So, You Want to be a Times Union Blogger?

There are some good reasons to be be a Times Union blogger. For example, there’s the exposure you get to a large audience. And don’t forget about the… ummmm… and… well alright, that’s the only reason.

And that’s OK.

If you have something to sell, whether it be yourself, a product, or service, a big readership is great. The other thing is that we all like to be heard. Artists want to have their work seen, actors crave an audience, and writers wish to be read.

But there are some negatives.

Compensation
How would you like to work for a huge media company and not get paid? They call it building a community. I call it having people do work for free and then peddling it to advertisers. Oh, you say, they don’t make money on those blogs! Really? Why are there ads on the sites then? Look, I’ve spent years writing for free and don’t mind. Working for free while someone profits from your labor is another matter.

Ownership
Read the terms of service that they make bloggers sign and you’ll find something surprising: they own your work and may do whatever they like with it. They can present it in any context, put ads that you don’t like on your page, and even jerk you around when you say you’re leaving and you want to take the content with you. True, they will most likely be a benevolent master, but one never knows, does one?

It’s funny that they say they own the content and then put this disclaimer on your blog: The Times Union is not responsible for posts and comments written by non-staff members.

Community Spirit
Here’s a sample of the insightful comments you’ll find in the TU blog section. It was left on a post about a woman awarded $500,000 in a lawsuit after being raped in prison by a corrections officer:

I wonder what happened to the jail guard, are they both laughing their way to the bank. She probably planned this so she could be a thug millionaire with the guard.

Nice.

I realize that the Times Union is trying to tackle this issue, but remember that as long as you are on a site that allows this sort of hateful dialogue, you are part of the problem. Yes, you are. You may be very responsible in how you moderate comments, but next door, like on the Crime Confidential blog, they’ll publish any trash that the readers submit. Sleep with dogs and you wake up with fleas.

And there you have it. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t write for them, just know where you stand. To me it looks like they hold all the cards.

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30 responses to “So, You Want to be a Times Union Blogger?

  1. Rob, I’d quit, but I’ve already quit twice and the first time, it was you who talked me out of it. Besides, would anyone notice?

  2. You wrote it yourself in a post a long time ago: why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

  3. I know I signed something when I started blogging there, but since it was well before the date posted on that version of the ToS Agreement, I don’t recall if it was that onerous or not. In general terms, I was okay with giving the ability to use my words for commercial purposes, as long as their rights weren’t exclusive, i.e. I could take those words and use them as I saw fit, too.

    I remain troubled by their unwillingness to address the core issue I raised: are political adverts the same things as commercial adverts? I’d say “NO” resoundingly, but I’d appreciate hearing something beyond silence as to why they seem to consider the answer to be “YES.” Instead, from both readers and staff alike, I’m getting folks telling me that adverts come with the turf/exposure . . . . yes, yes, I KNOW THAT, I AGREE WITH, I SAID THAT. Now . . . tell me about why political adverts don’t merit separate rules from commercial ones. That’s what I’m upset about. That’s what I want and need to hear before I can decide whether or not I’ll return in November or not.

    Sigh.

    • It’s like the NFL. The bosses write the rules, hire the referees, own the players, and make all the money. At the end of the day we are expendable, because there’s always another guy waiting to step up and play.

      I get so carried away during football season.

      My prediction is that they don’t do anything about the ads, even though they probably could select where to run them.

  4. Re: At the end of the day we are expendable, because there’s always another guy waiting to step up and play.

    Around 1999, I wrote a piece about how alternative newsweekly music critics (of which I was one at the time) were the lowest form of life in the journalism field, because they would work for nothing more than a free album or concert ticket, so desperate were they (we) to have those bylines.

    In 2010, the bloggers sit beneath the alternative newsweekly music critics, even, so you’re 100% right . . . there’s an endless line of folks ready to replace us.

    I have been a (bit) annoyed by the comment contention that I joined the TU blog page to get some form of media cred or validation. I had that before I got there (as did you) . . . I didn’t feel like I was begging to get in there, I felt like I had something to offer, and an audience that would follow me when I offered it.

    • We can all be replaced.

      Except Kevin Marshall. In his case, there is no substitute.

      • Yeah, Kevin’s an original. There’ll be no replacing him. It was good to share a page with him.

        And that’s what makes me sad about leaving the TU . . . true, there are some blogs there that I absolutely despise (and they’re not the ones you’d expect, so don’t make assumptions, readers), but there are some blogs there that I adore, written by some people I truly admire. I’ll still read them, but it won’t be (quite) the same to not be part of the community with them . . .

        I think having passed through denial (“They couldn’t possibly be putting political ads on my blog, could they???”, anger (“THEY’RE PUTTING POLITICAL ADS ON MY BLOG!!!!”) and negotiation (“Take the political ads off my blog, or I will leave”), I’m now at the sadness stage of my relationship with TU.com (probably compounded by this all happening on the anniversary of my father’s death).

        Hopefully, tomorrow is acceptance. Excelsior.

        • The surprising thing to me is that even after you asked they were unwilling to work with you. I guess that tells me everything I need to know.

        • You’re both far too kind while also selling yourselves short. Both of you have left a big chasm that won’t be filled.

          • Maybe far too kind…

            As for the chasm, they’re adding new people all the time, so I have no doubt the TU blog section will remain vibrant and interesting. At least for a little while.

            I think what’s needed in this town is some competition. The TU has a good head start because it has built in traffic, but imagine if someone could come up with a viable alternative?

  5. I think it’s gotten pretty pathetic over there and, basically, that’s the reason I rarely go on TU blogs anymore.

    • The staff blogs which talk about news stories are the worst, like Read & React and Crime Confidential — but even the unpaid bloggers who write harmless things get viciously attacked, too. They should force people to register with a valid email if they’d like to comment; that would cut down on the abuse. Yes, they’d get less comments, but it would be a smarter place with less hooliganism.

      So why not? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nasty comments drive traffic and clicks equal cash. Cha-ching!

    • Monkeyboy, you were one of my favorite commenters. I wondered what happened to you.

  6. Surprisingly, I actually had a comment NOT printed in the Crime Confidential. I quoted a statement made by a famous celebrity. I put it in quotes and had their name after it. Nope. Denied. And after all the crap that people write? I was like, wtf?

    Also, don’t forget, popular commentators seem to have A LOT more leeway.

  7. For me, the issue of whether I want to blog for the TU or not is my personal choice. I understand and support Rob’s and J Eric’s decision to withdraw from blogging on the TU site. They are acting on their principles and convictions, and nobody should ever dissuade someone from acting on what they believe is right.

    Now I could, in theory, go back to my little blogspot.com weblog, and continue to write about this that and the other thing, with an audience of maybe two readers and 15 spambots. But every blogger’s situation is different. Everybody blogs for a different reason.

    And for me, one of the things that hasn’t been addressed, in my working with the TU, has been the number of friends and confidants I have met in the past year. The community and volunteer bloggers have been great people to work with and talk to and share ideas with. I don’t put that on the TU ownership or front office.

    Trust me. Before 2009, the person writing this blog response could count the number of true friends on one hand, and still have a couple of fingers and a thumb left over. Today, I can count friends both on the TU blogroll, friends among my readers and posters, as well as those who have left the TU – such as Rob Madeo and J Eric Smith. These are wonderful friendships, friendships that can’t be censored or edited by anyone, either from Hearst or otherwise.

    I don’t speak for every blogger in the TU, and I would never presume to do so. All I can do is speak for myself. Hope everyone understands.

    • Thanks for the heartfelt reply, Chuck.

      Everyone should do what’s best for their situation, and for many people sticking with the TU is a good way to go. What I’d sincerely like is for them to fix some of the things that don’t work, particularly the horrible comments. Many large, well run web sites are very strict with comments; why not the TU?

      The lack of a coherent policy on comments is a blight on their blog effort.

      • Is it coincidental that the few bloggers that I really enjoy reading (Rob, JES, Teri and a select few others, yes, you too, Kevin) seem to draw the most hateful personal attacks ? or is it because I read them the most often so I notice it happening there more?
        And the same names seem to be the ones doing the attacking on the various blogs.

        I feel like there is a small group of posters that thrive on trying to drag down the above bloggers and often fall back on personal and hateful comments.
        I admit I am relatively new to this world of blogging but it seems like too many get verbally assaulted and insulted unnecessarily.
        God forbid you offer an opinion differing from that of the attack posters! Prepare to suffer their wrath!

        • The most harshly maligned non-paid blogger at the TU is Jeanie DiNapoli who writes on the Bethlehem Blog. There’s a group of people who seem to hate everything she writes, and they don’t hold back in letting her know. I give Jeanie a lot of credit for posting their comments. It’s nothing short of abuse.

          My reason for quitting were the seemingly unmoderated comments on TU blogs that advocated violence and retribution against my family. I can take criticism, but when people are suggesting my kid should be shot, that’s crossing the line. Michael Huber, Times Union Interactive Audience Manager, seems to think those comments are OK to publish. I disagree.

          As I said in another comment, there are lots of blogs and online forums that tightly moderate comments to keep things civil, so why not the TU? I’m starting to think the answer to that question is the same as the answer to so many other questions in this world: money.

  8. I actually don’t feel like I get many negative comments, Chip . . . but, then, I don’t often post about provocative sorts of things that fire people up, and when I do, I generally work to talk them down if they get animated. Even the current situation has only generated a couple of negative reactions, with most folks at least understand, if not agreeing with, the position I’ve taken. So I feel kinda lucky in that regard, in not having any really difficult blog stalkers . . .

  9. It’s OK to suggest that a child be shot. It’s NOT OK to post a picture of someone who has been shot.

    As far as blog stalkers, as long as they are part of the “in” crowd, it’s all good.

  10. Albany Eye Has It

    Just don’t understand why anyone complains about the Times Union’s blog policies.

    Understand that the Times Union is a blood-only country club. You get a paying gig there only by your relationship (kin is best, marriage second, blond third) to an existing staffer and, better yet, to someone in the executive chain.

    The Times Union is a connections place. Merit matters not at all. Used to a long time ago, but not now.

    Accept the fact that Rex Smith sees the Times Union merely as a vehicle to his long-term goal: a seat on the editorial board of The New York Times. It’s common knowledge that Mr. Smith, a Columbia Journalism grad and prof there now, would sacrifice a live virgin (if he could find one) on LIVE national television to convince The Pinch to bring him to The Times.

    The publisher is an advertising hack from The Hartford Courant. The guy believes Kristi Gustafason is one of his best journalists. Not best writers. Not best drawer of eyes. Not best revenue producers.

    The guy actually thinks Ms. Kristi is up there with Brandon Lyons, one of the few journalists left at the place. The publisher’s viewpoint on Ms. Kristi is common knowledge and it’s sad.

    Many have long known that if you screw with the TU or question its staff in the slightest, you get bounced. It’s that simple. Think of the TU as a high school clique, complete with its “Ins”, “Outs”, and petty backstabbing, and you’re on the right track.

    The TU owns the market. No serious media competition. No reason for the staff to push themselves. No impetus for the paper to improve. In short, a monopoly, unchecked, unfettered, and more than willing to use its bloggers and its readers to retain its unquestioned power.

    The Times Union stuck it to The Eye and a number of other bloggers. So what? You think you’re the first? Or the last? A monopoly, by its very nature, eliminates the competition and then abuses its staff and its customers. That Economics 101. And that’s the Times Union.

    Ignore the rag. You’ll be much more content in the long run.

  11. Well . . . just to close the loop here, I guess that’s that:

    http://jericwrites.wordpress.com/2010/09/16/the-verdict-is-in/

  12. I realize I am late to this post, but I too have had a select group of commentors that say some not so nice things.

    I am not in the league of a Kevin Marshall, Rob Madeo, or J. Eric Smith and even I, a lowly Schenectady blogger, get sh*t on sometimes.

    I think some people are just hurtful and mean because it makes them feel better as a person. I don’t know.

    • I think you’re right, Will.

      What I don’t think is right is the TU’s policy of publishing all that crap. It’s a cheap, lazy cop out.

      They could get this comment thing under control today, but they won’t do it. Why? Because there’s more money in allowing the nasty stuff through.

  13. I think you might have hit it on the head, Will. It makes the person’s self-esteem rise, and it increases his/her credibility within the group. After a while, you realize that you don’t want to join a club that would have someone like THAT for a member (apologies to Groucho).

    This behavior is otherwise known as “High School Crap.”

  14. I’ve posted this before, but this really is the ultimate distillation of the comment conundrum: The Greater Internet F**kwad Theory (Language Warning).

  15. Pingback: Whitewash My Fence, You Citizen Blogger | Rob Madeo

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