“Chalk up this one up as a winner. A bright spot on an increasingly bleak and depressing internet.”
In 2015, that was my blub-worthy assessment of The Albany Smudge, the Capital Region’s own Onion-esque satire website. Yesterday the humor page posted some bad news: they’ve had enough.
Publisher “Burt Wilkersonn” explained why the site is ceasing publication in a story dated June 18:
“We decided to stop before we completely sucked. I mean, how many times can you make fun of doctors’ wives and their naturally gifted children in Bethlehem, or the underprivileged folks of South Colonie?”
Albany Smudge possessed a keen understanding of the area and knew the exact location of its soft spots. They mercilessly jabbed at cultural touch-points — especially our stereotypes of local towns and their inhabitants.
It’s sad to see it go, but easy to understand. It must have taken a lot of time to write the well-crafted stories they published. Their output was prodigious, putting out new editions every week since November 2014.
I can’t say if Albany Smudge every caught on in the way it deserved. There’s so much content for people to sift through today — much more than when I used to publish Albany Eye, more than a decade ago.
The most impressive thing about Albany Smudge may be this: even when it took sharp aim, it was never mean. These days, that’s saying a lot.
There are a world of people out there that you’d never talk to, but put a
leash in their hand and you’ve got something to chat about, And it’s not just
trivial banter, like about the weather, but something that’s that’s
interesting and personal. Caring about someone’s dog, is caring about them.
But I’ve noticed something interesting about dog dialogue. Without
fail, one of the first questions is this:
“How old are they?”
I’m not sure if people are genuinely curious about how old ours dogs are, or if it’s just something to get the conversation going. Is it going to provide them with some insight into behavior or temperament? I don’t know if it would mean anything to me, unless we’re considering a very young or very old dog.
Sometime I give the answer in people years, which really throws folks off. One time, I said “This one’s nine and that one’s eight.” Then I gestured to my wife. “And she’s 55.”
Some of us had a pretty good laugh about that one.
It’s the end of an era: The Troy Record and the Saratogian have killed their most popular feature, Sound Off. Here’s how Sound Off worked: readers called an answering machine and left anonymous comments, which the newspaper then published. They did it for years — as long as I can remember — since my earliest recollection of the Record.
As you can imagine, it was a cesspool of vitriol and rumor — and fun as hell to read. But now it’s all over.
Record and Saratogian managing editor Charlie Kraebel explained:
We want our readers to be able to express themselves and share their thoughts, but with civility. We don’t want The Saratogian and The Record to be complicit in a coarsening of public discourse that anonymity seems to encourage.
Bravo, Mr. Kraebel! It’s inspiring that after this decades-long experiment in free speech, responsibility wins out in the end.
Hilariously, Talk 1300’s Paul Vandenburgh — who makes a living putting anonymous people on the radio to say whatever they like — condemned Sound Off and applauded its demise. I guess he prefers the sort of free speech where you can turn off someone’s volume.
I’ve always been curious about how closely an editor looked at these Sound Off items. Some were pretty crazy — but not any worse than the comments that show up every day in Times Union blog posts.
The only people who should be applauding the death of Sound Off, are the poor schnooks who were forced to transcribe the calls. That must have been an awful job, most likely a task for interns or a staffer who pissed off the boss.
Artists. They’re nothing but trouble!
Case in point: An art student at Shenendehowa High School tacked up pictures of President Trump and allowed his classmates to express themselves by drawing or writing on them. When school administrators discovered that people were scrawling obscenities on the pictures, the art installation was removed.
I’m pretty sure somebody also drew a dick on Trump’s face, which was as predictable as it was appropriate. And as predictable as the response from the school principal, who told WTEN, “Anytime we allow students to write whatever they want there’s a very good chance it won’t come out the way we want it.”
It reminds me of when I got in trouble as editor of the Carle Place High School newspaper, The Crossroads. One time I was interrogated by the gym teachers over writing an editorial about Title IX; on another occasion, the principal dragged me out of class for having the audacity to visit the district office and ask for a copy of the school budget. The same principal, Edward Leistman, later sacked the paper’s academic advisor and ended up in court over it.
We all thought it was outrageous that our tyrannical principal wanted to reign over our newspaper with an iron fist — but he did have a point. The school district was the paper’s publisher, Leistman explained. If we wanted free speech, we were welcome to pay for printing the paper ourselves, write it on our own time and not use his staff to help get it done.
The lesson: When someone else pays for your free speech, free it ain’t.
Satire is tricky. You have to be broad enough for people to realize it’s a joke, but not so broad that it descends into buffoonery. Good satire requires no explanation as it delivers a sharp kick to the shin.
Having said that, there is no bigger fail than when you begin your satirical piece with a disclaimer that reads, “This is a work of satire.” Would you get up before telling a joke and say, “This is a joke”? If so, you just lost.
Case in point:
This is a work of satire.
Oh, well. I guess I’d be worried to if I worked for people with no sense of humor.
The mornings are getting brighter, but when I’m out running at 5am, it’s still more dark than light.
On one recent morning as I was trudging along, in a field across from Indian Ladder Farms I spied a dark object. I recall my exact words, muttered to no one: “Holy shit, that looks like a fucking bear!”
I stopped and stared at the dark object. It was a good 40 yards off, but what else could it be, but a bear? I turned on the headlamp, but could not see a flash of eyes in the shadows. I clapped, thinking it would move — but then imagined myself being caught by the bear and mauled. The newspaper would have a field day with that.
Hmmm. Best to turn and be on my way, carefully putting distance between myself and the bear. A quick glance over the shoulder confirmed that it was not after me.
My wife was somewhat skeptical of the bear sighting.
“Were you wearing your glasses?”
No, I was running — but a bear!
I drove back there later in the day, now with a seed of doubt planted in my head. Here is what I saw, in the approximate location of the bear:
Well, OK — perhaps it wasn’t a bear. But imagine being chased by a small pine tree. Now THAT would be terrifying.
It’s nearly a month since the donnybrook over Chuck Miller’s April Fools’ blog post.
A quick re-cap.
Chuck’s piece claimed that Kellyanne Conway would speak at the UAlbany commencememt, and though it was up only a short time, it created a huge stir. In fact, within hours after it was posted, a group of UAlbany professors began mobilizing resistance to the Conway booking — something which brings new meaning to the word “gullible.”
In short order the Times Union deleted the post and blocked Chuck’s account. Chuck resigned and several bloggers protested, threatening to quit over the matter and demanding an apology from Rex Smith, the paper’s vice president and editor.
Rex Smith did respond, but one could hardly call it an apology. Aaron Bush, who quit the TU over the April Fools incident, published Smith’s response on his new blog:
A few key takeaways from Mr. Smith’s letter:
- Smith believes that Chuck’s post was not just untrue, but a “irresponsible” and “unfair,” a “caper” that “threatened the credibilty of the Times Union brand.”
- The Times Union blogs do not generate significant traffic or revenue.
- The paper does not have the resources to properly manage the blog section.
- Changes are coming to the blog page, including a “culling” that will eliminate inactive blogs — and perhaps also those that do not “focus on issues of greatest interest to the Capital Region.”
- He regards the criticism he received over this issue as a personal attack.
I don’t like how the Times Union handled the whole situation, but it’s easy to understand why they did what they did. It will be interesting to see what happens next. If anything, I think we all can agree that there are some blogs over there that are ripe for “culling.”
But if the Times Union blogs are so insignificant, as Mr. Smith says in his letter, isn’t it strange that he made such a big deal over Chuck’s prank? It’s true that newspapers are weathering a storm of change, but rest easy. They still have the spunk to pick a fight that they can easily win.