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How it happened: The takedown of the OffGuardian.org original website

Our readers are no doubt wondering what happened to our old site OffGuardian.org. Why it was so suddenly shut down, and why we have had to relocate.

In brief, the site was shut down on April 15 by Doug Salzmann, one of the five Admins. Salzmann was not the owner of OffGuardian, nor anyone’s employer there. The site had been created equally by all five of the Admins, and we had all invested time and effort – and in some cases money – into its construction and content. The only thing unique about Salzmann was that he had purchased the domain name – for communal use. In fact, he was at the time these events unfolded, supposed to be in the throes of transferring the domain to a shared status. His sudden assumption of “authority” as described below was therefore baseless and extraordinary. His motives in using that spurious “authority” to shut down what was a thriving resource for alternative news and opinion can only be guessed at.

Given the tendentiously self-serving text* posted online for over 24 hours by Salzmann, in which he impugned our editorial and journalistic ethics and our integrity as individuals, we feel we owe it to our readers as well as to ourselves to present here a brief, factual account of the events, so that our readers can make up their own minds.

*We note Salzmann removed his statement from the old OffG site as soon as he was made aware of our intention to respond. We consider this a tacit acknowledgement of the insupportable nature of his allegations. Nevertheless we are proceeding with a full rebuttal for the record, which you can read below.


The issue began without warning early on April 13, when Salzmann emailed an objection to a news item another Admin (Systematic) had posted. (The item in question can be viewed here); Salzmann wrote:

The only link in this post is to an AP story that ran on 25 January in the local newspaper in Everett, Washington. That story has nothing to do with the headline or the quote from the DPR spokesperson about destroying bodies.

Further, the photograph is also from that January story, so it has nothing to do with the destroyed bodies assertion, either. The “Saturday” referred to in caption seems to be the 24th of January, in some time zone.

I’m going to kill the post now. We can’t afford to let stuff like this stand.

It will be fine with me to repost it, once it’s cleaned up and accompanied by appropriate citations.Salzmann, email – April 13 2015

The issue – such as it was – revolved around the image used at the top of the article. The AP caption originally read “on Saturday”, though the image dated from January 2015. This and the attendant queries seemed fairly minor, but since Systematic was offline at the time, three Admins (Salzmann, Vaska and Blackcatte) agreed to remove the post and mark it as “under review” pending further discussion with Systematic.

Later that day Systematic clarified his position regarding the article and the attached image:

I’m glad you guys noticed it and having objections took appropriate precautionary measures.

the post is linked to a Truth about the situation in Ukraine FB page, embedded at its bottom, containing a link to the original source of the translated text, DAN news, which is, to my best knowledge, the official news agency of the Donetsk Republic…

… the link provided in the picture caption was intended to be just the link to the source of the picture. A bit confusing… I realize now.

So what do you think we should do regarding the post, keep it removed or link it to its DAN news source? I’m alright with any decision by the majority if there is no consensus on the matter.

Systematic, email – April 13 2015

Systematic also proposed changing the “problem” image to one from an earlier DPR presser on the same topic. The two other Admins online at the time (Blackcatte and Vaska) thought his clarifications and suggestions for amplification were reasonable, so Blackcatte re-published the post, with a proviso that if anyone had further problems we could reverse the decision.

At this point, apparently forgetting he had said “it will be fine with me to repost it, once it’s cleaned up and accompanied by appropriate citations“, and with no previous communication, warning or preamble, Salzmann announced the following:

You guys really don’t get it. This is absolutely atrocious “journalism”.

You should all be ashamed.

And this is a deal-breaker. I’ll be taking steps to disassociate myself from OffGuardian.

I hereby designate Vaska as the person I’ll communicate with about the “divorce proceedings.” Salzmann, email – April 13 2015

Given that this was the very first disagreement he had ever voiced with anyone’s editorial policy this seemed incredible.

In an effort to repair the situation Vaska made a plea for clarity…

Okay, Doug: please explain why this is atrocious journalism. I’m serious….

If you’re so unhappy with what we’re doing as to want to leave, I’d like to know fully why — AND, what your vision for OffGuardian is, what it is that you feel and think we should be doing instead.

I’m certainly open to discussing all those matters (as well as the one of the re-instated post you find far too objectionable to let stand)….I’ll be around this evening and hope that you’ll have reconsidered any divorce proceedings by then. Vaska, email – April 13

And Blackcatte once again removed the “offending” post:

Well, I’ve once more removed this post for review.

TBH I didn’t know it was such a controversial issue…. I reinstated the post because I though the view was swinging to it being a good idea.

I’ll leave it to the majority to decide what to do with it.

…I second Vaska’s call for Doug to tell us his vision for OffG and how we are currently not meeting this criterion.

BlackCatte, email – April 13 2015

Salzmann, however, would not enter into any specific discussion about his alleged problems with the group’s “atrocious journalism”, or make any suggestions for improvement. He merely reiterated his original objections to the “offending” post – even though it was no longer on the site, and repeated his claims that the other four Admins were not “ethical” or “honest” enough to be trusted.

In the course of the following 24 hours, he tried to get Vaska to align with him to besmirch Systematic, to ban BlackCatte from the site, and to in effect “take over” with Vaska as his intermediary — an attempt that backfired as Vaska refused to play the game and  insisted on focusing on the preservation of the project we had created in common.

While refusing to explain his intentions or aims, Salzmann maintained a posture of hostility and confrontation, which became contradictory to the point of incoherence. He began using his position as domain-holder as a basis for blackmail – issuing abusive  threats to “terminate” the site if we failed to meet vague and unspecified demands. At one moment he would insist someone take over the domain immediately, at another he would change his mind and claim none of us could be trusted with “his” site and his “reputation” and threaten to shut down OffG completely, or “ban” individual Admins.

While we other four agreed to avoid confrontation as much as possible and hope for some resolution, on April 14 Salzmann somehow managed to shut all but one of us out of the site completely, after which he mailed us the following.

Unless you guys do something to change my mind, really soon, OffGuardian will be terminated. Doug Salzmann, email – April 14 2015

And at the same time he mailed this “suggestion” to the only other Admin who still had access to the site (Theodorakis):

You can remain as the editor.We (I) can send invitations to the other three to rejoin as contributors. The(sic) can submit their posts, which you will approve for publication. That may slow things down a bit, but the site can stay alive…

I’ll keep an eye on things, but mostly leave it alone. If I see a post that makes me worried, I’ll tell you. When I see comments that I don’t like, I’ll just delete them. Doug Salzmann, email – April 14 2015

At this point it began to be apparent Salzmann was either suffering a form of megalomaniac emotional/psychological breakdown or was working to some undisclosed agenda.

In a last attempt at reason the three excluded admins asked him to allow us back in to the site and to fulfil his earlier suggestion of handing control of the domain to one or all of us. When he refused to do so, Vaska explicitly reminded him that he had no right to the intellectual property of the other four of us, to our work, and warned him that if he tried to appropriate it, she would mount a legal challenge to that. His response to the warning was more emailed abuse, the apparent deletion of the entire site, replacing the site logo with a picture of his own face, and publishing the dishonest summary of events reproduced at the end of this article.

Fortunately we had backed up most of OffGuardian’s content prior to this takedown and were able to re-upload it here, but if Salzmann had intended to sabotage OffGuardian, he can congratulate himself up to a point. Since losing our domain three days ago the number of visitors we receive has dropped from a high of 20,000 per day to no more than a few hundred. One of the erstwhile Admins (Theodorakis) decided he was suffering “burnout” and decided to quit. The remaining three of us are determined to continue and get back what has been lost.

We hope our friends and supporters will help by spreading the word about our new URL, and by re-posting this anywhere appropriate.

Blackcatte — Vaska — Systematic


Salzmann’s statement as it appeared for 24 hrs on the old OffGuardian site:

(Salzmann removed this as soon as he was made aware of our intention to respond. We consider this a tacit acknowledgement of the insupportable nature of his allegations)

offguardianoff1-e1429439756517

OffGuardian is Going Away

We Couldn’t Meet Minimum Ethical Standards

Sadly, despite a great deal of fine material published here, some of our original editors were responsible for posting material that, in my assessment, was so misleading as to constitute nothing less than propaganda. The original posting was not intentional, but seems to have resulted from sloppiness, confusion or inattention to detail. When I saw the problematic material, I took it down and told the other editors about the problem.

By the time I returned to the site, the next day, the other editors had conferred and reposted the offending piece, complete with the false byline; the original, extremely provocative photograph that had nothing to do with the accusations in the post but gave the appearance of supporting them; and without a clear link to the source of the quoted material. I lost my temper and raised holy hell.

In the angry arguments that followed, my fellow editors simply could not accept that the subject material was inappropriate (they have, rather, been obsessed with the fact that I dared to get angry and speak harshly to them) and it became abundantly clear to me that we were never going to be able to reach agreement on matters of ethics, accuracy and honesty.

Important note: This conflict did not involve editor Theodorakis, who has demonstrated a clear understanding and principled adherence to the highest standards at all times.
Finally, one of the editors, especially furious at the situation and enraged at my challenges and accusations, sabotaged the site layout.

As the owner of the site and the domain, I’ve decided that the best thing to do is to cease publication. Thanks for visiting the site.

~Doug Salzmann

16 Comments

  1. Viktor Burakov says

    Just found the site after someone mentioned it in reply to one of my posts on the GU. Glad I saw the reply quickly enough, it’ll be modded within minutes I expect.

    Good luck with what you’re trying to do.

    Like

  2. Systematic says

    Thank you everyone for the support you’ve given us following this dreadful episode. We’re still at a bit of a loss to come to terms with Mr Salzmann’s out of the blue sabotage of OffGuardian, but if anything it made us even more determined to continue.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Rhisiart Gwilym says

    This is good news. That Salzmann outburst seemed high-handed and wrong from the first. If he’s ill, hope he gets well soon. If he’s trolling, sod him! Please keep going. Your work, especially countering the Graun’s self-righteous iffiness, is important.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. MNB says

    Hi Vaska and co. – very glad to see you back.

    2 (unrelated?) things: I think it’s very important in a long-term fruitful relationship (and I wish you this wholeheartedly) that you actually meet up and get some actual material entanglement with each other. S’pose this is something about developing a viable, sustainable community based on trust which can survive dissent. Email / electronic contact is surely not enough.

    Also – have not seen you CI(n)F-watch bits. I think it would be a shame to lose this direct exposure of the Guardian’s true face. After all it’s part of your name.

    Very best wishes and many thank thanks for the great work you are doing.

    Like

    • Thanks for your support MNB!

      The CiF-Watch section will be back in the next day or two as we get things finally organised. And we have a couple of CiF-related articles coming soon as well.

      Like

  5. Sounds like the guy had a breakdown.

    Did not know about your blog until I saw Media Lens sharing this on Facebook. So while setting up a new website has lost you temporary traffic to your site I would not worry as it will recover in time and at the same time Internet drama has a habit of creating more traffic. So if that guy was trying to shut you guys down then it will have backfired massively.

    Good luck. I hope all goes well!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Nick G. says

    Thanks for the background to the spat – good to hear your side of events. You provide an essential service to those of us tired of / angered / banned by the Guardian and I personally thank you for being able to continue to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for your words of support and encouragement! All three of us are still reeling a bit from the shock of the recent events and the attempted stab in the back to us individually, but also to the project as a whole. Hearing words of wisdom from the outside helps.

    Like

  8. Glad to see you back up. Your traffic will pick up again, it’s just adjusting to the redirection. If there’s anything I can do to help I’m happy to, I’ve been with WordPress for going on 5 years now, but it is a pretty simple hosting platform and I don’t imagine you need any assistance with that aspect – it’s also easy to add other users for group input. Sadly, egos and personalities frequently get in the way of group efforts – I can think of no better example than government. Better to have this happen now than a year from now when you are huge.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. My thoughts are that partnerships always pass through rough weather, we learn to acclimate ourselves accordingly, or we stagnate in an unfamiliar fume of doubt. Journalism today is 99% propaganda and 1% insightful criteria. My readers seem to respond unhinged combination of both.
    If the content doesn’t create a bias of reinforcement they want at their own level of comfort, I get less hits. So let me close in suggesting you let the readers be the editors, by including a grading option and comment sections.
    @Adam1Baum

    Like

    • I agree with you about the stresses of partnership – though this episode was more of a coup than a conflict 🙂

      Both your suggestions are potentially useful. ATM we’re limited by the WordPress, though we are looking to develop.

      Thanks for your support Adam

      Like

    • I’m afraid there are far too many paid (and unpaid) trolls out there for a grading option to be viable for an outfit like ours, whose content challenges the MSM narratives preferred by the powers-that-be.

      Like

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