Down on the Blog Farm

I’ve written here before at length about my very long (by internet standards) history as an online denizen, but as a brief summary recap for the sake of today’s post: I have been active in online communities since 1993, I had my own website in 1995, I owned my own domain in 1999, and I have been blogging for over a quarter-century at this point, doing so even before there was a word for what we were doing here in our shared virtual sandboxes. With nearly 30 years of laying myself out in the public virtual domain via literally dozens of evolving formats and platforms, I’d happily say that I have very few regrets about the way that such experiences have gone, with two notable exceptions. First, the hateful time-suck that social media became (which led me to abandon all of those platforms in the 2010s), and second, my one experience in letting a commercial entity host and control the content I shared, for fun, not profit.

That commercial era began for me in early 2007, by which point my blog, my many bylines in the popular Metroland alternative newsweekly, and my on-camera and behind-the-scenes activities on Time Warner Cable’s Sounding Board music television show had created a nice sense of brand recognition for me in my (then) home market in Northeastern New York. About a year earlier, The (Albany) Times Union (which was and remains the major regional daily newspaper in the market) had decided that they needed to get onboard with the emergent blog phenomenon, creating a portal that merged staff blogs with a variety of “reader-blogger” or “citizen-blogger” (their terms) pages. I was happily paddling about in my own pond when I was approached by a representative of the Times Union and offered the opportunity to place my work on their portal, ostensibly (per them) enhancing my exposure and readership. While I was doing just fine on my own, traffic-wise, I saw no meaningful red flags with that new Times Union relationship, so I agreed to the request and added my voice to their portal. It looked like this at the time (minus the broken links), for those inclined toward Albany nostalgia . . .

When I first posted at the Times Union, there were about 30 pioneering blogs there, with varying degrees of active participation; I was very much near the top end of that curve in terms of my volume, engagement and readership. That blogger number grew into the hundreds in the years that followed, and for a relatively brief period in the 2008 to 2013-ish period, the Times Union blog portal was a massive influence on and contributor to the regional political, arts, culture, social and creative communities thereabouts, and most everybody I knew and worked with at that point was actively engaged in some way, as a creator or a reader, in the works that were offered there. I was a good team player in that era, participating in various community engagement events designed to promote “citizen-bloggers” and their work (and, of course, the Times Union itself), and I got to know and love a variety of tremendous writers during that time who I would count as influences, inspirations and/or friends to this day, most notably Roger Green, Rob Madeo, Teri Conroy, Chuck Miller and Kevin Marshall.

But then September 2010 rolled around, and that all came to a painful, grinding, and abrupt halt for me, as I’ve written about here in this series of articles, for those who did not experience the situation in real time . . .

Ignore My Times Union Blog, Please

Bye Bye to You, T.U.

Good Riddance to the Times Union

The net result of that debacle was that I went off on my own to launch the Indie Albany and Indie Moines websites (no links, alas, as I pulled them both down and killed the domains some years ago), then consolidated everything back under my own imprint again around 2014. Which was all good and fine. What was not good and fine was that the Times Union held everything I’d written for them between 2007 and 2010 hostage, against my wishes, and it remains up on their site to this day. I also, sadly, got to watch a variety of friends and acquaintances chewed up and spat out by the Times Union in the years since then, when their unique work was deemed problematic from a commercial or political standpoint for a variety of reasons, few of them good. Rob and Chuck both went down in flames that way, and it was really ugly in both cases, and just plain mean, on many fronts. Fortunately, those two and most of the others quickly launched their own platforms, which I’m happy to still read, all these years on. Good writing is good writing, no matter where it resides.

The “bad citizen-blogger” issue blew up again in recent weeks when New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik had a meltdown about a satirical post by Lale Davidson on the Times Union blog portal. Apparently, this latest kerfuffle is the one that has broken the camel’s back as far as the Times Union‘s editorial team is concerned, as they have announced that they will be shuttering the citizen blogs effective February 5, 2021. It’s the end of an era, for sure. I can’t say that’s a bad thing, particularly, but it’s a thing nonetheless, and noteworthy, as a marked data point in the long time-line of the ways in which newspapers manage their bottom lines with interactive content on their websites. As publishing experiments go, I’m not sure the blog portal was ultimately a successful one for the Times Union, but it was certainly a long-running one in modern media terms. There aren’t many folks still hosted on the Times Union portal who I read regularly, but I do hope that the few good ones there find their own homes soon, as I’d like to continue reading them. We’ll see how that goes.

On a personal front, it does appear that this transition will finally release my own work from the Times Union portal, as I’ve been in touch with their blog manager, who’s indicated that it should not be a problem or issue to wipe my material off the newspaper’s website during the upcoming clean-up and purge. Yeah, I know that people who really, really want it will be able to find it via the Wayback Machine and other online archives, but it will still be psychologically satisfying to know that my work is no longer being held hostage against my will. It will also be satisfying to know that, in the long game, me and so many others have been better served by staking our own claims to our own turf, without giving away our work to support a profit motive that’s rarely compatible with our own creative self-interests. That was a big lesson learned, at bottom line. The hurts weren’t terribly material from any financial or professional standpoints, but they still stung, and I’ll be happy to have that annoying reminder removed from the public domain, even if it took more than a decade for that to happen.

12 thoughts on “Down on the Blog Farm

    • Interesting . . . your perspective appreciated, as always! I had not realized that you had been on the various pre-blog community sites for that long. I was still writing for Metroland in the ’90s, so was not as focused on TU material as I later became. End of an era for many of us, though. Live and learn!!

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  1. Pingback: Death of the Times Union community blog – Ramblin’ with Roger

  2. This has all been on my mind quite a bit. My issue with them was more about how they mismanaged the blog page, rather than the way they treated my blog in particular. This came after they approved comments on one of their own blogs that threatened violence against my family. When I saw that, I quit immediately.

    It’s funny. The guy who used to run the blogs was very good at charming people into bringing their work to the Times Union. I fell for it, and ultimately was lied to and betrayed. Lesson learned.

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    • Yeah, I’m with you. A fair number of folks are writing or commenting about how things were great when said guy was running the show, but my experience felt much like yours, in that I was drafted for service by him in a spirit of community and buddy-buddy-dom, then briskly maltreated when I was proven non-servile. The problems with mismanagement were all there in the “glory days” of the portal, and so I think this emergent prevailing narrative that it was later managers who broke it is facile . . .

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      • It IS true that said person had only so much control. And that the TU site had its problems while he was there. That Donna nutcase he brought in. But he cared about the product – and the product it was – whereas his successors had it foisted upon them

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        • There’s a really important point/facet there about product . . . of all the beefs that I have over that era, I think the biggest was that instead of honestly recognizing the reality that, yes, this was a product, and, yes, this advanced the profitability of the enterprise, we were recruited and assured that this was some sort of organic community, and that we were valued for who we were, and what we wrote. That’s the fallacy of a lot of the “in memorium” posts I’m seeing this week . . . if there was any organic sense of community and common purpose, we who were recruited made that, not he/they who recruited us. We shouldn’t succumb to Stockholm Syndrome after the fact, because in many cases, our already successful blog careers were kidnapped and hijacked by the TU, and that was NOT to our benefit, promises of “exposure” be damned.

          Good Sweet Lord, if “Donna” is who I think she is, I had suppressed my memories of her . . . I do recall logging in one morning while I was on a work trip in Manchester, VT, and seeing an extraordinarily graphic photo of someone who had been shot in the head with a shotgun on her blog feed, and because it was a fresh post, also on the automatically-generated “What’s New” segment at the top of the page. I immediately sent a “YOU NEED TO TAKE THIS DOWN RIGHT NOW” email to the TU staff folks, and I think that post was the one who got her removed. So, yes, they did the right thing that time, I think . . . but as soon as she was gone, they immediately looked to get someone(s) else(s) just as crazy to replace her, a typical and terrible example of how a perhaps legitimate interest in providing alternative views goes wrong when said views are just morally, legally, and ethically offensive, and do not deserve a public platform.

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          • Yeah. I guess I’m like Fran. I had low expectations and wasn’t all that interested in participating (and my own blog beforehand). My low expectations were exceeded. I DID develop relationships with some bloggers. And we came to the defense when Heather was censored (Rex said it wasn’t censorship; so he wished.) So it met MY needs because I am, by nature, a pessimist.

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            • Yeah, I do ascribe to the life theory that “I am a pessimist, because pessimists are never disappointed,” even as I aspire to be more of an open optimist than I am temperamentally capable of. It has been interesting, here in the death throes of the portal, to see how many of the still-active bloggers have been effusive in their praise and thanks for the experience, even as they are being run off for specious reasons having nothing to do with their work and writing. You and a couple of others (to your credit, I think) were more thoughtful about the experience. I still cannot help turning to a Stockholm Syndrome interpretation as to why so many people are praising an institution that has unilaterally punished them for no fault of their own . . . .

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  3. So I need to write my own take on this, not because it’s all that different than yours, I suppose, except that I’m still there, and I had a PREVIOUS relationship with Huber. Did it start in 2007? I have no idea. I started there in Jan 2008, pretty much because Huber cajoled me incessantly. I guess it was only for months; it FELT like years.

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    • Looking at the Wayback Machine, it looks like they launched the blog portal in early 2006, with community writers starting to jump on in bulk late that year or early 2007. I’ll look forward to your thoughts on it when you share them!

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  4. Pingback: What’s Up in the Neighborhood, January 30 2021 – Chuck The Writer

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