Category Archives: Blogging

What Closes On Saturday Night

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.

A Thousand Words from the Editor

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.

Newspapermen Are Such Interesting People

Let’s recap: over the weekend the Times Union squashed an April Fools’ post in their blog section. Truth be told, they squashed the blogger, too.

But is there a double standard at play?

Chuck Miller wrote an over-the-top satirical piece about Kellyanne Conway being invited to speak at the University at Albany commencement in May. He also wrote, even more outlandishly, that the school was naming its journalism program for Conway. It was obviously a joke.

Meanwhile, blogger Rich Guthrie wrote a rambling April Fools’ post about how bird watchers are sapping birds of their color with cheap binoculars. It was an inspired bit of quackery. Pun intended. Like Chuck’s post, it was obviously a joke.

Miller’s post was deleted and he was blocked from using his account. Editor Rex Smith himself published a retraction and declared, “Even on April Fools’ Day, there’s no place for fake news under the Times Union banner.”

Well, I guess there’s a little room for fake news, because Guthrie’s bird post is still up. Here’s the question: what makes Chuck Miller’s blog post fake news and Guthrie’s post acceptable?

Maybe the outcome would have been different if the newspaper’s publisher served on the board of the Audubon Society, instead of the University at Albany Foundation.  Your guess is as good as mine.

April Foolery

Times Union blogger Chuck Miller posted something new every single day since August 2009. That streak was broken today because the paper suspended him and locked him out of his blog.

What happened? The area’s biggest newspaper didn’t like Chuck’s post for April Fools’ Day, an innocent prank that implausibly suggested that Kellyanne Conway was scheduled to speak at the UAlbany commencement. They deleted the item, but I was able to save it from my news reader if you’d like to see it.

And the TU didn’t just take his post down and suspend him, they issued a retraction, from no less than the paper’s vice president & editor, Rex Smith:

A community blog hosted by timesunion.com falsely reported Saturday morning that Kellyanne Conway, a senior advisor to President Trump, would be the commencement speaker at the University at Albany. As soon as we were alerted to the post, we removed it from our site and suspended the blog. We apologize to anybody who was misled by this post, which was not written by a Times Union staff member. Even on April Fools’ Day, there’s no place for fake news under the Times Union banner.

Rex Smith, editor

Fake news? That’s not just crazy, it’s Trump crazy.

Chuck’s had this sort of fun on April 1 for as long as I can remember — it’s sort of a tradition. I’m sure he didn’t expect this violent, knee-jerk reaction from the paper, especially not after serving them faithfully, without a penny of compensation, for so many years.

So what made this April Fools’ Day different?

I suspect that somebody, maybe even somebody at the University at Albany, got hold of Rex Smith and complained. Or — and this is very likely — it came down from his boss, who is president of the University at Albany Foundation.  For Smith to step up early on a Saturday morning and intervene in something so trivial is extraordinary — but so is a call from your boss early on a Saturday morning.

I’ve been critical of the way the paper treats its bloggers. Times Union bloggers get nothing for their efforts, even though they provide free online content to one of America’s most powerful media organizations, Hearst Communications. The paper gets clicks, the bloggers get nothing.

It’s not merely that they don’t pay, but they also have the bloggers sign an onerous contract in which they surrender ownership of their content. We don’t pay you, but we own your work forever. Nice deal.

When all this went down, Chuck decided he’d had enough and quit. He’s started up a new blog on his own, and while he won’t have the audience the Times Union provides, at least he’ll have his dignity.

A Sensitive Area

A friend was concerned. “You don’t write much about local media any more. Is it getting better or are you just losing interest?”

Well, neither. It’s certainly getting different, but not better — and yes I’m still interested. The truth is that work consumes more of my brain capacity now, unlike in the Albany Eye days. Idle hands, idle hands.

But now and then, oh boy:

That headline is a masterpiece of poor taste, and it is funny at first — until you read the story. The jarring contrast between the jokey headline and the brutality of the crime is stunning. But maybe it was OK. After all, these were just a bunch of roughneck laborers from out of town, living in a cheap hotel. They aren’t like us, are they?

Oh, one more thing. Earlier in the day I read a story in the Times Union about a lawsuit brought by a man who’d been hit in the balls with a golf club. Before you ask, “What club does one use for that shot,” you should know that the guy lost a testicle. The reporter was less restrained, and wondered if the case, “might keep the judges from looking forward to golf season anytime soon.”

By the way, both of these stories were written by Robert Gavin, who covers law and the courts. I guess he’s the Paul Grondahl of crotch stories.

So local media? Maybe not better, certainly different, always interesting.

When Black Friday Comes

I’m not a shopper, so the whole Black Friday thing makes me want to puke. But for deal hunters, Friday is the Super Bowl of buying and many wild-eyed shoppers will be clutching the gigantic Thursday Times Union.

Newspaper circulars remain an effective way to advertise, so Thursday’s five-pound edition must be a real money maker. The paper has taken to flogging the hell out of the Black Friday special edition, even heavily promoting its release as an “event.”

Marketing newspapers has never been harder, but I must say, five pounds of newspaper does sound attractive. That would get me through a lot of litter box changes.

By the way, if it’s Thanksgiving, that means it’s time for the best side dish ever invented, Albany Eye Sweet Potato Crunch. I first shared the recipe in 2006, so this is an anniversary of sorts. And for those interested in history, it was posted just weeks before Albany Eye would crash and burn in a most spectacular manner. Good times!

Bad Case of the Blahhhgs

Fun fact: about one-quarter of Times Union bloggers haven’t posted anything in a month or more.

That’s not as bad as it sounds, actually.

It’s commonly accepted that about 95% of people who start blogging give it up. Numbers are hard to come by; researching abandoned blogs is almost as pointless as the abandoned blogs themselves. Nobody cares.

It does seem that some people take to it more than others. Let’s look at a couple of recent additions to the TU’s stable of bloggers. Former administrative law judge and author Frank Robinson started blogging in early November. Since then, he’s posted interesting pieces every few days. Good stuff.

On the flip side is Anasha Cummings. His introductory post appeared on November 24 and then he fell off the edge of the earth. He may not be much of a blogger, but at least he has awesome hair.

Some readers think I have some sort of beef with the TU blog section. Well, they’re right. But also, I’ve been making fun of writing about their blog content for nearly ten years, since my days as an amateur media critic.  Why stop now?

But enough for today.  Blog posts about blogs and blogging? Now that’s tedious.

On the Edge of Oblivion

A friend sent me an email.

Rob, I’m really surprised that you have nothing to say about the apparent demise of On the Edge. There hasn’t been new post there since August 27.

Really? This I have to see.

After some examination, it does appear that On the Edge, once one of the Times Union’s most popular blogs, is dead. Positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably dead. Most sincerely dead, even.

The busy blog went into a skid when Kristi Gustafson left in in 2014. Her successor tried like hell, but couldn’t quite capture the tart mix of style and opinion the readers loved — and others loved to hate.

What made On the Edge a real sh*tshow was the comment section, which provided a Greek chorus for Gustafson’s high-handed pronouncements. When she left, the mob fled.

This is a great example of the ephemeral nature of blogs, and testament to how one person’s unique voice can capture an audience.

Like the loss of Metroland, it’s a loss to the local media landscape. I didn’t like On the Edge — and why would I, because as a man, I certainly wasn’t the target demo — but you’ve got to admit, it was really good at what it did.

Pigture This

Inspiration can come from many places. A book, a beautiful landscape, a moving experience… mine came from Chuck Miller. Let me explain.

You may know him. Among other things, Chuck is the Times Union’s most prolific blogger, a trivia whiz and a really good photographer. At lunch a few months ago, I whined that I felt I was in a creative doldrums, particularly in regard to my photography.

“Here’s what you do,” he said. “Pick a picture you like and get it printed and framed — then enter it in the Altamont fair in August.” This was good advice. I’ve been a photographer for forty years, but most of my work is hidden away in boxes or hard drives. Maybe setting a goal, even one as simple as getting one photo entered in the fair competition, was just what I needed.

I chose one of my favorite pictures, some pigs I saw at Peter’s Dairy Farm in Castleton. I was there to shoot Carmine Sprio milking a cow for his cooking show, Carmine’s Table, and happened to have my $20 plastic Holga 120 with me. Those pigs are long gone — as is the cooking show — but the photo remains.

pigs

Anyway, I woke up this morning and saw Chuck’s blog post about how his Altamont Fair photo entries did — and nearly fell out of my chair when I saw that he posted a picture of my pig photo hanging at the fair with a blue ribbon under it.

How about that.

What Chuck did for me was a small thing that made a big difference, but that’s the kind of guy he is, somebody who does small things that make a big difference. We could all learn something from the example he sets, not just on how to be a better photographer but about being a better person.