Goodbye, Times Union

Good morning and happy Saturday! I mentioned on the About page what some of my reasons are for the creation of this site, and that I would have more to say about the end of my relationship with the Times Union. Here it is.

If you’re not familiar with the saga of Chuck Miller’s April Fool’s Day post, please read the following Times Union blogs.

Heather Fazio

Roger Green

David Kalish

Robert Hoffman

My own blog post

And lastly, read the blog post by Judd Krasher with the well written open letter to Rex Smith detailing our concerns.

After days of silence from the TU management, and despite the new blog manager being fully aware from day one of what we bloggers had been discussing in our private Facebook group before we published our individual posts (Facebook shows you which group members have seen our discussions), we finally received this lengthy response from editor Rex Smith. Some of the bloggers it was addressed to have so far declined to share this publicly. I have no problem doing so because, as one blogger stated, Rex’s response is quite a shame, and I think it should be seen.

Dear Roger, Heather, Rob, Aaron and Judd,

In the hopes of resolving what I think arises from a misunderstanding of my role, communicating with you directly strikes me as a good idea. I recognize that you may wish to post this on your blogs, but my goal here is really to reach out to you, the bloggers who have posted attacks on the Times Union and me personally in the aftermath of the April Fools’ Day events. (Obviously, I could have posted directly to your blogs anytime, but I don’t want to project the notion that I’m coming down hard on anybody by abruptly showing up in your comments. My goal isn’t to squelch commentary, but rather to enhance understanding. That’s why I’m writing to you directly rather than jumping on people who might be commenting.)

Here’s what I consider important to say: Your right to express your views, which you seem to suggest I have abridged, is very clearly on display in that we have continued to publish your blogs even when what you have written has been quite offensive to both me personally and to the reputation of the Times Union. If we were truly interested in “censorship” – a word that has been thrown around a lot, quite inaccurately – then we surely wouldn’t have tolerated the negativity aimed at me and at the Times Union by some of you and your commenters. At the same time, I’m quite convinced that my action in blocking the April Fools’ Day post by Chuck Miller was the right thing to do. So I’m communicating with you in the spirit of a conversation in the family, because you have joined the community of Times Union content creators.

Consider, first, that word “censorship,” which, of course, is what a government does to inhibit free speech. What I do, however, is “edit.” There’s a big  difference: We’re all free in America to express our views without fear that somebody will censor us, but nowhere does the First Amendment promise any of us a platform for those views, either in print or digitally. Part of my job is to assure that what is reported beneath the Times Union flag is true and fair. Chuck’s blog post was neither – untrue by design, and unfair because of the damage it did to both the University at Albany and to the Times Union. Unfair, also, because it violated the terms and conditions applicable to the blogs, by which bloggers promise not to post material that is “false, deceptive, misleading…” and so on.

By the time I found out about the blog post, the university already was getting criticism by phone and online, and some of its faculty members were discussing how to organize opposition to the purported decision to honor Kellyanne Conway. The caper threatened the credibility of the Times Union’s brand, which I couldn’t tolerate. That sort of confusion is why reputable newspapers never engage in April Fools’ Day tricks. In journalism, which is my line of work, it’s considered irresponsible. (By the way, that’s not the same as satire, which we all enjoy. Satire isn’t a trick; nobody is trying to mislead folks into thinking it is true. Satire is an intentional distortion of reality to underscore a truth.)

So we took down the material and notified Chuck that his blog had been “suspended pending review.” I assumed that we would then have a conversation about the matter – perhaps on Monday, since this was a Saturday morning – but instead Chuck quickly sent us a letter of resignation. I’m sorry he decided to do that. We really wish him well in his independent venture.

I wish, too, that any one of you might have reached out to me directly if you were unhappy about my actions, instead of posting attacks from the sidelines. I’m accessible to readers every day. At a time when fair and honest journalism is being denigrated from the highest office in the land, and when people in my line of work who are just trying to tell the truth about public affairs are being labeled “enemies of the people,” it’s shocking to see you casually tossing about language that further undermines serious journalism. I don’t think my record of standing up for truth-telling in this community for the past 30 years suggests I deserve your attacks. For you to disparage my work and the credibility of the platform that we offer you – in defense of a silly April Fools’ Day post, for heaven’s sake! – strikes me as both unfair and irresponsible.

Here’s where I owe you an apology: Perhaps if we had the same newsroom staffing levels as in past years we would have been able to reach out to you more quickly. I’m sorry if our lack of contact with you has seemed disrespectful. Since the departure of Mike Huber, who was your newsroom liaison for many years, we don’t have the luxury of assigning someone to pay such close attention to the community blogs anymore. Partly for that reason, we have been planning some changes in the blog community, including a culling of inactive blogs and a sharper focus on issues of greatest interest to the Capital Region. In that regard, you will hear more soon from Shannon Fromma, who will be your main point of contact here, and from Senior Editor/Engagement Tena Tyler. They’re going to want to meet with each blogger.

We support the blogger community on timesunion.com not for its commercial value – honestly, the pageview numbers are a tiny share of our traffic, and the revenue the blogs generate is minimal – but, rather, because we believe a newspaper ought to be the center of community conversation. Blogs are a great vehicle for helping reach that goal. My simple hope is that Times Union community blogs, including yours, will give our readers perspectives that they might not otherwise see and hear. I’m sure you share that goal, and I hope you can see your way clear to remaining a collaborative and productive member of our blogging community.

PS: Could one of you please email this to Chuck, too? I do not have an email address for him, but I don’t want him to think I’m writing anything about him behind his back. Thank you.

Sincerely yours,

Rex

My first thought after reading this tripe is that there are a apparently a surprising number of SUNY faculty who clearly lack the ability to reason, and rather than be embarrassed by their own stupidity, they put pressure on the Times Union to find them a convenient scapegoat. I get that SUNY is still nursing a self inflicted black eye for their overreaction to the bus incident last year where three African-American students claimed they were attacked because of their race. The initial response from the SUNY administration and faculty, before the facts came out, left them with quite a bit of egg on their faces. It’s just a shame that Chuck had to be that scapegoat for these “adults” at SUNY. That these people are teaching the future of this country really is quite shocking and utterly shameful.

Then there is the fact that for all of Rex’s concern about serious journalism and making sure what is reported under the Times Union flag is fair and true, and that bloggers adhere to their agreement not to post material that is false, deceptive, and misleading, there was no mention of other bloggers who do (and since this incident with Chuck, continue to) post material that is false, deceptive, and misleading, and disparaging to the credibility of the Times Union in almost every one of their posts. None. Plenty of examples were provided to Rex, too. It leaves me wondering which friends of Rex’s those bloggers need to embarrass before the Times Union addresses that.

It’s a shame that Rex feels like the Times Union, and he personally, were “attacked” by us bloggers. I’m not sorry we raised our voices as we did. Nope, not one bit. I think we were fully justified in publicly seeking an explanation for the Times Union’s blatant hypocrisy, which we still haven’t actually received. I am sorry that Mr. Smith apparently has such a fragile ego that he chose to interpret our concerns in the manner that he did, and chose to be as condescending in his response as he was. Remember, the Times Union doesn’t pay us, so we certainly aren’t going to kiss his or anyone else’s ass. I’m also sorry that he apparently lacks the balls to tell a bunch of crybabies at SUNY to deal with their own ridiculous overreaction to what was obviously satire.

So, there you have it. Some may disagree, but I take comfort knowing I am not alone in my opinion. Some of my fellow bloggers had already bailed before me. More will certainly follow, and I think we are all completely justified in doing so. Rex may be correct that the revenue generated by the blogs is minimal, but the content it receives (and doesn’t pay for) has great value, and now it’s their loss.

6 thoughts on “Goodbye, Times Union”

  1. Hi to you, Aaron, and wow! where the hell have I been: in my spaceship circling high above the chaos on Earth. Being out of the loop and having the genteel title of “founder” of the Fiber Arts blog and barely posting, largely because I’ve taken my act on the road, I have to tell you this isn’t the first time this has happened.

    Does anyone remember J. Eric Smith who was a leading TU blogger for a long time and then got disgusted with where the TU was headed and set out with a group of writers and founded Indie Albany, which was an awesome undertaking? I was with Eric on that adventure and it was a wonderful journey. I miss it.

    I’m not sure what this new business of each blogger meeting with someone from the TU is all about. I read that here and I hope they plan to pay mileage. And their idea of a focus on the Capital Region is going to become a repetitious drag in no time flat. There’s just so much to do/see/kvetch about/ruminate over/or give a shit about in this area. And if they’re going to try to sidestep political controversy on the blogs then they should cut out all those political bloggers who flog their opinions and cadge votes.

    And where the hell is Mike Huber? Mike was one of the reasons many of us stayed.

    I think Fiber Arts over at the TU was a great idea when Mike Huber and I put it together in 2010. The fiber arts scene was also different than with less shopping on line and more shopping our local yarn stores because there was a choice of local stores, and events and lots of “stuff” happening. We’ve had some terrific writers come and go. I recruited Aaron because I didn’t want the blog to be a grannie hen party. I’m very glad I did.

    I sent an e-mail to my last woman standing co-writer, Ellen Margulies, to ask her if it was time to euthanize the blog. After all, what the hell is a Capital Region focus when there are no yarn stores, few events, and most of what we talk about is out there in the wide world. I’d rather be proactive and write that final post thanking everyone who wrote and everyone who read. I understand editorial standards but there’s are limits to my enthusiasm: having an interview after 7 years on the job is absurd.

    But, here’s an idea: why not another Indie Albany? A place to post our thoughts, crazy ideas, commentary, artsy stuff, and art. It was a hit for its years in existence. It would be the antidote to corporate involvement. It’s a thought. We’re all great as individuals but imagine what we could do as a group. That’s the thought for the day…

    Like

    1. Thanks for a nice remembrance, Phyllis. Indie Albany was great fun with great folks, and an excellent collaborative palate cleanser after the ugliness of my final days at the Times Union. (Even if Metroland called me a bloviator!) I set up Indie Moines after I moved to Iowa in 2011, and ran it for a couple of years before collapsing everything back into my own domain. I’m in Chicago now, and blogging less than we all did once upon a time, though very much enjoying the richness and depth of the cultural community here.

      Aaron, I know you were there when I was there and remember nice chats at one event or another, so glad to see you take the same sort of stand now that I did then. There’s a sad point to be made on your final sentence — “the content it receives (and doesn’t pay for) has great value, and now it’s their loss” — though, since they never have taken my content down (nearly seven years on), and I doubt they will yours either. (Well, except for the posts they found offensive, which did disappear). So Google searches for things I wrote and have on my own site(s) are complicated by those older entries still showing up on TU, with noxious advertisements beside them. I hope that’s not a problem for you going forward.

      Maybe since they want to have a cull, I can help them out by suggestion they begin with the pages and photos I want removed? For those reading your new blog who might not remember that the more things change, the more they remain the same, here was my own departure note from September 2010:

      https://jericsmith.com/2010/09/21/the-verdict-is-in/

      That and the related pages that they removed in 2010 will remain on my own blogs until they finally delete all of my content from their site.

      Like

      1. Hi Eric, it’s great to hear from you. My content left with me. It will be re-published here as time allows. An arduous task, for sure. The only posts left of mine on the TU site are the earliest ones published under either Phyllis’s or Harriet’s names, and my last two.

        Like

  2. That’s good news that they removed your posts, Aaron, and I am glad to hear that. Progress, I guess. Chuck’s are still up as I peek right now (though not linked from blog portal page), as are mine, alas.

    Rob M and I have both requested ours be removed over the years, to no avail. I suspect the enforcement rules on “once it’s posted, it stays forever” (selectively enforced, of course) have changed since Mike’s departure . . .

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s