Since relaunching as a nonprofit, The Bold Italic began blocking readers — and even past contributors — at a dizzying speed.
The ongoing contention around GrowSF’s acquisition of The Bold Italic (TBI) continues to orbit our pooled consciousness. When the nearly 15-year-old publication was given (for free) to the aforenoted political organization, which has both historically supported moderate candidates and allegedly spewed false information to report its “outcomes over ideologies,” a communal wailing was heard across the city.
@thebolditalic is going through and pre-blocking people who they disagree with which is a WILD move for a media outlet but not so crazy when you recognize they're a branch of @GrowSF who is actively working to create a neoconservative echo chamber. https://t.co/O4hrIl6guE
— PollyAmberRoss (@PollyAmberRoss) August 10, 2023
People bemoaned the decision — (including myself) — saying that it represented a part of the dangerous, alarming trend of political influence and dollars spewing into the regional media space. Others mourned the inevitable loss of the publication’s celebrated vitality and irreverence. Some celebrated the decision… a cohort largely made up of people in the tech industry and those in favor of the past SF DA and school board recalls.
A rather strange message about journalistic ethics from the Bold Italic's editor. pic.twitter.com/Dk1fe1Vzgr
— Y Disassembler (@loomdoop) August 13, 2023
It was also around this time in December of 2022 when readers of TBI began noticing they were blocked from engaging with the publication’s social media accounts. Former editors and writers for the online magazine were among those blocked. But the past week has shown the number of people barred from seeing TBI’s social media content grow exponentially.
— Matt Charnock (@M_J_Charnock) August 9, 2023
As some have noted, it’s their new “favorite club,” perhaps worthy of an exclusive bar lounge. And the individual bestowing these invites (read: blocks) is none other than TBI’s new editor-in-chief, Saul Sugarman, according to a series of now-deleted posts on X.
“I keep seeing these tags on The Bold Italics Twitter about who’s been blocked etc.,” reads the first of three posts on the website formerly known as Twitter that he authored. “FYI that’s me doing the blocking, and it generally happens after barrage rudeness is tagged in my notifications. Or upvotes of rudeness.”
The 38-year-old editor waxed further, adding that he found conversions around ”journalism ethics” with people he presumed “haven’t studied or worked in unbiased reporting” laughable; Sugarman left this opinion, the third post in his now-deleted thread on X, live… while the other two tweets describing his behavior were previously deleted.
Mind you: Sugarman does not own The Bold Italic, nor is TBI a personal account. It’s a regional publication — one which is viewed by 200,000 individuals a month and boasts a mailing list of 35,000 or so subscribers. The Bold Italic is not an outlet to vindicate one’s personal grievances; it is — or rather, was — a place where readers could reliably find quirky, left-of-center, humanistic takes on the SF Bay Area.
Rudeness is subjective. Journalistic ethics are understood. Sugarman’s siloing of readership and viewership is tasteless at best. At worst? Sugarman has adamantly bypassed the principles of sound journalism to guard both himself and The Bold Italic against unfavorable commentary.
— Kelsey Glamour (@Wiglette) August 9, 2023
It’s a dangerous maneuver to silence any criticism or counter-narratives that, by association with TBI’s new owner, might not fit well with GrowSF’s political agendas. (GrowSF has previously mentioned that it wouldn’t use the publication as a megaphone, but it’s a promise the PAC has broken countless times by reposting TBI content on its own social media feeds, publishing op-eds that support its own causes, and using TBI’s newsletter to drive traffic over to GrowSF’s website and blog.)
Alas, Sugarman sees no wrongdoing in his decision to grow TBI’s block list, defending himself by using a 2009 quote from TBI’s defunct marketing lingo: “We are not a news site, we’re a hub for conversations to be heard and discussed.”
The irony of purporting a publication as a conduit for dialogue and then going about doing the exact opposite — removing opportunities for discourse — can’t be underscored enough. It should exist as concrete evidence as to why you should heed any content published by The Bold Italic with particular discern going forward.
Well… that is… if you can view it.
As of publishing, it appears Sugarman has either deactivated his X account or outright deleted the handle, assumably over mounding backlash against his actions. (Again, the satire continues to write itself.) So, if you haven’t yet received confirmation that you, too, are part of San Francisco’s hottest new online club, it could be sometime before you do.
Though if either Gary Tan or Steven Buss takes the reins of TBI’s social media accounts, your opportunity to take a screenshot showing that TBI has blocked you shouldn’t be too delayed.