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.
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.
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.