went through the terms of service forms to see what caused the violation, these were the only possible reasons why, from her vantage point, the blogs were removed.
Wow. So the posts were blocked due to them being considered pornography?
Eventually the Times Union contacted both Fran and Heather, suggesting that the posts would be reinstated to the TU portal as long as certain offensive words were either altered or removed. Fran altered one word on her blog, and her blog was reinstated. Heather decided that the Times Union’s actions were too Draconian and over-reaching to accept, and chose to leave the portal entirely.
It’s at this point where I have to step forward.
First, let’s address a couple of issues, in fairness of disclosure. I was suspended from the Times Union in April 2017 for my April Fool’s Day post in which I goofed that KellyAnne Conway would be the commencement speaker at UAlbany. The post was clearly an April Fool’s Day prank, there were plenty of clear indications that the post was a prank – heck, you can read it here if you like.
Unfortunately, my post was removed and I was barred from accessing my blog, without so much as a “we’ll discuss this later” or “put something else up, you’ve had your April Fool’s Day fun” from the Times Union. Trust me. There were already straws on my camel’s back from my time at the TU portal – this was a straw about the size of a telephone pole. So I packed my gear and left the TU portal for good.
But here’s the thing. After I left, there were promises by the Times Union hierarchy to increase communication with the community bloggers that remained. There would be a new set of rules in place that would improve the relationship between the community bloggers and the Times Union. It would be a new era of communication.
As we can see from yesterday’s actions … not only has that not happened, the communication has regressed. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
The Times Union’s blog portal was once an amazing locale for bloggers to share their stories and for readers to enjoy them. And it was fun, and it was entertaining …
And then, one by one, the TU lost so many atalented writers. Rob Madeo. J. Eric Smith. Stephanie Snyder. Daniel Nester. Brian Huba. Megan Willis. Kevin Marshall. Zan Strumfeld. Tara Whittle. One by one, they left. Some said goodbye on their blogs. Others just closed the door and walked away. Some felt marginalized, others felt like an independent portal would better suit their needs.
And the Times Union kept rolling forward, almost oblivious to the attrition.
And it’s hard to not notice the sheer duplicity and hipocrisy of staff bloggers who can write about topics, using terms and subject matter that got other bloggers blocked. Apparently it’s okay to write about a mother-daughter sex team, for example. Don’t know how that doesn’t violate the TU blogging standards about pornography, but hey…
As for satire, the Times Union is fine with it – so long as it’s from a staff blogger. Three words for that. Hot. Mugshot. Guy. Or, to be more specific, “Is this our own Hot Mugshot Guy.”
And the TU will use your posts for life, no matter how old they are. Case in point. They’re currently using a two-year-old post of mine as part of a current “Were You SEEN” clickbait gallery shot. A post which, when taken out of context, suggests tha they won a recent “smartest company” trivia tournament — when, in fact, the post was written about their win TWO YEARS AGO. Pfft.
The truth of the matter is, the Times Union screwed up yesterday. They don’t have a person on staff who interacts with the community bloggers on any regular basis. Maybe that person is overworked on their other duties and was assigned the blog portal as an additional duty when the previous blogboss left, I don’t know.
The Times Union claims to not have contact information for the bloggers, even though they were able to contact the bloggers through e-mail to let them know that they were suspended. Shameful. Two phone calls could have avoided this – one call to each blogger. Or an e-mail to each person addressing adjustments necessary to keep the TU insulated from any problems. You might not be able to edit someone’s text, but you certainly could have said, “Hey, I’m uncomfortable with the word ‘penis’ in your blog, can we please find another word or use some sort of grawflix symbols instead?”
Something. Anything. But instead, there was nothing. You had a chance to improve the community blogging / TU staff relations, and you blew it like a punctured tire.
Let me repeat something. Your lack of communication with Fran Rossi Scpylczyn and with Heather Fazio was reprehensible, hurtful and callous. To suspend both of them, claiming that they had violated some ersatz terms of service clause in a contract that even Col. Tom Parker would think is too restrictive – after both of them addressed memories and situations that were both terrifying at that time, and upsetting today –
To do what you did, even if you hid your actions under some nebulous Terms of Service clause, was the equivalent of telling these two wonderful women that what they said in their blogs was too offensive for public view. That their courage meant nothing. That whatever they said was marginalized one more time.
Now granted, the Times Union did at least allow community blogger Sara Rose Wheeler to post her personal #metoo blog, so we can’t say that they’re stifling everybody’s message of survival and support.
But that sure didn’t look like the case yesterday morning.
You owe Fran Rossi Szpylczyn and Heather Fazio major apologies, Times Union. Not just “I’m sorry there wasn’t communication,” or “I’m sorry you got suspended.” Not some lame-ass non-apology that makes you look like you were the aggrieved party.
You owe them a true and contrite apology that takes into account your failures both in communication with the two bloggers, and in your actions in silencing their voices. I don’t care if it’s because of one foul word or one uncomfortable concept …
You owe these women an apology. Not an apology where you expect them to come back and willingly provide your publication with free clickthroughs and royalty-free perpetual use content.
And most of all, you owe them an apology for treating their bravery and courage as an offense of semantics.
But you most likely won’t even apologize. You’ll just keep rolling along, hoping the whole matter gets forgotten. What’s another community blogger or two? Drop one, there’s probably ten more willing to write for free “experience” and “exposure,” right?
That’s the Big Hearst way, isn’t it?
Of course it is.
Shame on you, Times Union.