Good Riddance to the Times Union

The Times Union has ruled that it can’t remove political advertisements from its community bloggers’ pages. I provided a slightly different version of the comment below in response to their ruling, which cites me by name, and I post it here for posterity’s sake:

I’m disappointed that the staff at the Times Union is unable to make a distinction between political and commercial advertisements. They are different beasts, legally, in a wide variety of ways, and it did not seem unreasonable to me that they might recognize that difference, and create different placement parameters within their ad-server system.

As I’ve noted before, at bottom line, there’s no law preventing me, as a nonprofit executive, from telling you that I or my organization do business with a particular company and that said company does well by us (unless I am illegally directing my agency’s activities to benefit my own or my family’s interests, of course), but there are laws preventing me from publicly endorsing partisan political candidates.

In the worst case scenario, my organization could lose its tax-exempt status over such public, partisan political endorsements made by me. That’s a big deal.

Yes, sophisticated readers will no doubt understand that a political advertisement next to my name and picture here doesn’t necessarily mean that I endorse the candidate. But . . . the reality of the situation is that my image and my name and my likeness are, in fact, supporting that candidate, indirectly, if the candidate gets some name recognition from my readers. And I don’t consider that an acceptable situation.

If someone came along and put signs for a political candidate in my yard, and I left them there, then I would accept some culpability if someone got confused and thought that I was endorsing a specific candidate over another. Same concept applies here: the Times Union advertising department came and stuck signs on my blog lawn, and since I can’t remove them, I have to move instead.

As a bigger, less personal issue, I also believe that unpaid bloggers, in general, are closer to editorial letter writers than they are to journalists, so even when they don’t have the employment constraints that I do, I consider it wrong to put partisan political advertisements on their pages, just as it would be wrong to put partisan political advertisements on the editorial pages of the print version of the newspaper.

As some have noted, these may be extreme or overly-conservative positions on my part. Perhaps they are, but as head of a nonprofit corporation, I feel that I must always take the most professionally conservative positions on such matters to protect my organization, my constituents, my family and myself.

Which is why I am leaving the Times Union as a blogger, a reader, and a long-time print subscriber. This is no longer a business venture that I wish to support in any way, shape or form.

For what it’s worth, I have formally requested that the Times Union remove all vestiges of my blog from its website, but they’ve decided that it’s more important to feed the advertising beast than it is to honor such requests, and so my work will be held hostage there, against my will, in perpetuity. Well, except for the posts they didn’t like, which vanished immediately.

I take comfort in knowing that karma’s a bitch . . .

23 thoughts on “Good Riddance to the Times Union

  1. I think I’ve read all of Mr. Huber’s responses to Eric. The last one, in particular, seems to have a tone that the bloggers need the TU more than the TU needs the bloggers.

    I would love inside information on just who brings home the bacon in this relationship. The TU most likely turned to bloggers to increase traffic on the site. I would bet that when TU sales staff is pitching their product to advertisers, the number of hits reported to potential clients includes all blog traffic – readers, comments, rebuttals. Those numbers are intended to persuade advertisers to place orders.

    I wonder what percentage of all visits to the TU site come from blog traffic and how that percentage compares to other parts of the site. Perhaps Mr. Huber can share that information in his blog.

    In this unfortunate situation, we have a prolific writer who has requested a little sensitivity and consideration for his professional position, and he is told, essentially, that his request is unreasonable. What the TU needed is more dogs to pull the sled (for free). Don’t look around, don’t ask for anything – just pull the sled. Just keep writing and generating site traffic. The needs of advertisers are what matter here. The concerns expressed by one of those generating the web traffic that convinced the advertisers to place an order do not matter.

    I wonder what would happen to TU traffic if all of the unpaid bloggers decided to observe a two week moment of silence for their departed colleague. Would the sales department tell advertisers that the blogs will be dormant for two weeks? My guess is that they would not.

    I think Mr. Huber’s posts can be summed up in one word – “Mush!”

    (submitted below your note)

      • Before answering, I should note that I’m not sure why these posts related to me leaving the Times Union are getting heavy traffic now and showing up in the “People Are Reading” column, which is automatically generated . . . I’m not going to delete them (until the TU deletes my blog there, anyway), but I’d prefer they not be among our most read posts. If I had to guess from search engine terms, they may be coming up as people are looking for information related to the recent National Labor Relations Board rulings against the TU. I guess they’re the gift that keeps on giving, from a Google indexing standpoint. While reviewing them today, I did edit them to bring them up to date, e.g. where they contained text about “I might leave if . . . ,” they now say “I did leave, because . . . ”

        In re: where can you read that . . . I wrote this blog post on the Times Union originally, along with the two posts linked in the first paragraph. After I left, when they put back all of the posts I deleted, they didn’t include these three posts, nor the comments that were made on them. It may be because they hadn’t been captured in some prior backup, so when I deleted all of my posts off of the TU, they were gone for good. Or it may be that they made a conscious decision to delete them, even though I was told that my entire blog was part of the historic record, and had to be preserved. I’ll give them benefit of the doubt. I’ll leave it to others whether you do or not.

        The post that Russell was referring to was the formal response to the issue I raised. It’s here, along with the comments it generated: http://blog.timesunion.com/michaelhuber/political-ads-on-blogs/117/

  2. I have to admit that I had some of the same reaction to the blog post today, Russ, in that it seemed to imply that the value of the exposure given to the blogger by the TU was greater than the value of the content that the bloggers gave to the TU, but I thought it would be churlish and self-centered of me to do so there.

    So thanks for doing it for me!

  3. I think the “God Bless the advertisers” line put me over the edge. I almost responded to the “you’re taking me away from my family” post but held off.

    Whether or not Michael agrees with the corporate decisions, he has chosen to mount a spirited defense and has produced with some thought provoking points. I just thought his tone got away from him a bit.

    Sad.

  4. I too detected a note of arrogance in Mike’s post, which is understandable.

    The last research I saw showed that they are a dominant number one in terms of local Web traffic, so we shouldn’t be surprised when they act like they’re doing the bloggers a favor.

    I would love to see a two week blogger walkout, but I don’t think we’d see much participation.

  5. Rob – Does that dominant #1 go for each section of the site? I would bet that there are some parts of the site that were created as digital versions of the paper sections that do not draw the same traffic as the blog sites. If you went section by section, my guess would be that the blog traffic rises closer to the middle – if not a bit higher.

    • Unknown. The audit I saw just measured overall use of the site.

      The important thing is that it all adds up. Combine many small niche audiences and you get a big number.

      • There are a variety of online sources for estimating web traffic of large sites.

        Here’s what Quantcast says about just the blog portion of TU.com . . . http://www.quantcast.com/blog.timesunion.com . . . you can fiddle with the settings and views and get some decent info there.

        Looks like the page views swing from about 50,000/day on the weekend to 150,000/day during the work week, with occasional spikes up over 200,000/day.

        Dunno how accurate that is, but with between 150 and 200 blogs there, if they were all equally favored that would be about 1,000 page views/day during the work week.

        I know that the A-list blogs there do significantly better than that, and based on my experiences with other websites, and my gut analysis, I would wager that folks in the mid-tier, like me, are probably in the 400-600 page views/day range.

        So what I take from that is that at the other end of the bell curve, a LOT of the bloggers on the TU blog page are likely scoring in the less than 100 page views/day range . . . which pretty much ANYBODY could do on their own at any other blogging site without too much effort.

        So the “We’ll get you more traffic” is probably true for those whose blogs emerge from the pack and hit the “most active” tier fairly regularly, but for those who don’t . . . I’m not sure how much benefit you’re getting from this relationship, if Quantcast’s numbers are anywhere close to accurate (e.g. within an order of magnitude).

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  7. J. Eric:

    Isn’t that exactly what I predicted would happen? I said that corporate would hold the position that ads get served everywhere and everyone has to suck it up.

    As for Mr. Huber, I’m a little sick of his arrogant, petulant attitude. Every time I’ve had an interaction with him, if he even deigned to respond, it was with a “how dare you” tone. He needs to learn how to interact better with the TU’s audience.

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