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Plus, the pay was lousy — $35 a story, a pittance by print-media standards. "I couldn't afford to do community journalism that much longer," he says.
So he quit. He set out to do freelance grant- and copywriting, and figured that a blog could serve as the bullhorn for his unhinged civic expression. When the work didn't come, he found himself blogging every day. Most of the posts were links to mainstream media stories adorned with Botello's fatalism, but he occasionally mixed in opinions about city news.
In person, Botello speaks softly, asks questions and constantly edits himself, undercutting his own theories before he even finishes espousing them. But on the blog, a persona began to develop. The Botello of TKC hated Kansas City, for one. He referred to it as "cowtown" and trashed its every institution, from the Chiefs to the art scene to the restaurants. Men were "douchebags," women "skanks" and "tramps." His sources were "KICK-ASS TKC TIPSTERS," as if they were motivated by loyalty to the site rather than their own candidates or causes. Almost every story was a "TKC EXCLUSIVE!!!"
It read, at times, like the work of a kid who had just discovered PowerPoint — every bell and whistle was in play, and no effect was off-limits. But it worked. Readers started returning, leaving comments. Many of them indicated a vague desire to stab him, but that was beside the point. He had a voice (however unbearable) and he offered a forum (however juvenile) at a time when local media outlets were shedding bodies and hemorrhaging readers.
"We're all sort of struggling to stay relevant," says Peggy Phillip, the news director at NBC affiliate KSHB Channel 41. "The dilithium crystal is local content. Yahoo can't take it from us — yet. So I appreciate Tony's content. It's another perspective. It's another set of eyes — and, in his case, breasts and other parts."
Yes: those. The more he blogged, the more Botello established himself as only partly formed when it came to dealing with women. He began complementing his city musings — inspired, he says, by Breslin and Royko and other metro columnists of yesteryear — with photos of women in bikinis.
Mostly, though, he established himself as needing very little sleep. Or money. Trying to replace a journalism job with blogging is a common affliction these days. Plenty of reporters have lost or left jobs and turned to blogging as "an outlet." But those blogs often fade into irrelevance when the journalists behind them realize they don't need an outlet. They need a steady paycheck.
Botello seems to require no such thing. He subsists on the contents of his parents' refrigerators and drives a beat-up Geo Prism owned by his mother. He has a girlfriend of six years but no immediate plans to marry or start a family, he says. His site has no paying advertisers; judging by its content, he has no interest in courting them. The site makes no money, and Botello has little other income.
"I have seen 500 blogs come and go from the time Tony's been writing his," says John Landsberg, a local media blogger and PR agent. "They realize they can't monetize it and they go, 'It's good for my ego, but I don't have many readers.'"
Botello posts almost constantly and with no obvious pattern or rhythm. Stories appear at all hours. If it's unclear to readers whether it's the start of Botello's day or the end, that's because his days have neither.
"I don't have a regular schedule," he says. "I've gotten by taking naps. That's always how I've slept."