Dear Tech Person at MSNBC.com,
There used to be a free podcast of The Rachel Maddow Show. I loved it. Pretty much every morning, as I ate breakfast, I would watch the previous evening’s broadcast, in its entirety and without commercials. I loved (and love) Rachel, her optimistic, forceful, and nerdy personality. Hearing her voice, even in dark times, made me hopeful. And it seemed as though she was surrounded by similarly warm, creative, and caring people: her producer put out witty, self-deprecating videos on the show’s website, and the overall vibe I got was of people determined to be ultra-professional as journalists while also staying true to their beliefs — and, importantly, acting as at least a bit of a counterweight to Fox News and other conservative organizations.
Then, a few months ago (I don’t remember exactly when), without any notice, the complete podcasts of Rachel’s show stopped happening; instead, there were free podcasts of excerpts from the show. But there was another option for those of us who don’t own TVs. (My main reason is that whenever I’ve had a TV, I’ve watched sports constantly — you know, like, too much. I also didn’t want my son growing up in a household where the TV was always running — the idea just really depressed me.) We could go to MSNBC’s website and watch the full show there, streaming. So I tried doing that. But the website was extremely glitchy. There were commercials, but I could deal with that; what I couldn’t deal with was that, pretty much inevitably, one of the commercials would stall on my computer — and I couldn’t watch the rest of the show.
It wasn’t just me. The comments section on the site was filled with frustrated, sometimes even angry, words from viewers who were having the same problem. No one from TRMS, or the network, responded (that I saw). And there was nowhere else to turn. Yes, you could (and I did) click on “Help,” which eventually took me to a place where I could write an email to a nameless person at MSNBC.com (you?) — but when I clicked “Send” on that email, I got a message saying that MSNBC could not respond to each individual comment but appreciated getting my feedback (or something to that effect). So far, I haven’t heard back.
I wrote an email to Rachel’s email address, and didn’t hear back. I sent a Tweet to her (excellent) blogger, whose work I’d been enjoying for years; he didn’t get back to me. I kept trying to figure out a way to watch the whole Rachel show, kept failing, and — finally, sadly — gave up.
But I still had Chris Hayes’s show! I had been thrilled with his original, weekend program on MSNBC, and now I decided to make All In with Chris Hayes my go-to news program. At some point MSNBC had made it necessary for me to have a subscription to a cable service in order to watch the full, streaming programs. So I became friendly with someone who has such a subscription — and presto!, I could watch All In — all of it! (Though it seemed somewhat draconian to freeze out people who didn’t have such a subscription; after all, they’d still have to watch the ads, right?)
This went on for a while. Then, this past week — as the worst possible things were happening in the world, and also the best possible things — a picture of a key appeared over the screen where Chris’s show was supposed to stream: it said, “Please sign in.”
I had done this before, periodically. Every once in a while, the website told me to sign in using my cable-subscription info. But this time — starting this past week — when I clicked on the key, or on the words “Please sign in,” nothing happened. This was — and remains — the case on all the various browsers I have on my Mac. And again, this wasn’t just happening to me: other frustrated would-be viewers were leaving comments that they couldn’t sign on either.
As a last gasp, I sent a string of Tweets to the Chris Hayes show. I mentioned that I used to be an intern at the Nation magazine (with which Chris is connected), thinking this might possibly help. I sent a Tweet to a woman I used to hang out with at a very stuffy college many years ago, who is now a booking producer for All In.
Again, no response.
Tech Person at MSNBC.com, I ask you: Why do these websites suck so much? I believe you are owned by Comcast, which seems to be a really, really big company and ought to have lots of resources. A paranoid person (which I try not to be) might think that this might be some creepy way for the corporate ownership to mess with its progressive content-providers — I just really doubt that this is the case.
Tech Person at MSNBC.com, as well as the tech people at the Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes shows, I ask you: Why don’t you write back to a viewer who has long loved your programs and cannot now access them? While I wouldn’t venture a guess as to the politics of MSNBC’s IT person (or people), I imagine that the folks who work at the shows themselves are progressive people who care passionately about disseminating under-covered news stories that corporate America often doesn’t see fit to mention; I imagine that they really, really want their work to be seen and heard.
I know there are more important things in the world — many of them — than someone’s inability to watch these shows online; it’s because I want to keep up on those things that this matters to me so much. I care so much that I have taken to writing this open letter on my own blog, which I’m pretty sure not even my mom reads. Still, I’m not giving up — not completely. In this often dazzling, sometimes perplexing age of hyper-communication, I choose to keep lit a tiny pilot light of hope that it will somehow be possible to communicate with the person in charge of these websites at MSNBC.com, and that these problems will be corrected.
Also, let me wish you a happy Independence Day weekend — and Mom, if you are reading this, I love you.