The Drunk Blogger? Not really. More appropriately, a professional newsman on staff at one of the most reputable rags in the field. But Michael Tunison’s secret writing life with the witty—if not a bit profane—NFL blog, Kissing Suzy Kolber, got him booted from his MSM gig.
Last month Tunsion—aka Christmas Ape—came out of Internet anonymity with a KSK entry documenting his inebriation one ancient evening at (gasp) a sports bar. Turns out that was the Washington Post’s cue to fire him, within 48 hours of the post, for “discrediting the publication.”
The Web backlash to WaPo’s knee-jerk reaction was immediate and expected. For HR malpractice. For stodgy new-media ignorance. For axing a potential traffic cow.
But don’t quit your day job, Mike. KSK is of course booming on the heels of the incident, and Tunison is content, sort of, to be uncaged in that space.
We caught up with him over e-mail for a closer look at the whole mess.
OJR: Is there anything defensible about this? Or does a part of you think WaPo did what it had to do?
MT: I think The Post has a right to uphold and enforce whatever stodgy standards of conduct that it deems appropriate. I don’t they would have acted as extremely or as quickly as they did if it wasn’t first picked up by a journalism blog. In that case, the editors probably felt pressure from within the journalism community to cleanse whatever damage they thought I was doing to the Post brand.
OJR: Sounds like it was technically over your post about being drunk at a bar, but that seems a little far-fetched. There’s got to be more to it than that. They say you “discredited” the publication. But what was actually said to you. Anything verbal, or did it all come in memos?
MT: Far-fetched though it may seem, that’s what they said. The day after I put up the outing post, I got a call from the top editor of the Metro section, who was already making clear I was in deep shit and was probably going to be fired. He essentially wanted my reasons for doing so to run by personnel. The next day, I was called back into his office where he laid out the terms of my dismissal. He said the drunk picture coupled with the language while linking to my Post stories violated the paper’s standards.
OJR: Seems to me they would have been a bit better off to give you a slap on the wrist and leverage you for site traffic. Are you at all surprised they couldn’t see it that way?
MT: I figured the penalty would be less severe and there would be more room for discussion. I’m not surprised at all that they couldn’t find something for me to do with The Post’s Web operation. There’s a stunning lack of vision at The Washington Post when it comes to Web-exclusive content. Not to mention that the disconnect between The Post and its website is astounding. The Washington CityPaper did a great piece on that a few months ago. Look at Dan Steinberg’s D.C. Sports Bog. It’s probably the best executed sports blog by a mainstream publication and it’s barely promoted at all by the organization. Sure, one post makes it to page 2 of sports section in the print paper, but log onto The Post’s site and you’d never know it existed. You have to really dig through that unwieldy thing to find it.
OJR: Surely you had to be expecting a knee-jerk reaction of some sort. To what extent did you think it would be feasible for your two writing lives to coexist?
MT: I thought so. As I’ve said on the site, there was no overlap at all between what I did for the paper and the writing at KSK. I also made pains on the revealing post to not actually write out my name and the publication. You could only find those things by visiting The Post and clicking through the links. A Google search of my name or The Washington Post wouldn’t have brought it up, so no one would have discovered it except readers of Kissing Suzy Kolber. Now, readers of KSK and WaPo readers aren’t mutually exclusive, but you can be damn sure KSK readers didn’t think my employment there hurt the paper in any way.
OJR: It sucks to lose the 9 to 5, but how bitter are you, really, considering you come off as the good guy in all this?
MT: I’m a little bitter because I was never really given an opportunity to excel at The Post and as soon as I develop something for myself that garners some success, they find out about it and can me. When I’m doing uninteresting work, I’m going to need a creative outlet on the side.
OJR: How, if at all, are you pursuing other newspaper jobs? Or are you done with MSM? If so, why?
MT: I’m not going after any newspaper jobs at the moment. Partly because I don’t want to but also because they wouldn’t hire me even if I did. Just this past week, the guy who runs The Sporting News’ blog, The Sporting Blog, wanted to bring me on to do some work with them and he was shot down by higher-ups. The reason: because I’m too “controversial” after this firing. I’m sure I’m blackballed from a number of places, probably forever. It’s a little pathetic, really. The mainstream journalism community is so insular and at the same time so terrified. The situation is just going to get worse for them until they reevaluate more than just staff sizes. I have other aspirations, but I’m happy with blogging for now. I make about as much as I did at The Post, which wasn’t much, with writing for a few blogs. I can be happy with that for a bit.
OJR: How has your role on KSK changed through all this? Obviously you have more time to put toward it, but do you feel at all uncaged or liberated in terms of your content?
MT: KSK has never really been a place where I’ve felt limited in terms of what I can say, so the firing doesn’t change much. I have more time and am writing a little more, but it’s still the off-season and there’s only so much to write about. Before coming forward, I had to be more guarded with personal information, which I don’t anymore.
OJR: This is the best PR imaginable for KSK. How has site traffic looked since the coming-out party? Are you guys looking to expand the site out of this?
MT: There was a big initial burst of traffic right after the outing. We had 108,000 unique visitors the day after I got fired. We average around 22,000 or so per day. It’s still been a little higher since than it was before the incident. We probably gained a few readers, but most of the other people were there because it was in the news. As far as expanding, the firing coincided with moving the site to a new address after reaching a contract with a nascent blog network. There are big plans for that network. As far as KSK, there are things we’re planning on adding here and there, like a liveblog of a game every week during the season. Other than that, we’re just keeping with what’s worked for us.