Sep 07 2019

R.I.P. Think Progress

The youngest of my two sites is nearing 10 years old (June 20, 2020). It was born of my final break with bhudydharma. Our roles at DocuDharma, a refuge for kossacks who made themselves obnoxious enough to get booted from dK and those not yet but soon to be, were quite clear- I was in charge of operations and bad cop rule enforcer, bhudy was the firebrand genial host.

Not that I didn’t run stuff by him, there was an arbitration panel where my vote counted no more than anyone else, but bhudy was the court of last resort and he was a softy. Me too. Not that we didn’t ax people, I usually did the deed as the two times bhudy tried it he accidentally pushed the wrong button and deleted their entire history when the policy was to leave it up so people could see the trolling.

Also suspensions. Almost any disciplinary measure was reversable, again by vote of the arbiters. If you didn’t delete the history, the difference between a permanent ban and a suspension for punishment or decision making (democracy is not fast) is the length of time. Punitive, non-permanent suspensions lasted several days to a couple of weeks.

Well, I was fired. Twice.

First I put up a piece explaining that or some equally obscure arcana about the rules (“The code is the law!”) and one of the resident pains in the ass we were trying to rehabilitate was demonstrating his trolling abilities to me (sub par in every respect). I dropped buhdy a line using the Batphone and found, to my surprise, that On The Bus had yanked my Admin. That pissed me off and I did a bad thing. Of course I had a back door and I went in and turned just about every troll account we had banished into a Zombie clone and I had the password. Took On The Bus a month to clean up even with my help and who knows, 1 or 2 of them might still be lurking somewhere.

Yeah, about that month. After a week or 2 bhudy realized I was was indispensable and I was back. I hadn’t noticed much because I was still quite active at dK.

Things went along fine for a while, I recruited a new Admin to help me, TMC, I got booted from dK the final time (you want me back? Let’s talk numbers.).

Then we had a spate of IP Essays and I felt compelled to tell people that while the first one was authorized (which I put at the top of the essay too) the rest were not and I was going to park anything else (there were plenty I had let slide) until we had a chance to review it.

Well that certainly united all sides in hatred for me. I put out a call on the Batphone and TMC answered. One commenter in particular started being very anti-Semitic (“You’re just siding with the Jews.” which is 1) not true, I’m rather more pro-Palistinian than anything else and 2) you can be against Israeli policy without blaming Jews. Judism is a religion, Israeli is a nationality. See how easy?

It was when they started attacking TMC I decided something must be done. I warned them 3 times and shut them down telling them they were suspended pending arbitration.

The expected hurricane and then things calmed down and I went to bed. I woke up without Admin. I popped off a puzzled query and was told that my target was a protected favorite with a sob story blah, blah, blah. The code is the Law! I didn’t sign up to keep pets so on one level I felt, and still feel, righteous and justified.

On the other hand I was a mess. Writing is my Art and not to be able to do it torture. TMC called me up out of the blue and said-“ek, let’s put on a show.” I won’t say I hadn’t contemplated it but running a one person site is kind of like trying to be a one person DJ, you can do it, but it’s harder and not as good.

Sure, why not. Tada! A month later The Stars Hollow Gazette is born. I’m very happy with it, I think it looks pretty, ships about as much content as we can handle (wordPress sucks),and is funny. Some people say we are one of the most under rated sites and since my vanity is huge I’d agree even if we had as many hits as PewDiePie.

After 4 months without me, bhudy decided he couldn’t run DocuDharma any more. I found out and offered him $500, he said he’d rather see it dead (his original intent) than let me get my hands on it. While I had offered more in the past it was quite a generous offer at the time. How generous? TMC and Edger approached him and got it for nothing. Of course they put me in charge.

DocuDharma isn’t very attractive right now because of a botched WordPress Theme install and I simply haven’t had time to fix it. Maybe over the dark months of Winter. The archives are filled with all kinds of interesting stuff including my whole description of my Meta mechanics and Armando’s seminal piece on Pols will be Pols which is why we’re paying the rent to preserve them.

The point is that We’ve been around for a while, long enough to be considered among The Great Old Ones by some, and we’re not planning on going anywhere. We have a small volunteer staff and a gracious private benefactor, we accept no ads and desire no contribution except content.

It always saddens me to see a site that I have used and consider to be an elder statesman of the Internet stop broadcasting. Sometimes the site just sits there, an unchanging memorial, others are re-purposed which is sadder because it limits or eliminates access to historic content.

ThinkProgress, a Top Progressive News Site, Has Shut Down
by Sam Stein and Gideon Resnick, Daily Beast

ThinkProgress, the influential news site that rose to prominence in the shadow of the Bush administration and helped define progressivism during the Obama years, is shutting down.

The outlet, which served as an editorially independent project of the Democratic Party think tank Center for American Progress (CAP), will stop current operations on Friday and be converted into a site where CAP scholars can post.

“Given that we could find no new publisher, we have no other real option but to fold the ThinkProgress website back into CAP’s broader online presence with a focus on analysis of policy, politics, and news events through the lens of existing CAP and CAP Action staff experts,” said Nayak. “Conversations on how to do so are just beginning, but we will seek to reinvent it as a different platform for progressive change.”

A dozen ThinkProgress employees will be losing their jobs, a CAP aide said, as many who were on staff had already gone to work elsewhere and some were incorporated into the larger CAP infrastructure. Those who are being laid off will be given a severance package that runs through the end of November and health care coverage that lasts through the year, said the CAP aide.

As for the actual website, thinkprogress.org will continue to exist. But it will no longer function as an independent enterprise focused on original reporting. Instead, according to Nayak, it will be folded “back into CAP’s broader online presence” as a sounding board for policy and political analysis by existing CAP and CAP Action staff experts.

Nayak did say that ClimateProgress, which started as an independent blog before merging with ThinkProgress, will be taken over by its founder, Joe Romm.

At its peak, there were few more important pieces of unapologetically progressive, online real estate than ThinkProgress. The site combined original reporting with an attack-dog mentality to target Republican lawmakers and conservative ideas. A testament to its success is found in the list of prominent alumni currently working in politics and journalism. That list includes Faiz Shakir, who now serves as Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign manager; Amanda Terkel, the D.C. bureau chief of the Huffington Post; Nico Pitney, the political director at NowThis; Alex Seitz-Wald, a top campaign reporter for NBC News; Ali Gharib, a senior news editor at The Intercept; and Matt Yglesias, one of the founding members of Vox.

But the site suffered from editorial frictions during the Obama years, when the visions of some of the staff clashed with the larger political demands of CAP and its donors. At one point, CAP’s then-CEO Jen Palmieri wrote a guest post on Yglesias’ ThinkProgress blog to issue a defense of Third Way after Yglesias had criticized the centrist-Democratic group. Elsewhere, there were rifts and tensions over ThinkProgress posts that were critical of Israel.

But editorial tensions have lingered. In April, the website posted a story and video about Sanders’ personal wealth which had grown over recent years due to book sales. The presidential candidate responded in a lacerating letter targeting CAP for accepting corporate donations and linking the published story to the bidding of said donors.

In early May, sources told The Daily Beast that the ThinkProgress writers’ union and the author of the story were concerned with the way in which Enda had handled the ordeal, including her making edits without the initial permission of the author. Enda said she publicly and privately apologized for not letting the author know before making the edit, though she felt the edit was warranted.

Adding to the problems has been a worsening financial situation for the site. Internal documents obtained by The Daily Beast showed ThinkProgress facing a $3-million delta between revenues and expenses in 2019, of which $350,000 had come via a shortfall in ad revenue.

Privately, staffers and some alumni argued that, with some budget reductions, CAP could continue funding operations through the reallocation of donor dollars. ThinkProgress’ staff had ballooned to more than 40 before the number began to dwindle this year. And within these quarters, there has been ample suspicion as to why CAP officials have been so alarmed over the current state of financial distress when the site has lived in this limbo for virtually its entire existence.

But CAP officials said that the long-term outlook for ThinkProgress was dire.

Systems normal, everything FUBAR. We are all ephemeral photons dancing on a razor’s edge. Where is the edge? You can’t see it until you’ve fallen off and then it’s too late.