By Julie Horner
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.
Nearly two years 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 in November 2016 claiming ‘family trouble’ and left us scrambling to gather content for December’s print deadline. By the end of the month heading into January 2017 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 and owner of the website 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 2016 and that ownership of the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin website was now in the webmistress’s name.
Even now, nearly two years 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 – all volunteers- or 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 said in an email that 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 now ends in dot-net rather than dot-com.
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, to share information, and to satisfy stakeholders. Those who bought ads trusted that they were getting their money’s worth by having their ad displayed on our web page 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 and local history was lost; hers and ours. 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 locals 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. Apparently she had wrought similar havoc with another local online news purveyor, Boulder Creek Insider, before she came to the Bulletin, and she has recently brought trouble to Boulder Creek Parks and Recreation District and KBCZ community radio.
Cyber crime is murky business and we’re a small, independently run limited liability endeavor without corporate backing or slick salespeople to keep funds rolling in. The bottom line must always be ‘cover your ass’ when allowing others to access your accounts. As 2018 draws to a close we accept that what was done is done, and the neighbors and town folk behind the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin continue to bring unique perspective to local stories of interest. We celebrate an enormously vibrant year or two gone by and now plunge enthusiastically into our 7th 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
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On the Web (a work in progress): www.santacruzmountainbulletin.net