By Julie Horner
Last January I wrote:
Steady rain paints the first days of 2017 in somber tones. Incensed and with clenched fists I am unable to act while a single individual undermines an entire community for their own sense of entitlement. In this new year when we should be pulling together as one unified voice, a crucial platform for that voice has been taken away by someone who has decided they no longer wish to participate. But what they take with them is not theirs to take. It belongs to the community for which it was created. The moral, professional, and civil choice when you no longer want to perform a task for someone is to move on…leaving the tools that were entrusted behind for those who DO wish to continue to participate.
One year ago the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin webmistress and head reporter, Rachel Wooster, stole the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin’s website and locked us out of much of our online presence. None of us knew she had done this until she disappeared suddenly and left us scrambling to gather content for December’s deadline. By the end of the month heading into January we badly needed to update the website, now two months behind. We realized then that she had changed the password, and our emails asking her to please relinquish the credentials went unanswered. When the paper’s publisher called the web hosting company to get the password reset so that we could continue to maintain the website, the customer service person told her that she had been removed as owner of her own website back in October and that ownership of the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin website was now in the webmistress’s name.
Even now, a year later, the shock of that discovery, of having our website taken out from under us by someone we trusted and liked still makes my face hot with disbelief. That anyone would even consider doing such a thing to someone, to a team of dedicated contributors, to a community full of good people, boggles my mind and saddens my soul.
One by one we discovered that our social media accounts were also inaccessible. Next Door, Twitter, Google+, our blog and email blasts. We managed to preempt her from taking our Facebook page by quickly removing her as Admin and blocking her as soon as we found out how sweeping the deception had been.
When the webmistress did finally resurface a few weeks later, she attempted to hold the website ransom – she would relinquish control if the publisher, the rightful owner, handed the webmistress a rather large sum of money. We decided to turn the other cheek and start anew rather than buckle to extortion. That is why our website ends in dot-net now rather than dot-com.
And punishment has been measured out, if that was the former webmistress’s intention: It is no easy task rebuilding a website from scratch – or earning followers – it can take years to build a user-base. A company’s website is a critical tool to draw traffic to your brand, share posts, and to satisfy stakeholders. Those who bought ads trusted that they were getting their money’s worth by having their ad displayed on our webpage as promised. And there were those who counted on being able to find information or read about local news or explore Santa Cruz Mountains lifestyle as only the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin could present it; years of contributed writing was lost. The loss of our website was a low blow to the community as well as a slap in the face to the entire contributing team.
We never came out with this information publicly at the time. We warned a few by word of mouth to be wary of doing business with our former webmistress, and we shared our frustrations with friends and neighbors but never pursued legal action. Cyber crime is murky business and we’re a small, independently run limited liability endeavor without corporate backing. The bottom line must always be ‘cover your ass’ when allowing others to access your accounts. What was done is done and the people and energy behind the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin have moved on. We celebrate an enormously vibrant year gone by and now plunge enthusiastically into our sixth publishing year with lessons learned and renewed energy to be “the valley’s voice.”
Thank you so very much for your support. – Julie Horner
, Managing Editor