- Founder Jim Brady depart a few months after the site went live.
- Layoffs of a good percentage of the remaining staff a few months after that.
- A never totally clear plan to become more of an entertainment site.
- A grueling, year-and-a-half slog to the finish line as remaining staff members–me included–slipped away, until the last, John Hendel, quit in 2012.
And now the site’s archives are kaput, returning the cruel message “Invalid URL” rather than a jaunty “Fuego/Frio” video or a devilishly understated “Imperfect Arlington” post. In 2013 WJLA, TBD’s not-so-willing partner in the experiment to combine digital know-how with local TV muscle, turned off the archives, a decision its digital director at the time said “made me feel better” (in a tweet that is also now deleted). After I wrote about the decision, WJLA switched the archives back on, supposedly for a limited time so TBD’s former journalists could save their work.
But then WJLA had its own TBD moment–Allbritton Communications Company sold it and six other TV stations to Sinclair Broadcast Group, which ousted general manager Bill Lord not long after the FCC approved the transaction. In the unease that enveloped the station as Allbritton’s culture shifted to Sinclair’s, TBD’s archives survived, cockroach-like and probably unnoticed.
As befits a publication named for an expression of uncertainty, the question of who owns the TBD.com archives is not easy to determine. Dan Mellon, who replaced Lord as GM at WJLA, says as far as he knows, Sinclair didn’t buy TBD’s assets when it purchased the station. WJLA and its cable station NewsChannel 8 just migrated their digital properties to Sinclair’s back-end platform, he says, and “we took away from there really just the stuff related to WJLA news.” TBD, Mellon reckons, is among the “historical stuff” left behind. He suggested I ask Politico, once another WJLA/NewsChannel 8/TBD corporate sibling and now operating as an independent publication in several cities and two continents.
A Politico spokesperson said the publication was itself transitioning to a new content management system, and couldn’t find anyone who could help with this inquiry.
So the story of TBD seems to end with an Internet character that could replace everything in its Wikipedia entry: ¯_(ツ)_/¯. And for anyone still interested in thumbing through TBD’s archives, not all is lost. The Internet Archive appears to have captured some, maybe even all of the site. Same deal with TBD’s YouTube channel, where “Fuego/Frio” and other examples of TBD’s cutting-edge digital storytelling will never die.