A Note of Appreciation for Michael Capobianco

As many of you know, last year I ran for president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America as a write-in candidate against Michael Capobianco. Among the reasons I ran was that I was concerned that Michael, who had not recently published, might be out of step with some of the challenges faced by writers in the current era of publishing. I lost the election, not just because I was a write-in candidate and came to the party late, but also because of the high regard SFWA members had for Michael, who had been president before. He won by a substantial margin.

It turns out I dodged a bullet, and that Michael got a crash course in some of the challenges writers face today, because less than two months into his tenure, SFWA found itself engaged in a major online copyright fracas after its VP sent out badly-formed DMCA takedown notices that resulted in the organization violating a number of copyrights (ironically while helping some of its members defend their own). The outrage exploded online, and it was on Michael to do something to smother the flames.

In the moment of crisis, Michael did the right things, and did them quickly: He apologized on behalf of SFWA to those the organization had wronged, he corralled the SFWA board to suspend issuing DMCA takedown notices pending a review of SFWA policies, and asked for and got an exploratory committee to look at when and how SFWA should help its members control their work, both online and off. He did this all when basically everyone on every side of the event was screaming in his ear, and he did it with competence and a measure of calm. I’m happy to say that I discovered that my concern that Michael would not be up to the challenge — one of the primary reasons I had run — had been unfounded. I had been wrong about him.

In the aftermath of all this, I didn’t always agree with the actions that Michael and the SFWA board took — in particular, I thought appointing the SFWA VP who had caused the copyright meltdown as chair of a new copyright committee was a major error (which was rectified not too long after, thanks to internal pressure) — but I respected the man and believed he genuinely wished the best for SFWA, even when I disagreed with him. The last year would have been a tough one for anyone, and I certainly couldn’t say with any honesty that given the same pressures and controversies Michael had to contend with, that I would have handled them any better. He did as well as anyone could, and by his swift action in dealing with a public crisis, calling for the formation of the Exploratory Copyright committee and with the board taking many of its recommendations to heart, he’s left SFWA better ready to help its members in the future. Which is to say SFWA is better off for having had him as its president. That’s what you hope for from any executive.

Michael’s tenure ends today; tomorrow Russell Davis steps into the presidential position, bolstered by what is in my opinion a very excellent board. I wish them well and they have my support. That said, I want to publicly thank Michael for his service to SFWA, and for his being a calm center in what became a whole lot of storm. He has my appreciation and admiration.

24 Comments on “A Note of Appreciation for Michael Capobianco”

  1. I’m a non-member but his public dealings have been admirable. Many execs can learn from him.

  2. Talk about a year flying by. If only others were as generous in victory as you are in defeat.

    (note – NOT directed at anyone in particular)

  3. You would make such a horrible politician. Thinking well of the enemy? What is this world coming to?

    And where’s your flag label pin?!

  4. Well, you know. He’s not the enemy. And yeah, I’d be a horrible politician.

  5. Um, is this some sort of stealth snark? If so it is so subtle I just don’t see it. Oh wait, you are so snarky so often that I sometimes don’t notice when you’re not. Talk about desensitized!

    Scalzi; that’s fine praise. Please, keep it, and the snark, up.


  6. Nicely done, John.

    I agree whole-heartedly, with the proviso that I think you would make a fine president, too, this said after having served on the Copyright committee with you.

    We all have to remember–snarks aside–that an online persona and a person or not necessarily the same. Though some. . .not giving a name here on purpose. . .become their online personality through years of practice!


  7. Well, thank you, Jane. That’s very kind. Maybe I’ll take another run at it in the future.

  8. I don’t know if Angelina Jolie was truly qualified to be Eastern Regional Director, but you have to admit that if she’d won, it would have been awesome.

  9. My first exposure to Michael was when he registered on my pathetic writing blog and apologized for the mistakes made during the aforementioned fracas. While I was very upset at the VP-in-question, who has never to my knowledge taken appropriate ownership of his stance or his ham-handed approach, Michael was forthright, sincere, and timely.

    Kudos to Michael, and my thanks for being a stand-up guy during the most inflamed of times. SFWA had a steady hand at the tiller, and he has my appreciation and admiration for remaining cool under pressure, and sensible in the face of looming senselessness.

    I didn’t know anything about him except that he was a man of character, and if that’s all I ever know, I’d like to think it is more than enough.

  10. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Michael on SFWA projects and spending time with him socially. He’s the real deal in any context, and I think he’s raised the expectations of what the next SFWA administration is capable of.

    Dave Creek

  11. Well done, John. Michael did a fine job, particularly at calming down troublesome situations, getting people to deal rationally with issues, listening when listening was needed, and making reasonable decisions when reasonable decisions are needed. You deserve credit, too, for being a loyal and constructive ‘opposition’ and working with Michael to make SFWA better.

  12. A) I can’t believe that more than a year has passed since you were running your write-in race. It seems much more recent than that…

    B) Posts like that aren’t written often enough, and I don’t just mean on The Whatever. I mean in general, it seems like people are awfully quick to bitch about something but much less likely to take a second to say “good job” about something. So, good job.

    Ha! Look at that! I’m contributing!

  13. Wow, John, that was a really good-guy thing to say.
    I can only watch the SFWA from the outside, and I have to admit, that whole thing made me really doubt the efficacy and the respectability of the organization. The fact that it turned into such a pissing contest between the two parties was pretty ugly. However, I do see that the actual mess was handled well, and that is largely down to Mr. Capobianco.

    I still don’t understand how the instigator of the entire fracas got appointed to head the committee intended to rectify his mistakes, though…

    Anyway, I just wanted to say, you’re doing a Good Job too, Scalzi.

  14. John, that was so awesome. You’re right about Capo – and he’s stepped in to help numerous times before as well. Let’s all look forward to better times ahead for everybody.

  15. John,

    You have just set an example for the rest of the blogosphere and the world for that matter – you admitted you were wrong -gasp!-.

    If only more people were confident enough to do that (some guy living at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave comes to mind), the world would be a better place.

    Bowing to your awesomeness.

  16. And here I thought I was the only one who realized and appreciated Michael’s leadership abilities, his patience, and his ability to remain calm in the face of SFWA sturm und drang, as well as the fact that he treated the SFWA Presidency as his primary job, spending uncounted hours working on the infrastructure, as well as the various crises.

    Not to mention his ability to (at least some of the time, and somewhat effectively) herd SFWA cats.

    That was very classy, John. Thanks.

    -Ann C. Crispin

  17. John,

    During this past year Michael C. made me glad he’d won. He was gracious, dedicated, positive, and adaptable and his political ties and straight-up grace went a long way to contain the wildfires. I came to admire him immensely.

    However, I have never regretted having voted for you. During the same year you’ve served when many would have sulked, chosen diplomacy where many would have lived on a soapbox, and been as honorable a subordinate (and draftee) as could be asked for. As for this message? It merely confirms further that you are the man I thought you to be when I voted, and whom I rejoiced that you were in the mess later.

    SFWA, for all its issues, was served superbly by you and many others. You and Capo are among the reasons the past year has proven a positive period, come the final reckoning. Bravo to you both.


%d bloggers like this: