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.

The Bear of Voorheesville

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.

Foto Friday

100 State Street

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.

Foto Friday

At the feeder

Trail Mix

Plenty of talk about the Albany County Rail Trail on social media recently.

On Facebook, a group called Bethlehem Resident News claims that thieves are using the trail as an express lane into Delmar from Albany. There have been a rash of car break-ins, so according to them, the perpetrators must be from Albany. They call the path the “Ho Chi Min Trail,” but I don’t think they’re suggesting it’s the Vietcong breaking into cars, do you? No, they’re saying it’s blacks from the South End.

Over on Twitter, there was a lively argument over whether these rail trails should remain unpaved green space, instead of developed into slick super highways for speeding bicyclists.

There may be something to that.

If you’ve been on the paved section between Albany and Slingerlands, you know how fast people ride. I made the mistake of running on the trail a few times, very early in the morning, and had to dodge careless cyclists who were ignorant of the common courtesies of sharing a trail with pedestrians.

The extreme end of the trail is in Voorheesville where I live. I’ve been running on the rough, unpaved surface recently, early in the morning when my only company have been deer. There are puddles and ruts, but I hope it’s never paved over.

Let’s not forget that bicycles are vehicles and they’re going to be on these trails they should travel at a reasonable speed — and if that means we don’t pave the paths, so be it.

Beaverville

The beaver are busy.

Just off Johnston Road in Guilderland, you can see where beaver have been working on a couple of substantial trees along the Normanskill. Many people are saying it’s part of a plot to cut off Voorheesville from the rest of the Capital Region. One never knows.

The beavers are eating these trees.

I don’t have to remind you that America’s largest rodent casts a long shadow here in ye olde Beverwijck.  Christ, they named the place after the beaver. Albany’s seal shows a beaver felling a tree as a white man and Indian look on, presumably saying, “WTF is up with these beavers?” Stranger yet, is the coat of arms of the Albany Diocese, which shows a beaver holding a bishop’s staff. Bishop Beaver, I presume?

But look closely and you’ll see lots of beaver activity around streams and swamps, and to learn more DEC’s excellent website has much information about beaver – including an extensive page on “nuisance beaver.”

Meanwhile, I’m interested in seeing how long it takes for those trees to come down. The beaver may have their revenge, yet.

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.