Background. In 2009, I had a little independent Blogger blog – wrote a few posts here and there, nothing major. Well, apparently a few of my blogs caught the attention of Mike Huber, the person in charge of the Times Union’s cadre of staff and independent blogs. He asked if I wanted to join up as a TU blogger.
After clearing a few things and making several different negotiations, I did so. On August 25, 2009, my first blog post on the Times Union’s blogging platform went live. And it was an instant success.
In fact, back then, there were several great bloggers who put a tremendous amount of time and effort and craft into their work. I remember reading great blogs by llama farmer Teri Conroy, thought-provoking blogs by Rob Madeo and J. Eric Smith and Kevin Marshall; lifestyle blogs from Zan Strumfeld and Amanda Talar and Stephanie Snyder, conscience-stimulating writings from David Kaczynski and Frank Robinson; all of the above. David Kalish, Lawrence White, Rob Hoffman, Megan Willis, Aaron Bush, Matt Baumgartner, Silvia Lilly, Heather Fazio, Sara Rose Wheeler, Roger Green, Bill Dowd, all of the above.
But after a few weeks, I realized that there were two sets of Times Union blogs. There were staff blogs, that were promoted by the TU on a regular basis, and then there were independent blogs like mine, that were sorta promoted once in a while if they felt like it. I mean, I always thought it was hilarious that Kristi Barlette, a TU staffer, received the “Best Blog” award in the annual TU “Best of” category, which was essentially like asking the Red Sox to determine baseball’s MVP.
And after a while, even the minimal promotion the TU provided community and independent bloggers (or as the TU derisively called them, “reader-bloggers”) wasn’t equal to the amount of work the bloggers did. We wrote about our lives. We wrote. We bared our souls. We talked about our achievements, our goals and our efforts. We promoted events in our community, we participated in charitable events, and we took that time to share that with readers. And in the end, we brought millions of clickthroughs to the TU platform. We generated a ton of money to the company, who barely paid us peanuts in return.
I personally saw it with the blog promotion. At one point in time, the blogs (both staff and independent) were showcased on page B1 of the print edition of the TU. Then, all of a sudden, that disappeared, and instead there was a half-page recap of Kristi Barlette’s blog (and ONLY Kristi Barlette’s blog) in the paper.
That infuriated me. We were treated like scraps. So I vowed that until they started promoting the independent blogs again, I would take a day out of my week and promote them on MY blog. Which I did (the “Ten for Thursday” page, which later became “7 and 7 on Saturday,” which is now “What’s Up in the Neighborhood”). The TU got the message, and eventually started showcasing the blogs in the print edition, off and on, but I could tell it was a half-hearted effort on their part.
That’s not to say that we weren’t proud of what we wrote. I’m certainly proud of the articles I wrote – eight and a half years’ worth of articles and content for the TU platform, before I walked away. Yeah, I know that everything was finalized after April 1, 2017, but there were issues before then. I caught the TU editing my content and my blog headers without my permission or my consent. I caught them using my photos in one of their online slideshows without crediting or compensation (they claimed it was a software error).
The week before, Kristi Barlette did one of her blog listicles, where she mentioned that “When I think of good blogging, I think of Matt Baumgartner and Amanda Talar.” She mentioned two bloggers that hadn’t blogged for the paper in over six years. Which was an open-handed slap to the rest of the independent bloggers that were still on the blog platform that day, essentially saying, “you suck, we’d rather have bloggers back on the platform from years ago than you.”
So I really knew there would be a time when I would leave the blogfarm. And when they pulled my blog page and suspended me in April 2017 for my April Fool’s Day post, I didn’t go crawling on my knees begging and groveling and pleading for the TU to restart my blog. I walked away. I was done. Buh bye.
It took a few days for them to give me my archives back – hey, I was entitled to all of them – and I was done with the TU. Done done done. Other bloggers left as well.
Then they did the same thing to Heather Fazio. Heather was one of their most popular independent bloggers, and they froze her post after she spoke her truth during the #metoo movement. And she left.
And then they did the same thing to Lale Davidson. Lale Davidson wrote a satirical article, clearly labeled as satire, about NY-21’s Elise Stefanik. Stefanik had a tantrum over it, the TU turned around and kabonged Davidson’s blog.
Now comes news from one of the remaining TU independent bloggers, Frank Robinson, that the Times Union blog portal will no longer allow new blogs after February 5. “I was told some (not mine) violated the rules and staff resources could no longer be devoted to dealing with fallout,” wrote Robinson of the decision.
So the TU’s shutting down their independent blog portal because Elise Stefanik is a snowflake. Classy.
Yeah, and I know how the TU’s going to spin it. “Oh, it’s Davidson’s fault. And that Heather person’s fault. And what’s his face, Miller, the guy that wrote all the Amish Mafia recaps. It’s their fault. They didn’t follow the rules, and now everybody else must suffer. Especially that guy Miller. It’s all his fault. Fuck him. I hope he dies in his sleep.”
That’s fine. You say what you want to say on this. That’s on you.
Here’s how I see it. The TU had a golden opportunity to promote these blogs. To make these bloggers feel like their writing was worthwhile. And they squandered it. And now they’re going to blame the bloggers for the site’s demise. You know, the old, “It’s your fault that I’m hitting you” domestic abuse argument.
This could have all been avoided. The TU should have hired someone to communicate with the bloggers, a staff-blogger liaison, as it were. But they didn’t. They essentially designated someone else in the office who was involved with other projects to take this one on as well. And that person was woefully underequipped to handle that position.
Trust me, Mike Huber used to do that. He used to communicate with the bloggers when he could. But he’s not there any more. And his replacement couldn’t do it. And now, the only time the TU truly “communicates” with their independent bloggers is when they’re dropping the hammer on their posts. That’s it.
So what happens from here? The few independent bloggers that are still on the TU portal can move over to WordPress or Blogger or Medium portals of their own. And they’re free to say what they want and how they want to say it. They will need to request their archived posts from the Hearst Corporation. And make sure that the archives don’t have any flagged code in them that would cause an upload to crash.
And when you get your new blogsite up, send me an e-mail. I’ll add you to my blogroll.
Now, granted, I still have a lot of distaste about how the TU treated me and how they’re treating my fellow bloggers. But I will say that I would never retract a single blog post or word about what I wrote during that time. It was an experience, both good and bad. I still count many bloggers and readers from that time period as among my friends to this day.
But when I left in 2017, it was as if a gigantic weight had risen from my back.
And I’m not missing that weight.
Not one teensy bit.
And just because Elise Stefanik had a hissy fit over a satirical blog post, you’re shutting down the entire blogging platform.
Hey, you can shut down their platform, but you won’t shut down our voices.