Why Dave Palumbo and John Romano Really left Muscular Development!
by John Romano
Many would describe it as a “cyber riot” that erupted after MD publisher Steve Blechman abruptly and unceremoniously fired Dave Palumbo and me from our executive positions at Muscular Development. For the last week, he and his staff have struggled with a barrage of subscription cancellations, members fleeing the site for refuge elsewhere, and mountains of posts in our favor by angry forum members that required censorship and deletion by frazzled moderators (so much for their policy of “no bull”). Eventually, the demands to explain our departure became so furious that Blechman had no choice but to make a statement.
Originally, Dave and I were content to just walk away and not look back. But, since Blechman made his self-serving, inaccurate, statement . . . totally misleading our fans. . . Dave and I felt we should respond. The following italicized paragraphs contain Blechman’s statement in its entirety followed by a critique of his egregious falsehoods, and my assumption as to why Dave and I were really fired. So, sit back, relax, and get ready for a strong dose of something you don’t get much of on MD anymore – the truth.
In light of recent circumstances, I feel it is my responsibility to clear the air and explain one of the many reasons why both Dave Palumbo and John Romano were terminated.
Dave was hired two years ago to be Editor-in-Chief of the Muscular Development website. During the first year, he was instrumental in helping to grow it. During this past year, Dave’s interests were focused increasingly on his side businesses of training athletes and launching his supplement line. John was hired by Dave as a paid employee to endorse and promote this supplement line. Because of this, John’s position as Senior Editor was compromised. Together they were using MD and the website as a vehicle to further their own interests, and as a result, less time was being spent on increasing the website’s potential and taking it to the next level. During their employment, Dave and John’s contributions were very much appreciated, and they were well compensated.
Editor-in-Chief and Senior Editor are full-time positions and we require those who hold these titles to be willing to give their total focus. This was not the case. Dave and John have not worked onsite in the MD offices for over one year, which made working as a team extremely difficult. No one person is bigger than the team as a whole, and anyone who thinks Dave or John built MD is sadly mistaken. We have always had the best team of writers, athletes and employees and will continue on that path. When one door closes, another one opens and usually for the better.
I love bodybuilding and have always given MD 100 percent and have only had the best interest of the readers at heart. I ask anyone to dispute the fact that I have always been extremely loyal and generous to anyone who has worked for MD.
We are very excited about having Robbie Durand as the new Editor-in-Chief. He brings passion and incredible scientific knowledge to the site and will do whatever is necessary to meet the same high standards of excellence as Muscular Development magazine. Robbie wants very much to work with everyone in making this a team success. I hope you will welcome him aboard.
In closing, I want to reassure each of you that we will never compromise our mission and will always look to enlighten and inspire as well as search for new ways to continue to make MD the best bodybuilding magazine and website on the planet!
MD 2009 MISSION STATEMENT
First of all, for a guy who promotes a magazine and website that are supposed to be “No Bull,” this statement Steve Blechman posted is remarkably full of shit. He begins by stating that Dave was hired in 2006 as Editor-in-Chief of the website and for the first year was instrumental in making it grow (This marks the point where the truth ends and the bullshit gets so deep you need hip boots). He continues by stating that during this last year (2008) Dave was too mired in the prepping of his athletes for competition and the launching of his supplement line (Species) to focus on MD. Concomitantly, by Dave hiring me to help promote Species, Blechman accused me of compromising my duties as Senior Editor of MD magazine. Hence, the paradox created by running the MD website and a supplement company proved fatal to our ongoing relationship with MD.
These two statements mentioned above are so freighted with bullshit I don’t know where to begin. Let’s start with Dave. During the last year, MD.com posted its greatest growth ever. We covered over 100 shows for the NPC and IFBB, complete with the fastest-to-the-web competitor photo posting on the internet; and pre-contest and wrap-up interview videos posted the same night. While Blechman was hosting lavish dinner parties at high-priced steak houses, getting drunk on hundred-dollar bottles of wine, ogling Victor’s glutes, telling everyone they used to call him “Cro Magnon” when he wrestled in high school because he had a 16 1/2 inch neck, and parading his 130 pound body around the table stopping at each guest, flexing his right lat, and telling them to check it out, Dave and I were holed up in his hotel room until four in the morning (forced to eat room service), writing about the show, posting photos, and editing and putting up video. Dave also hosted, not one but, three Transformation Challenges, complete with video training tips of the week that he filmed and edited himself ; and his Q&A thread grew to over 1.5 million views because he painstakingly answered an ever-growing number of nutrition, training and diet questions every day – all while maintaining his Q&A article in MD magazine each month. This of course was on top of the regular day to day duties involved in running and growing the site.
Since 2006, the MD site, under Dave’s watch, has grown exponentially, each year surpassing the previous year by a large margin. Yet, Dave is accused of slacking because he did something non-MD related in his spare time. God forbid someone should have spare time and not spend it on MD. Incidentally, in spite of the fact that Dave’s commitment to MD was instrumental in the site’s unprecedented yearly growth, Dave never received a raise nor a commission since he signed on in 2006, and this year – the best year ever – received no Christmas bonus, and no severance when he got canned on the spot with no notice whatsoever.
As for me and my supposed “inability” to fulfill my obligations as Senior Editor of Muscular Development, if I wasn’t so exhausted thinking about it I’d laugh. During 2008, my writing assignments for MD grew to an unprecedented six articles a month – two of them heavily researched in-depth features (not to mention Blechman’s editorial that I write) – all together averaging over 15,000 words a month – completed on time and in top form. In addition to that, I took a very active role in supporting the MD website. While it’s nowhere in my job description, I participated heavily on the boards, answered a never ending stream of questions on my Q&A thread; hosted a 500 word essay contest offering readers an opportunity to get published (an opportunity totally unique in the industry); created the Hardcore Gym Registry; and generally filled in where Dave needed help, especially on the road doing wrap-up interviews with Dave, taking paparazzi photos, and doing interviews.
Additionally, Dave and I grew No Bull Radio from one hour to two hours a week, creating and implementing an ever-growing variety to the show. During the last quarter of 08, we also solicited and secured our own sponsorship dollars – and received no commission. Clearly, both Dave and I did more work for both MD magazine and the website in 2008 than any other year. Not only were we not shown any appreciation for this effort in the form of raises, commissions, or bonuses, but we’ve also been publicly disparaged by Blechman– basically calling us slackers– because we chose to work hard and try to get ahead by making something for ourselves beyond his company. Not only is Blechman woefully inept at appreciating loyalty and commitment to a cause, but it’s also painfully apparent that in his mind the American Dream only pertains to him.
As far as using MD as a springboard to launch Species, I really don’t feel that Species was offered any more attention than any other paid advertiser. Routinely, there were threads and discussions posted on the message boards about other advertisers’ products. The only time there was ever a problem was when Species was mentioned because the perception was that Species was not a paid advertiser.
So, let’s clear the air. Was, or wasn’t, Species a paid advertiser? Species had full ad pages in MD. Whether those pages were paid for in cash, or as part of Dave’s compensation package, the fact remains that they were not free. Dave should have been afforded the same leeway as any other paid advertiser. But he wasn’t. Why? The answer to that question lies squarely on the narrow shoulders of perhaps the worst “Adman” in the industry.
Species became the scapegoat for why this guy couldn’t sell advertising or secure sponsorships. He fabricated and heavily promoted the idea to the industry that Species was not a paid advertiser. He worked extremely hard at convincing Blechman that Dave and I were subverting the company as well as detracting ad sales every time we uttered the name ‘Species’, or even if one of Dave’s clients was photographed at a competition wearing a freakin’ Species tee shirt! This guy was so good at bamboozling Blechman with his trumped up numbers and blame-for-poor-sales on Species that he poisoned the entire office staff. I have to give the guy credit. He was able to show that his ad sales doubled last year by compiling and ever-growing list of giveaways to add value to what he was selling unbeknownst to those who would have to provide that content (Dave, Bill Comstock, and me). He even gave away shit that didn’t exist! For one $5,000.00 sponsorship package the guy gave away 36 line items as added value! No wonder his sales numbers went up and the advertisers loved him. He gave away a million of dollars worth of value for $5,000! He also built two personal websites using company resources (on company time) and he promoted his side business – building haunted houses – and he kept his job. Apparently his job doesn’t require total focus; he went home every day at 5:00pm! The only guys who would stay up all night working for Blechman and growing his business were Dave and I – the two guys who got fired.
Blechman goes on to lament that “Editor-in-Chief and Senior Editor are full-time positions and we require those who hold these titles to be willing to give their total focus. This was not the case. Dave and John have not worked onsite in the MD offices for over one year, which made working as a team extremely difficult.”
This is such bullshit that I’m choking on the fumes! If Dave and I were not giving the website and the magazine total focus they would never have grown the way they did, especially during the last year when they grew the most. Additionally, I NEVER worked on site (in the offices) the entire 18 years I was with MD. Now, all of a sudden, after doing more work in 2008 than ever before, being on site became an issue? How did we manage for the first 17 years?
The difficulty in working as a team was not caused by Dave and I working off site. It was due to Blechman’s protracted and inefficient way of doing things. His decisions were made with the alacrity of a snail in the dead of winter. It didn’t matter if we were in the office or not; nothing ever got resolved in one sitting. When meetings were called at the main offices, we always showed up. We never refused to come in when we had to. Remember, Dave and I don’t do regular office jobs.
Blechman further hampered the team effort by making many enemies in our industry. Both Dave and I routinely fended off promoters, athletes, officials, and contributors who would come to us because they couldn’t contact him, they couldn’t get paid on time, and they couldn’t get Blechman to call them back regarding whether or not we’d sponsor or cover their shows, or any other matter important to them. In Blechman’s mind, if it wasn’t important to him it wasn’t important. Unless the subject was Victor’s glutes; then his eyes would light up.
Our “team” effort was also marred by the fact that our fearless leader doesn’t even know how to turn on a computer (much less use one) and doesn’t understand the workings of the internet, internet media, or the social aspects of the community. His inability to grasp these basic concepts is akin to Henry Ford not knowing how to drive a car. This made simple things such as video conferencing impossible. In the same amount of time he wastes just logging onto the site, and complaining that things weren’t “put up” (because he had 400 windows open and didn’t know how to refresh his browser), Dave and I were way past him and onto something else, frustrated and stymied because Blechman was stuck in last century. You can only be a team if you’re playing the same game. Either one of us, physically, being in the office would merely be to compensate for Blechman’s inefficiency. In essence, it would have been a complete waste of our valuable time, which, apparently, all of it– 24/7– belonged to Blechman.
This is all ludicrous because I wasn’t even an employee! I worked the entire 18 years as an independent contractor. I paid my own health insurance, payroll taxes, and provided for my own retirement. I was entitled to no profit sharing, no pension, no equity share, and no stock options; and when he finally decided to fire me, I got no notice and no severance. Yet Blechman thinks that he’s entitled to 100% of my time – to the exclusion of all else – in order to play on his team? The guy’s losing his mind!
Blechman eats, breathes, sleeps and lives MD – to the exclusion of all else. His $24 Million house in Aspen has a carbon copy of the NY office above the garage. He goes from the office in NY, into the limo to the airport, on the plane to Aspen, into the house and upstairs to his Aspen office all the while clenching a red pen in one hand and a stack of paper in another. Other than going to dinner, or a couple of hours of snow boarding here and there during his stay, he never stops working! While that could be the mark of a committed businessperson, in his case it’s because he needs to be committed – to an institution. It’s his inefficiency that causes him so much work, not that he’s getting so much done. ARP (the parent company Blechman owns) puts out three magazines and three websites for crying out loud, and the boss doesn’t have time to take a shit. Jack Welch ran GE for 20 years with numerous subsidiary businesses all over the world– at one time employing over 400,000 people– and he still played golf every Wednesday. Just because Blechman’s antiquated and inefficient way of doing things precludes any life outside of his business doesn’t mean that we need to follow suit in order to get our job done. We did get the job done, in spite of what he says, and as all of you agree, Dave and I did build the MD website and the community. And we did it well. Proof of that is the fact that all of you are over here now and tumbleweeds are blowing through the MD site! It’s true that in our spare time we did do other things. The jealously over the fact that we were becoming successful in other areas of the industry threatened Blechman, and THAT is the main reason he fired us.
Blechman’s next statement is really pathetic and evinces completely how woefully out of touch he is with the real world: “I love bodybuilding and have always given MD 100 percent and have only had the best interest of the readers at heart. I ask anyone to dispute the fact that I have always been extremely loyal and generous to anyone who has worked for MD.”
Okay, first, Blechman doesn’t love bodybuilding he loves bodybuilders – in an almost perverted kind of way. He collects them, he ogles and obsesses over them, he hordes them, and he won’t share them with anyone. He gives 100% alright! Like when he’s sitting in the front row of a bodybuilding contest yelling “WEEEEEW!” at the top of his lungs for his favorite bodybuilder of the moment, like a drunk, topless, groupie chick at a rock concert. If you ever want to cringe from embarrassment, sit with Blechman when one of his bodybuilders du jour is on stage.
Other than that, he only gives so long as it suits him. I ask anyone who has ever worked for MD to dispute the fact that when Blechman is done with you, it’s like you have Dengue fever– he abandons you and leaves you hanging quicker than the blink of an eye. The most egregious example of that is how he fired me! After 18 years of loyal service to him and his company – I’ve stayed in his house, been to family functions, he called me “his brother” – I get a phone call from him saying, “ehhhh… we’ve been reevaluating and decided to terminate the relationship. I have to go into a meeting; we’ll talk more later….” Click. I’m still waiting for “later” to roll around. In Blechman time that could be nine years from now. It wouldn’t matter anyway. I have nothing to say to him. So much for his loyalty. The truth is, if Blechman has any use for you he treats you well; pays you well, takes you to dinner at nice restaurants. But, once he’s done with you, he’ll leave you by the side of the road in an instant. I’ve seen him do it a hundred times. He did it to me, his “brother.”
As far as Robbie Durand goes, trust me when I tell you he’ll be over here with us soon, too. Blechman’s inability to delegate responsibility, make decisions, his penchant for micro-management, and his need to be surrounded by yes-men, will eventually frustrate Durand’s intellect and derail his passion for MD. When that day comes, as it most surely will, he will be welcome him with open arms.
With Dave and me gone, MD will never again be what it was. While Blechman is under the impression that his magazine and website are “number one”, an in depth analysis of the numbers will prove otherwise. The reality is that MD is on the way down, right along with its page count and its editorial content. Blechman burns every bridge he crosses and routinely pisses off the powers that be in this industry, and at this point he’s running out of bridges and running out of favors with those who call the shots. More people are pissed at him than not, and it’s only a matter of time before he runs out of pieces to put together. And when that day comes, as it most surely will, he will have no one to blame but himself.
Contained in MD’s new mission statement, Blechman states, “MD is outrageous, MD is controversial, MD is credible and MD is NUMBER ONE!!” MD is no longer any of those things! For outrageousness it has Gregg Valentino. For controversy it has it has Lee Priest. While I have nothing personal against either gentleman, you can’t base 50% of your mission statement on these two guys. Valentino is one reality show payday away from turning his back completely on anything having to do with bodybuilding, and Lee Priest is but one inevitable middle finger away from being permanently banned from the industry. As far as credibility goes, Blechman does employ an impressive list of credible people, the only problem is that, as far as Blechman is concerned, their subject matter is relegated to either what will not piss off advertisers or what suits Blechman’s agenda. If powerful research comes out that trounces a MuscleTech product you can bank on the fact that that study will be buried lest he lose those ad dollars. Just ask Anssi Manninin. Or, if Blechman happens to be suffering from high mercury levels, he’ll assign someone an article flouting the consumption of large fish. After his mercury levels go back down, tuna will be safe to eat again. If that’s credibility, it’s selective at best. And as far as being “number one” goes, if you go by the efficiency numbers I have for magazines sold versus the number of issues printed each month, and compare that to the audited numbers of our competitors, MD is far from number one. As far as the website goes, again the numbers don’t lie. MD is clearly not number one. So MD’s No Bull mission Statement = total bullshit.
THE REAL REASON HE FIRED US
Now that I’ve cleared the air of the biased, fabricated, egomaniacal, Napoleonic, control freak, crap that Blechman posted as the reason he fired Dave and me, let me tell you the real reason. As some of you may know, Blechman and his four brothers owned TwinLab, the ultra successful supplement company their father started in the 60s and grew to a $300 Mill a year behemoth. As head of product development for Twin, Blechman brought to market many innovative products; but it’s been more than 12 years since Blechman has been in the supplement biz and the industry has grown past him.
For the last 12 years Blechman has been telling me he’s getting back into the supplement business, and promising me that I would be a big part of it and become wealthy beyond my dreams. Every year he makes the claim, reiterates how well I’m going to do, and then every year he chickens out. Not wanting to upset advertisers and lose ad dollars is the source of his fear. His quest became how to capitalize on the lucrative supplement biz yet still keep all his MD advertisers. Then along came Palumbo with his newly hatched Species. Part of the arrangement for Dave to come on board as Editor-In-Chief of MD.com was the proviso that Blechman and Palumbo would go into the supplement business together using Species as the shell to contain Blechman’s creations. Blechman felt that if they could keep his involvement on the down low he could have his cake and eat it too. He could partner up with Dave and be in the supplement biz and not piss off advertisers because, with Dave as the front man, it wouldn’t look like the owner of the magazine was selling supplements at a perceived favored position.
Unfortunately, after several month of seeing how Blechman does business; not returning phone calls, not paying people on time, stringing people along while he took his sweet time making up his mind, going back on his word, and relying solely on published research even if it bucked empirical data, Dave felt partnering up with Blechman would be an unhappy disaster for him. Dave doesn’t do business that way. So, he told Steve he changed his mind and wanted to keep Species for himself. Then Dave hired me to help market his company, thus throwing down the gauntlet. I’m sure Blechman perceived this move on my part as being disloyal. Blechman obviously thinks I should just wait around another 12 years to see if he gets into the supplement biz. What the hell? I guess I’m not allowed to achieve anything greater than what Blechman provides! Pffff…..
Be that as it may, Blechman still has plans to get back into the supplement business this year. But, he wants to do it in a way that doesn’t jeopardize his ad dollars. However, before he fills one bottle with pills, he’s going to have to reestablish who he is. 12 years is a long time to be out of the supplement business. Most people out there today have no idea who Blechman is with regard to supplements. So, Blechman decided to get on the message boards and make a name for himself. Since he knows nothing about the internet or the community, his first foray into the web should have been to align himself with us until he got comfortable. Instead, he charged headlong into a smear campaign against Dave and his low-carb, moderate fat, high protein, ketogenic diet. He posted various esoteric studies warning of the deleterious nature of Dave’s diet for bodybuilders supported by inapplicable research.
Almost immediately, a posse of ass kissers jumped on Blechman’s leg and humped it into oblivion with their anti-keto shtick– all to no avail because Dave put up a very astute fight relying on both science as well as his success in getting athletes ready for competition. I saw Dave, out in the cold, taking unwarranted pot shots from Blechman and sided with Dave because I know firsthand that his methods work and I knew that what Blechman was saying was contrived, biased, alarmist, and simply wasn’t happening in my case.
At the end of the week-long debate, I posted the inevitable truth that was probably the biggest component in me getting fired. I said, ”Who are you going to listen to, a shredded 270lb bodybuilder who prepped 200 competitors last year– 98% of whom proclaimed they were in the best shape of their lives– or a 130 pound science junkie waving a study who’s never competed nor coached anyone to the stage?” Practical application of knowledge to affect a favorable outcome is what people are after, not proof based on what a study says. Perhaps that was too powerful a statement. The truth is like that you know. In any event, Dave won the debate hands down and, in so doing, polarized Blechman and us.
Well, this really pissed off Blechman. All of a sudden, after losing the “Carb Wars”, there began a systematic scouring of the MD website of anything having to do with Species supplements. At the same time, Blechman thought he was going to throw a wrench in my gears by forcing me to fully disclose the fact that I was being paid by Species to endorse Dave’s product line and that I was paid a commission on sales of those supplements. Interestingly, I did as I was told and the scheme backfired on Blechman. He figured the boards would rally against me, when in fact the members rallied for me. No one thought that selling Species supplements to gyms was a bad idea on my part; nor did they take issue with the fact that I believed in the Species brand and was being paid to say so. In the end, I even got four new wholesale accounts out of Blechman’s backfired plan!
The fact that Species is rapidly becoming a popular premium brand of specialized bodybuilding nutritional supplements, combined with the online community’s support of Dave and me, threatened Blechman and his desire to re-enter the supplement business. We had proved that he was too out of touch, too heavily reliant on published research and that he consistently ignored functional empirical data. On top of this, Dave’s company was growing by leaps and bounds with the entire community praising Dave’s diet, his products, or both. Blechman obviously felt this would threaten his chances of bringing his brand of products to market because too many people were siding with Dave. Let’s face it, Blechman simply lacked street credibility. That’s why last Monday, February 2nd Dave and I woke up to find ourselves locked out of the MD website and unceremoniously fired with not so much as a thank you, a decent explanation, nor severance pay. We were fired because Blechman didn’t have the balls or the decency– especially with my 18 year track record with MD– to sit down and try to work things out in an amicable way. Instead, he cowardly and hastily fired us then released this pathetic batch of lies to try to make us look bad and support his stupid decision.
Dave and I believe you – the community – will do what’s right. And by the looks of how widespread the support is for us and our new website, we’re grateful to you that the truth has prevailed. Blechman had a good thing going and he ruined it. He was right about one thing though, “When one door closes, another one opens and usually for the better.” Looking around and seeing so much support for us, on that count, I’m not going to argue with him. He doesn’t even have to post the study or reference that supports his claim. In this case, hands down, we believe him!
Article Source: RxMuscle.com