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 . . .
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.