Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. The Rise and Fall of TWD, part two

Preface for the remaining parts of this series: I am providing recollections of events and situations in rough chronological order to the best of my recollection. Where possible, I am seeking assistance and feedback from other “TWD Originals,” and checking old correspondence and documents to confirm certain aspects of the story. As previously noted, I will consider editing or revising text if important and substantive shortcomings are brought to my attention. To read part one of this series, click here.

Part Two: Moderato

The original site layout for the Wrestling Daily pretty well finalized a week or two before launch. It was a newspaper-like layout with a grey background which was apparently necessary to prevent eyestrain for the legions of TWD faithful that were expected to spend hours upon hours poring over our online awesomeness. Over the course of the preceding months, I’d purchased a dedicated URL for the site and hosting plan, set up e-mail accounts for everyone, created basic design elements and press releases to herald the coming revolution. In the meantime, the TWD bullpen was hard at work on their inaugural pieces.

Our August 2009 debut was stretched out over the course of three evenings. The 12 of us divided ourselves into three teams of four writers each and every night for three nights, each team posted their four articles. Among the selections in our maiden series of offerings included: Kurt’s objective defense of McMahon’s role in revolutionizing the business of pro wrestling; an analysis of the pros and cons behind the use of “canned heat” at live wrestling shows; and my “Lessons from the Old School” piece that revisited Ric Flair’s first and only appearance at the Championship Wrestling studio in Memphis, Tennessee (still archived on my personal site). The three-day extravaganza yielded a great mix of material that included in-depth analysis, news and opinion pieces. Above all else, the material was coherent, insightful and thought-provoking. We’d declared ourselves to be a “new standard in pro wrestling journalism” and we’d already taken bold steps towards that rather lofty goal, mindful of our collective desire to steer stay clear of the typical, fan-generated, wild-eyed speculation and conjecture that ran rampant in virtually every nook and cranny of the IWC. Even Tenechia’s rant-styled “Ramblings of a Wrestling Fan” columns were poignant yet provocative by virtue of her journalistic desire to foster spirited discussion and debate. By and large, the “TWD Editorial Roar” was offered by TWD’s Editor to this same end and—while controversial—the column was never boring and always unpredictable. These characteristics were the heart and soul of TWD at the most basic and compelling of levels. Indeed, despite all the bickering and infighting that was to eventually come, the product that we offered to our devoted readers and casual browsers proved to be consistently superior, not just at the beginning of TWD but all the way through to the untimely and unfortunate end of TWD.

Truth be told, I don’t remember exactly I noticed the earliest signs of problems behind the scenes. At some point prior to the establishment of TWD, the guy who would become the site’s editor and I had realized that we had rather significant differences of opinions when it came to politics, ideology, values and personal boundaries. Moreover, the two of us had agreed well before the project was even a concept that we wouldn’t let these differences get in between our friendship and any collaborations we’d undertake on Bleacher Report and beyond. We definitely lost sight of that. I was especially shocked when he called me one evening shortly before (or maybe right after) the site launch and explained that he had spoken to Jason—TWD’s other co-founder and the site’s Content Director—and that they had significant concerns that I’d try to politicize the site. Specifically, my micro-publishing endeavor Erythros Press and Media, LLC was mentioned as it was noted that there was concern that I had intended to festoon the TWD site in communist-themed iconography. Exactly where this had come from and why it was even raised as a topic of discussion was a complete mystery to me. I was certainly proud of my efforts and relative successes with respect to writing, publishing and distributing texts on a variety of subjects related to the study of the radical left but at no point had I ever even so much as suggested that there would be any overlap between that my politically-themed projects and TWD. Never. And having the matter raised, implicitly critiqued and ultimately inferred that I should somehow be ashamed of something that was so very important to me was, quite frankly, a roundhouse punch in the gut that set the tone for a lot of mutual distrust and intrigue down the road.

Nevertheless, TWD’s efforts gained steam and recognition quickly. One of our top priorities following launch was to get the site into the Google News feed and we succeeded in doing so with our first application. This effectively placed TWD work alongside of articles from much larger and more well-established sites like 411mania.com, prowrestling.net and pwtorch.com. We could see the difference in web traffic in real time, too. We had a counter on the site’s sidebar which showed how many readers were online at any given moment. Additionally, I’d installed Google Stats code on the site and seen consistent increases in traffic from day to day and week to week as we pulled in visitors from all over the world.

Khaldei's iconic "Raising a flag over the Reichstag" picture was never on the list of design elements for the TWD site.

Particularly opinionated folks shared their feedback about our efforts by posting comments to the site and sending e-mails to writers and administrators. The response from readers was overwhelmingly supportive and enthusiastic, with a few exceptions. One of our earliest scraps was with a rather persistent fellow who was rather agitated with our review of WWE’s Rise and Fall of WCW DVD. In the comment section of the article, he took issue with a handful of issues with the review, eventually becoming so incensed that started calling the reviewer “retarded,” among other things. Interestingly enough, our blogware provided us with the IP addresses of folks who posted comments to the site (unless they used any kind of masking service, which happened in a few other instances later on) and it happened to turn out that our angry commenter was posting his tirades from…wait for it…Stamford, Connecticut! Eventually, the controversy died down and we never figured out if the angry guy was really a WWE employee or if we’d just experienced some kind of geographical coincidence. But it was certainly clear to us that a lot of people and organizations were tuned into TWD, for better or for worse and the possibilities for the future of TWD seemed endless.

Our breakthrough came with a considerable amount of schadenfreude on September 11, 2009 when Jeff Hardy – fresh from his release from WWE – was arrested on a slew of drug-related charges. I can’t remember which TWDer took the initiative to grab Hardy’s mugshot and post a thorough rundown of the situation along with some analysis and commentary, but that particular move quickly directed a staggering amount of traffic to TWD, thanks in most part to the fact that we were in the Google News aggregator. We watched our numbers climb moment by moment and at one point we were drawing hundreds and hundreds of visitors at a time that day—up to 750 at a time, if I recall correctly. This was a watershed moment for the site as we were enjoying more attention than we’d ever experienced up to that time. Heavy traffic continued for the next couple of days and people who visited the site seemed to genuinely appreciate what they were seeing on TWD, even if they didn’t always agree with our assessments of things. Lots of folks stuck around, bookmarking TWD, registering as a commenter and checking back each day for updates. I guess it all worked out, especially for Hardy who only did about 5 minutes of jail time at the end of it all and—despite some subsequent missteps since then—still enjoys a pretty prominent place in the wrestling business.

After only a couple of months in operation (maybe even less than that), we lost our first member of the TWD family. It was an odd situation, to say the least. It was the guy who wrote our DVD reviews and created our “Action Figure Theater” cartoons who stepped away from the project abruptly. One evening posted a series of cryptic messages on Facebook about having just come into a large sum of money (suggested to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $7,000, as I recall) and about a day later, he sent us his resignation by e-mail and then unfriended everyone from TWD. That was it. Not particularly messy but very weird and somewhat of a surprise. It was kind of like a net-based version of The Rapture in which the angel Gabriel appears in the form of an insurance settlement check.

A short time later, we parted company with Kurt over something that I can only recall as an unfortunate misunderstanding. There were definitely some issues surrounding power and control with respect to  how the whole TWD machine worked and I really don’t think that Kurt’s departure was for the best in a lot of respects. But to his credit, Kurt was decent to everyone evolved, doing his part to mend fences quickly and ensuring folks that he had no axe to grind. To my mind, Kurt is a lot like Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear; he’s a great big evil teddy bear that smells like strawberries. Or beer. Or probably strawberry beer, if that’s possible. In any event, I still have a lot of platonic, sweaty man-love for The Mighty Krut.

Rob always hated this graphic...

Although we lost guys, there were a few folks knocking on the door for their own slots in the TWD bullpen. Among them was Rob Siebert, an experienced newspaper writer and wrestling fanboy extrordinaire. Rob was referred by Adam Testa, who’d met the esteemed Mr. Siebert while they were both studying journalism at Eastern Illinois University. Rob  brought exceptional creativity and writing prowess to the TWD team. I have no problem asserting that Rob was one of the best of the TWD talent pool with regard to his writing abilities and insight. I don’t think anyone else should have a problem with me saying this, either. His “Inside the Wrestler’s Studio” series was one of the most celebrated features in the TWD spectrum and, to this day, I’ve not seen anything like it on the ‘net or in print. Moreover, when we decided to start posting daily “newz” summaries and breaking news bulletins (we had resisted doing this in the beginning but found it to be a necessary change in direction in the wake of the Hardy scandal), it was Rob who stepped up and agreed to spearhead this facet of our daily operations. Like the rest of us—every last one of us in the TWD family—Rob had his foibles, but in retrospect, I think he deserved far greater recognition as an integral part of TWD’s short-lived success, especially considering that he received a lot of scorn and criticism that he shouldn’t have had to endure. Rob was one guy who didn’t let the fall of TWD slow him down too much. In fact, a short time after the project ended, Rob and some of his fellow nerds co-founded the Internet pop culture clearinghouse, PrimaryIgnition.com, which is still going strong today.

Things continued looking up for us as we started hearing from folks who were interested in taking out advertising space on TWD. Thanks to Jason’s passing reference to Bakugan in one of his articles, we received an inquiry from a toy company. We heard from some kind of fighting/boxing site that wanted to buy some space on our main page as well. But one of the most intriguing and promising proposals came from Jonathan Vargas who was setting up Wrestlicious and wanted to discuss the possibility of putting a banner at the top of TWD. While Jason, TWD’s Editor and I were thrilled with the possibility of this, we also realized that we didn’t have a clue about online advertising rates and how to draft an “ad card,” which was what Vargas was specifically requesting. Adam Testa, who was writing some fantastic stuff for TWD at the time, had some bona fide journalistic chops and seemed like the best person to help us with this kind of thing. It didn’t take long for the three of us to agree that we’d “promote” Adam to TWD’s “Marketing Director” to help us negotiate all of the challenges that were shaping up before us.

To be sure, it was a terrific idea to bring Adam “into the fold” as a Co-Administrator of TWD, as his experience and insight were true assets to the effort. It was unquestionably the right thing to do for the site. Unfortunately, this was one of the last times that the three TWD co-founders would find it quick and easy to agree upon much of anything for the duration of our work together.

Mike Bessler was a co-founder of The Wrestling Daily. He believes that the universe is a fairly random and chaotic place and he maintains a healthy appreciation for serendipity and happy coincidences.