Thursday, July 17, 2014

Betrayal and Broken Promises at Brenner Brief

Nobody but Sara Marie Brenner was ever paid for work on the site
Photo Credit: screen capture of BBN "Write for Us" tab

Conservative citizen journalists need to be wary of Sara Marie Brenner or any enterprise she or any of her Limited Liability Corporations (LLC) are attached to.

Brenner is a baby-kissing politician at heart. She makes a lot of promises she cannot keep. If she were an orthodox Jew, she'd be working overtime on Khol Nidre and Yom Kippur.

In February 2014, Brenner recruited many on-the-cusp citizen journalists who were near a point that all it took was the right person to read an article on their blog and they'd get a paying gig. A couple were already getting paid by hit-count at sites like, who pays $7 per 1,000 hits. She wooed writers with promises of pay, pay that never came.

She recruited me promising pay from day one. When the site launched on Feb. 20, 2014, she made an announcement that it would take about 30 days to evaluate what sort of traffic the site received and what the pay rate would be. Her initial promises did not indicate that delay. Yet she cracked her whip demanding content, especially for that launch day.

After the first 30 days, Brenner announced that the site finally qualified for Google AdSense advertising. She would have to wait another month to see what revenue that would garner before paying anybody. So, those plans to delay 30 days, but still pay as promised were delayed another 30 days.With that announcement, I was named Managing Editor of the site. A News Editor was "hired". We were both promised a percentage of the site's revenue rather than just the per-hit payments promised assistant editors and contributors.

This led to one of the more active assistant editors to resign. Kevin Boyd counted on the payments that were delayed, and all his hard work resulted in no compensation. To feed his family, he sought work elsewhere. Other writers soon followed, dedicating less effort to the site or resigning completely.

I hung on for the sake of the other editors and the contributors. I promised to edit their work or find a quality editor who could do the job. With still nearly 30 active contributors including a few who posted multiple stories a day, I selected a couple of great people, Patricia Campion and Matt Lamb, to step in and help.

After 90 days, more and more people asked me about pay. My answer was simple:  I don't handle the money. that is Sara's responsibility. I'm not getting paid, either. It's a new business. Sara's latest plan to pay had changed yet again, and was more along the lines of profit sharing. The problem is, we are listed as independent contractors, therefore not eligible for profit sharing.

And there begins some of Sara's problems. As independent contractors, we get paid for services rendered. The services rendered were essentially raw materials, resources for production. Without our work, she didn't have a product. Paying us for our products, our writings, is technically part of her business expenses, to be paid out before profit is calculated. Despite promises, none of us were ever paid.

From day one, before launch, Sara Marie made promises of actual dollar amounts per hit to some of the writers. One was quoted the same she received at another site. The email quoting that amount serves, legally, potentially, as a binding verbal contract. that of course is subject to various state laws, though, and the final determination is best left to the courts. But, the subject is worthy of a legal review.

It wouldn't be the first time Sara Marie Brenner found herself slapped with a suit for attempting to cheat her employees out of wages. She settled out-of-court on previous lawsuits in past enterprises. Seems that some people never learn from their mistakes. Rule number one, you don't breed loyalty in employees by cheating them or lying to them.

Her broken promises and misrepresentation of intentions don't end with the payment for services the site still promises on its recruitment page. They extend to promises made to affiliates of the site as well.

In moving her radio show to the Brenner Brief News site, she allegedly closed "heartland radio" and established the "Brenner Brief Radio Network". She went and looked to recruit podcasters and online radio personalities to put their show on her network, either live or replays. She offered shows to some of the contributors on the site, myself included.

Sara Marie sent out a laundry list that outlined what each host was responsible to accomplish and what she would do. As her regular fill-in host, I immediately expressed interest. My hopes were to do the daily show instead of the weekly Friday night co-hosting. My family quickly tired of giving up our Friday evenings, including family dinner, for no compensation. Having the perseverance to give the site a full six months to get on its feet and start paying people, I figured the show would be a great way to boost revenue for the site and generate traffic towards my name.

Brenner promised to create bumper music and commercials with companies she already had advertising contracts. I had everything else ready to go within hours, with the exception of a better microphone. That took a week to arrive. A month later, when I asked Brenner what the show's start date would be, she went over the list of what I needed to do. As she went over the list, I said "done, a month ago" after each thing. Then I said, "the only things I'm lacking are the bumper music and the commercials". Her response "I'll do those." I replied, "You said that a month ago. I'm still waiting." She promised them within a week and to tentatively start in two.

Then she told me she was taking a lot of June off and I had to do her show for her. She didn't ask. She didn't check my availability. She knows that family time is important to me and my family. My kid counts on that time, and needs it to nurture her towards greatness. Having no children, Brenner probably has no concept of how important it is for a family to sit, undisturbed, and eat together, and converse. She took it as a personal insult when I told her I could not fill-in for an entire month without adequate preparation.

She never did furnish the bumper music of commercials as promised. She also delayed and shirked getting Jennifer Meadow's show launched on the BBRN. Jennifer had technical problems connecting her show to the site. Brenner couldn't be bothered to provide the "technical assistance" she promises on her recruiting tab. Her idea of technical assistance was to send a cryptic email to her Managing Editor, telling him to do something that she had not given him access to perform on the site. Then she lambasted one of the radio personalities and contributors for going to me for a work-around solution to the issue.

Yet she wanted everything structured. She wanted a schedule of when people would submit news stories, including breaking scoops. She failed to realize that you cannot schedule news. You can schedule commentary, editorials, and other articles. However news happens when it happens the the first to get the story up, with truthful details and fact, wins.

Then she took two months off, sort of. She never informed anybody she was doing as much. She informed me she had returned to teaching piano to make some extra cash since her other day job didn't pan out as she had hoped. So she informed me that she wouldn't be as active. She didn't tell me she was abandoning the site.

Issues arose that were outside of what I perceived as my authority. In some cases she told me she didn't have time (or interest) and to just handle them. Then she would get upset that I did. Others were business decisions. I handled the writers and editors already working with the site. So I emailed her with what I new and put her in contact with those other parties. She didn't respond. Instead, she complained her mailbox was full and set it to automatically forward all BBN related emails to me. So each time I emailed her for guidance on an issue or ti discuss it before making my decision, I received my own emails back, auto-forwarded.

By phone was not better. I left numerous voice-mail messages. None were replied by any medium.

Then, towards the beginning of  June, another site contacted Sara. Larry Lease contributed to both sites. His work at the other site turned out to be fraudulent. He plagiarized the work he submitted there. So Patricia Campion and I investigated. We found that the majority of stories Lease filed with BBN were also plagiarized from other writers, primarily columnists on Yahoo: Voices.

For three days, we had Sara back working with us. Things seemed as though they'd look up. We took a huge dip in content. Larry put up 3-5 stories a day, many in the news category. Finding they were stolen was a huge blow. Sara then promised she'd submit at least one news story a day to get our production back up. She asked I do the same. I did for several days. She submitted none. Another broken promise.

This was the start of her betrayal of site and those contributing there. With the volume of production dropping off, so did our readership. Sara's response? She blamed those still contributing for not promoting the site and everybody's work. When she recruited us, she promised she would handle promotion. Here, she betrayed everybody.

Sara then betrayed confidentiality. As a radio host, ethics dictate you don't give out guests' personal information to other people. In fact, it is pretty bad manners to do that without permission in the first place. It violates the privacy act of 1974. She has the habit of emailing people's phone numbers and personal contact information without permission.

And that was Sara's real sin when she had her Twitter meltdown with Dana and Chris Loesch.

I was working. I was editing stories on BBN. I was considering her offer to turn the site over to me completely. I was writing. I was researching news. I was homeschooling my kid. So I was not actively watching her Twitter feed (and I normally didn't, even when on Twitter). She sent me an email telling me she needed an immediate answer. She asked me to jump in and defend her, on Twitter, against the Loesch supporters.

I happened to agree with Chris and Dana on that subject. So, I posted that Sara Marie's views are her own. I needed to protect BBN, since her name is all over it, and our writers. I tweeted that not everybody at BBN agrees and that her personal views do not reflect the views of the site. After all, she was quitting, anyway.

Then I told her "No". As my wife calls her, Princess Sara sees it as a personal attack against her reign should anybody tell her "no".

Our News Editor, Michelle Ray, resigned over that Twitter battle. She revealed to me that she was working at BBN more to help me out than any loyalty to Sara. However, that last straw made it impossible to have her name anywhere near Brenner's. The next evening, Dana Loesch went on Ray's show to tell her side of the story.

During that exchange, though, Sara broke that ethic of confidence. She gave out Chris Loesch's personal cell phone number, without Chris's permission. Just because she happened to have it because Chris was once a guest on her radio show did not give her the right to share it with anybody, including her husband. The details of the conversation don't matter. What matters is that Sara overstepped boundaries and acted unethically and immorally.

Then, when Jennifer Meadows was taking over the site, Sara spoke ill of me. Somehow, all of her failings were my fault. Somehow, all the work I did on the site was hers to laud, but her direct failings or intentional sabotage were my fault. Luckily, Jennifer asked others on the site and got a different story. We were attempting to set up a conference to get the site back up and moving.

Sara couldn't have that. She took away all of my editorial permissions. This isn't some temper tantrum over lost toys. When she did that, she made it so several contributors could not get their work published. many of those stories still hang, pending, unpublished. She didn't harm me. She harmed them. She betrayed them. She betrayed her own site.

Then she refused to enter into legal contracts with Jennifer regarding the transfer. Sara didn't realize Jennifer's husband is a lawyer. So, Jennifer wanted things done correctly, legally, properly. Jennifer backed out. We spoke afterward, Jennifer telling me her reasons and asking I consider a future relationship should she get a site of her own started in the future. I'd love to work with her.  

Now, Renee Naal is on tap to take over. Renee and I spoke. I'd be willing to work with her on the new site, should she gain full control of it, legally, completely. I did state that I would not be willing to put in the 60 hours a week I dedicated to BBN, though, especially not for free. But I would work on the site and help it, preferably from an editorial level, as a managing editor or similar capacity.

I also cautioned Renee to research Brenner a bit more and to talk to other editors on the site. I recommended she discuss with Jennifer why she backed out of the deal, in case common concerns arose. Renee has a lot of questions she needs answered and a lot of promises to be formalized in a contract before she takes over.

Folks, that is the story, from my perspective, of how Sara Marie Brenner betrayed the contributors and editors of Brenner Brief News with lies, broken promises, and unethical behavior.