Part Three: Agitato
When it comes right down to it, I don’t know if missing the boat on the whole Wrestlicious ad was completely our fault. As noted in “Rise and Fall…part two,” we were contacted by lotto tycoon Jonathan Vargas about the possibility that he’d take out some ad space on our now burgeoning hotbed of pro wrestling journalism. Content Director Jason LeBlanc, Chief Editor Ray Bogusz, and I tried to hammer out some prices for premium ad space at the very top of the site and we did reply to Vargas with what we thought were very reasonable prices but no deal ever materialized. Adam Testa, who joined TWD’s Administrative Committee as our Marketing Director, had tried to steer us in a direction that was more consistent with what he’d seen as a journalist but we were too excited to really get our heads around it all. Whatever the case, nothing ever came of it.
It might have been around this time that I was getting very sensitive to the financial aspect of things. I felt like I’d shelled out more than my share for our setup costs with the understanding that this was a collective effort and that expenses and profits would be shared. And while expenses were nominal up to this point, I was getting frustrated that my fellow administrators weren’t contributing to fees for the URL purchase, site hosting and the like. Moreover, we had also turned down another offer by an advertiser who wanted to pay something like $30 to put an ad on the main page for something like 60 to 90 days. Those who opposed this said that the offer was too low but to my mind, something is always more than nothing…and anything is always a good place to start. Expenses for the site would ultimately pick up yet again with the need for a better hosting plan. Truth be told, I did live in a two-income household at the time and, in fact, both my wife and I had some small part-time jobs that were bringing a little more to the family coffers but I didn’t think this necessarily figured into who should pay the bills for TWD. Besides, nobody asked me how much my house payment, outstanding medical bills, and the entire myriad of living expenses that go along with raising a small family figured into my overall financial picture. With all that in mind, though, here’s the truth of it: we had a crappy business model. Okay, maybe it’s even more accurate to say we had no business model. There were better approaches to consider (pooling resources before the project began, true shared ownership registered through a third part or service, etc.) but none of us could really see beyond our initial vision and excitement to build a foundation that was more stable than what we’d ended up creating. The end result was that we were constantly stressed out over a lot of things that could’ve been handled differently.
With our continued increase in traffic and the establishment of a dedicated fan base, there came a call for a site overhaul. In our present configuration, our main page could feature somewhere around 9 to 12 articles with additional links appearing in the sidebar(s). It seemed that quite a few TWD writers and readers felt that our general aesthetics could be greatly improved and a good deal of the criticism was that the site appeared drab and gloomy. I have to admit that I internalized the critique of my design and was even a little bitter about it. This was also one of the few things that Ray and I were in complete agreement on by this point (to my recollection, anyway), as we both liked TWD’s layout and appearance up to this point.
Adam also brought a journalistic flair to TWD that compelled him to go straight to the men and women of the industry itself for comments and for full-length interviews. One of the biggest interviews he landed was with Ring of Honor’s Tyler Black (now WWE’s Seth Rollins). It was really cool that ROH talent were directly communicating with our site and Adam’s piece on Black was particularly timely as it spotlighted Black’s imminent return to the ring after a neck injury. So, it seemed there would be a lot of eyes on the piece. Indeed, a lot of folks did read the article and, oddly enough, that created a few conundrums with regard to both TWD and Black himself. In the original draft of the article, Black had made a rather unflattering comment concerning ROH’s television deal with HDNet. In his 2012 intro to the re-publication of the article, Testa recalls:
The article originally contained a comment from Black about HDNet being a “stepping stone” to something bigger. The day after publication, Black sent me a text message, stating he had received heat from management about those comments and asking me if I could remove them.
If this was my real newspaper job, ethics would have prevailed, but for our fledgling site, it wasn’t worth burning potential bridges to take a moral stand over the issue. In the end, it paid off, as ROH plugged the revised article in their newswire.
The decision to revise Black’s quote(s) came pretty easily to us. I think there was some unspecified concern among Ray, Jason, and me that Adam’s journalistic integrity would put us at odds with our desire to go ahead and revise the piece in hopes of fostering a relationship with ROH I recall that all four of us came to agreement on the matter quite quickly and I think we were all quite relieved to have come to agreement with very little hullabaloo.
There was some discord behind the scenes, though. I’d say a fair amount of it was between Ray and me. It was probably more than that; we argued, after all, about damn near everything up to a point. We argued about whether an interview should be called an “interview” or an “exclusive,” we argued about what a “byline” really was. We argued about whether or not to put a disclaimer at the end of our articles. Hell, one time Ray and I even argued about the correct spelling of the phrase, “Que sera sera.” (For the record, I was correct but Ray got in the last shot of that one by saying that working with me made him feel like he was running a preschool. Something like that, anyway.)
Adding to my concerns about our business model was an odd decision by some of the administrators to start crediting original artwork and logos to “TWD Media.” I had no idea what in the freakin’ hell TWD was and I couldn’t seem to get anyone to explain it to me. My brain kind of filled in the gaps and I ended up thinking that this was some kind of way to undermine any possibility that there was collective ownership of TWD by making “TWD Media” a larger entity that would encompass TWD itself. (No word if it would’ve also included “The Motorsports Daily,” which was a pie-in-the-sky idea between ray and I that never got off the ground). The whole “TWD Media” flap made me feel like Michael Kiske’s memorable line in the song “Your Turn”: The thing that I once started isn’t mine anymore.
I was, for my part, trying to keep my uncertainty and the friction between some of the administrators under wraps and hidden from the writers’ bullpen. I can’t really remember how or when it ultimately came to their collective attention but I recall that some folks were surprised about the seriousness of the schism by the time everything was finally out in the open. Our political differences had a lot to do with the tension. I had come to expect that this would be a problem at some point but I was actually rather taken aback when our first really huge blow up over site matters ended up spilling into a disagreement over politics. I don’t know how the dispute started but I recall getting some grief because one of my Facebook friends had showed off a picture of his living room that included a framed picture of Mao Zedong. It was like a total non sequitur to me but since it was obviously such a sensitive situation, I resisted the urge to share the information that I keep a framed picture of Mao at Anyuan on my side of the bedroom. What frustrated me most is that I felt like I had to hold a lot back for the sake of everyone else. Any of my replies – even ones that seemed innocuous to me – usually tended to inflame things and I felt like everyone who knew what was going on secretly blamed me for each and every argument.
In hindsight, I know that everyone wasn’t against me. I know there was blame to go around, too. Surely it wasn’t all on me and it wasn’t all on Ray, either. Here’s the truth of the matter, though—it’s something about me that I’ve never really articulated in any amount of detail: I loathe neutrality. I feel the same way about neutrality that Charu Mazumdar felt about Centrism. I want people to take sides. I want contentious matters out in the open so they can be vetted, examined and dealt with. I hate tension. I prefer quick resolutions. Further, I prefer not to sound so moralistic that I believe that everything is either “right” or “wrong,” but I do view most things – especially in debates – along the lines of “correct” and “incorrect” ideas. I think that, fundamentally, most people tend to think they’re “right” or “correct” when taking a position and I’m certainly no exception. I’m also fairly absolute about things and I can be very, very difficult to deal with when I am accused of being in the wrong or otherwise mistaken or dishonest. I think this was definitely a factor in the problems with the administrative dynamics of TWD. Put rather bluntly, there were some very strong personalities at odds with one another…and I was surely one of them.
Still, TWD’s combination of timely news reports, in-depth analysis and thought-provoking opinion resonated with fans. We enjoyed interacting with an assortment of regular readers, most of whom were now visiting the site at least once a day. Once we started touting our work on Facebook, a handful of folks even sought out their favorite writers and sent “friend” requests, which isn’t nearly as creepy as it may sound. There was hate mail, too. Some folks looked at us as smarks and others were just run-of-the mill trolls. The thing of it was, the site was founded by three guys who’d bonded by trolling it up over on Bleacher Report. A lot of the headstrong, know-it-all loudmouths who tried to take shots at TWD were put down with overwhelming force. I think Ray and I blew about an hour and a half taking apart some guy from State College, Pennsylvania one night. That was a fun evening with some outlandishly hilarious insults flying hither and yon. It kind of says a lot about a relationship, though, when the only time you get along is when you’re tearing someone else apart.
So how’d we know the commenter was from State College? Well, the blogware that we used allowed us to see the IP addresses of folks who were posting to the site. From there, it was pretty easy to figure out where they were unless they were smart enough to use some kind of proxy service. It was both a blessing and a curse to have this kind of information at our disposal. On the one hand, it was helpful to know more about our readers, whether they were hostile or — as they were in most cases — good-natured and friendly. At the same time, though, this did foster some mild paranoia on our end. Some of us had been concerned about people sabotaging the site in one way or another and for a time, it became a regular thing to “look up” where this commenter or that e-mailer was posting from. I remember thinking it had gotten especially bad when a reader of the site wrote to us asking to become a regular contributor. Despite some impressive skills and credentials, a few of us (including me) thought it might be someone trying to infiltrate the site and cause trouble. I mean, just based on the guy’s name alone, I figured he had to be a provocateur of some kind. Really, have you ever known anyone with the first name Denim? As I recall, I think I asked Jason for a second or third round of info for the esteemed Mr. Millward before we formally brought him on board but Jason effectively put an end to my quasi-hysteria by telling me that he’d already told Denim that he was “in.”
We also came to regard other IWC sites as “competition” although when it comes right down to it, this was just a charitable way of saying they were “enemies.” I actually don’t have any problems with Jason taking shots at Lords of Pain (a.k.a. “Fjords of Shame”) in his hilarious S.C.O.R.E. columns. I also took a swipe or two at a WWE recapper that would always refer to himself “Your Personal Harvester of Sorrow” and that mouth-breather who’d always stick his “Hot Asian Bitch of the Week” cheesecake pictures into his wrestling columns. Yeah, be proud of that crap-ass idiocy, 411mania.com. Still, some of of the shots we took at guys like Joe Burgett, Matt Hester and his Ring-Rap.com site and even our old pals at Hit the Ropes were way over the top and completely uncalled for. Those guys were almost always complimentary and many of us would respond to their posts by making cracks about the quality of their work while hoping that they’d spontaneously fold in the shadow of TWD’s collective badassery. I remember it got especially out of hand in the comment thread of a pay per view recap one night when one of our contributors and someone from another site were threatening to physically assault one another (despite the fact that they lived hundreds of miles away from each other, mind you). That level of nastiness did suggest to me that it was time to cool things off and I did make some efforts to patch things up with that site’s administrator shortly thereafter. After TWD’s ultimate demise, I personally reached out to the guys from those sites I listed above and apologized for things that I had done to insult or offend them. Old pretty criticisms and rivalries aside, the fact that they were willing to mend fences without even the slightest bit of hesitation says a lot about them…and it’s all good.
While there were a number of problems with regard to those of us who were running TWD, the general construction and functionality of the site itself seemed satisfactory for quite a while. There were some glitches but we all thought that we were just getting an “up close” schooling on some relatively typical hiccups for an otherwise successful website.
In my mind, however, my personal mantra of “hope for the best but expect the worst” was causing me to anxiously fixate upon some of the site’s developing performance issues along with all of the recurring personal disputes and that was definitely taking a toll on my habitus mentis. Things took an even more discouraging turn when I received an ultimatum from our web hosting service: The skyrocketing volume of traffic TWD had been enjoying for the past few months was causing their server to crash repeatedly and knocking other sites off line in the process.
We would have some hard choices to make from here.
Mike Bessler was a co-founder of The Wrestling Daily. He hasn’t thrown up in at least four years, which has to be some kind of personal record.