On February 17, SB Nation, the founding site in the Vox Media empire, did something so inexplicable it amounts to an editorial mystery.
For about five hours the editors had up on their site a 12,000 word article weirdly sympathetic to Daniel Holtzclaw, the now-notorious Oklahoma City police officer convicted on 18 counts of rape and sexual assault, crimes he committed while on duty and against the people he was supposed to protect. This was a piece of writing so wrongheaded, noxious and ill-conceived that the editorial director of SB Nation, Spencer Hall, said later that day in a note to readers: “There is no qualification: it was a complete failure.”
A true statement. I cannot put it any better than Deadspin’s Greg Howard did:
The tone of the entire piece is fawning and forgiving; by the end, the terrifying, spectacular spree of rapes exists as little more than an unfortunate occurrence, and a 263-year sentence as an unjustly harsh burden Holtzclaw has to bear. Holtzclaw destroyed 13 women’s lives; “Who Is Daniel Holtzclaw?” told the story of how they destroyed his.
What I mean by a mystery is this: When the editors of a site receive complaints about a work they have published, and after reviewing it quickly find their decision to publish it indefensible, they are telling us, in effect, that they had temporarily lost their minds. They had quit being editors, but when alerted to the vacancy looked upon their AWOL selves with shock and horror. From the outside it’s hard to imagine how that switch happens. Continuing to defend the indefensible, as Newsweek has done with its bitcoin story (still online, unretracted) is a lot less admirable than what Vox did, but somehow easier to understand than “Hey, we temporarily lost our minds…”
In the case of “Who is Daniel Holtzclaw?” — quickly removed from the internet by SB Nation but still available in a cached version — an internal investigation is underway. It is being conducted by Vox Media’s editorial director, Lockhart Steele. According to Greg Howard’s report, he is being assisted by five women who work for Vox: Recode founder Kara Swisher, Eater executive editor Helen Rosner, Vox.com managing editor Lauren Williams, Katie Nimick of Vox Media human resources, and Miriam Nissly, who works in the company’s legal department.
“A major editorial miscalculation was made, and it’s on us that we figure out why and limit the chances of it happening again,” Steele told the New York Times. The meltdown happened in SB Nation’s “longform” division, which was launched in 2012. It publishes narrative non-fiction that takes months to report. That work has been suspended while the investigation unfolds.
“We’re reviewing all of our processes in light of this failure,” said Spencer Hall in his note to readers shortly after the piece was pulled. “There are a lot of them, and I promise to talk in detail about them publicly while we work through all of them.” Please underline that word “promise.” Greg Howard reports something different: “What the company finds may well remain unknown; we’re told the results of its inquest are unlikely to be made public.” That is not good.
I think this is a key moment for Vox Media and its internal culture, which has been a major strength. A weird thing about these meltdowns is that it’s entirely possible for Vox to come out of this a wiser and stronger company that’s even more attractive to editorial, technical and commercial talent. But that only happens if the investigation is thorough and the truthtelling is real and detailed— and made public.
In a memo to employees obtained by Deadspin, Vox’s vice president of editorial operations, Kevin Lockland, wrote: “You have every right to be angry and disappointed. We are committed to taking appropriate actions to earn back your trust, which we know will take time.” That’s a good sign. But of course it is the trust of readers that is equally a stake in this investigation. And the confidence of future employees, especially women and minority journalists, who may or may not want to join Vox. For as Greg Howard observes:
This story serves as an example of why diversity in the newsroom is so important. It isn’t because diversity is charity, or because giving opportunities to people other than white men is a Christlike thing to do, but because everyone has blind spots, and everyone fucks up.
Diversity = blind spot minimization. Real diversity is an improvement in editorial vision, such that things appear “in their corrected fullness.” (The phrase is Sheldon Wolin’s.) Howard’s reporting on how the meltdown happened reveals that Elena Bergeron, SB Nation’s senior editor — a very experienced journalist and “the only person of color and the only woman among SBNation.com’s top layer of editors” — had seen the disaster coming. She “explicitly and repeatedly drew attention to the story’s flaws in the days leading to its publication— and was, somehow, ignored.” Somehow ignored? That’s part of the mystery. But it has to be explained. If the explanation is kept within house, what does that tell minority journalists who will in the future be recruited by Vox?
I know a few people at Vox. I know how seriously they take minority recruitment. What happened to Elena Bergeron’s voice is now a public issue. It has to be addressed… publicly. This is too obvious to belabor any further.
Departing from what has been reported, I want to add a few thoughts and speculations of my own to the mystery of how “Who is Daniel Holtzclaw?” got published.
The writer and non-fiction master Gay Talese used to describe for anyone who asked how he would pin the typed pages of his articles to a wall, in order to step back and re-read the draft with binoculars. That’s right: binoculars! Why did he do this? Because it was the only way he could think of to examine his creation at the sentence level and as a completed whole: simultaneously. To perfect what he made, he needed distance from, and intimacy with. He felt he couldn’t sacrifice one for the other. If he planted a bomb on page 2, he wanted to see exactly how it went off on page 22, and assess whether that was the right story arc. I mention this because it is one answer to the mystery of how the Vox editors temporarily lost their minds. They didn’t have any equivalent to Gay Talese’s binoculars. They didn’t know what their creation added up to. They couldn’t see it whole.
There are other ways to get distance on a text you are too intimate with. One of them is so simple, so artless, so obvious that I’m convinced it is under-employed because editorial people — who think of themselves as sophisticated manipulators of text — are embarrassed to use something we might recommend to a sixth grader. Read the work aloud, preferably to an “average” or non-specialist listener. Just vocalizing a problematic text brings the problems with it much closer to the surface. There is no way “Who is Daniel Holtzclaw?” could have survived being read aloud to a husband, wife, girlfriend or boyfriend. No one who loves you would have let you publish it on the internet.
Which brings me to another point about putting such pieces online. In 2009 I called it “audience atomization overcome.” It means that the internet is extremely efficient at allowing people who draw the same conclusion to locate each other and realize their number. Whereas before the internet people who thought upon reading your piece “well, that’s odd,” or “this is appalling,” or “seriously, Rolling Stone?” had little recourse but to write a letter to the editor or complain to a friend, today if the sentiment is widely shared these readers quickly realize they are not alone, and that their collective disbelief is much stronger than the editors’ belief in what was just published. Audience atomization has been overcome.
The writer and software engineer Paul Ford had this in mind when in the wake of the SB Nation debacle he mused about adding a “Very Concerned!” button to content management systems. “Anyone—designer, intern, editor—could click that button. Once they click, an email goes straight up the chain (to the top of the company) flagging that someone, somewhere is concerned.” But why limit it to the people you employ?
What if you created a special reader’s program of, say, two hundred people who read your publication? Make sure they are as diverse as hell—race, gender identity, sports teams, location, age, education. Recruit them quietly. Pay them something small but meaningful: $100/month to read 10 or so stories each. They’d read them anyway; here, they get money for reading them early and carefully.
This is now your “reader’s council.” Give them unlimited access to drafts of articles and ask for feedback and notes, and give them the same “Very Concerned!” button you gave to your editors. Make it all totally anonymous—no way for the editors to reach them, or know who they are. Now instead of waiting for the Internet to take you to task, a group of strangers can take you to task, quietly, on a regular basis.
This is diversity, of the distributed kind.
Finally, a point about clichés. Here is something Poynter.org published not long ago: 15 political clichés journalists should avoid. Advice like this presents clichés as a glitch in one’s writing, a problem of attentiveness. You can avoid clichés by recognizing them early and steering around them.
I have read “Who is Daniel Holtzclaw?” four times. It is teeming with clichés. The “nice guy” who no one could believe is a rapist. The father who swears his son could never have done this. The dedicated athlete always found in the weight room, determined to make it to the NFL. (He doesn’t.) But the kinds of clichés that doom the piece are not glitches in the writing. They are way beyond the use of tired phrases that one could avoid. Rather, the author of this work thinks in clichés, superficialities that were fatal to the piece before he ever typed a word. This is not a matter of technique. It cannot be cured by better editing, or reminders from Poynter. It is not a lapse into cliché but a prior condition that should have disqualified him from ever taking on this subject.
I’m not going to even mention the author’s name because this is not about him. The editors are at fault. The writer they chose was completely over-matched by his subject. When it was proposed… a piece asking “Who is Daniel Holtzclaw, really?” …a proper answer would have been: is Joan Didion available?
After Matter: Notes, Reactions & Links
UPDATE, March 9: Glen Stout, the editor of SB Nation longform, who commissioned the piece in question, is fighting back. His lawyer sent a letter to Deadspin demanding a correction, and included exhibits like emails sent and drafts amended. Erik Wemple of the Washington Post tries to sort it out: Ex-SB Nation editor seeks correction/retraction from Deadspin over Daniel Holtzclaw story. Here’s the lawyer’s letter with quite a lot of detail.
Erik Wemple (March 10): Internal review of SB Nation’s Holtzclaw story close to completion.
If you care at all about editorial integrity (or “longform,” narrative journalism) you really should read the doomed text, “Who is Daniel Holtzclaw?” There is no need for me to repeat the many on-point criticisms that have been made of this article. Instead I will link and highlight:
* L.V. Anderson at Slate, The Worst Parts of SB Nation’s Deleted Story Lionizing a Convicted Rapist. “You may be wondering how many times [the author] directly quotes Holtzclaw’s victims in his 12,000-word piece. The answer: exactly once.”
* Barry Petchesky at Deadspin (a Gawker site): “Basically, this is the local news interviewing the shocked neighbors — ‘He always seemed like such a nice kid’ — over and over again for 12,000 words.”
* Jessica Luther at Fansided (a Sports Illustrated site.)
[The author’s] starting point is as a man who watched Holotzclaw’s entire college career, who sees Holtzclaw as an athlete first, and who imagines Holtzclaw’s story as a tragic arc. The victimized women are simply an anomaly to be explained away in the otherwise successful life of a nice guy who happened to become a convicted rapist. Yet, for plenty of sexual assault survivors, the fact that everyone in their community and friend group believed that the man who raped them was a “good guy” who “would never do such a thing” kept them quiet, made them fearful of coming forward, made them doubt what happened to them, etc.
* A Deadspin commenter who is admirably concise:
Jeez, didn’t you read the story? He was a former football player who once played football but no longer played football, and was well liked by the people who liked him! And those rapes he committed but maybe he didn’t? You weren’t there so who knows?
Crazy as it sounds, that is a good summary of what SB Nation published and then un-published, once the editors came to their senses. That the author never should have been given the assignment you can tell by trying to read his concluding paragraph. It is almost insensible:
Pending an improbable successful appeal, everything he had worked for was now gone, likely never to be recovered, ever again. Recovery, if there is any, appears to be something deserved only by the victims of a man whose belief in his innocence will apparently be, like the way he once pursued his dream of playing in the NFL, unrelenting, despite all evidence to the contrary.
That the author should never have been given the assignment you can also tell from his apology note.
Maybe when the crash site investigation is concluded it will find that the problems began with the dubious proposition that because Holtzclaw’s football career had been under-covered, SB Nation — a sports site — had something vital to add to the story of his crimes and conviction. That the writer had covered Holtzclaw when he was in college may have given the editors a false sense that they were in possession of some kind of exclusive.
“The fact that he was a football player — and a pretty good one, who fell just short of the N.F.L. — seemed to have escaped all other coverage.” These are the words of Glenn Stout, editor of SB Nation’s longform division, in an email to a writer’s group that the New York Times obtained. “I think people will be talking about this one,” he wrote.
But there’s the mystery again. When you read “Who is Daniel Holtzclaw?” it’s almost impossible to believe that a competent editor read and signed off on it. It’s that bad. But Glenn Stout is a serious journalist, a respected editor. From the comments at Deadspin:
I’ve written five pieces for SB Nation Longform, and Glenn Stout has been my editor on all five pieces. In all five instances, the editing was exhaustive. Of course, I can only speak for my own experience, but every single story I’ve written for the site, has gone through round after round after round of edits and revisions. And it’s always resulted in the story getting better.
Spencer Hall, editorial director of SB Nation, told Deadspin: “Glenn has worked his last day at SBNation.com.”
I have written often about editorial meltdowns. They interest me:
* “I want it to be 25 years ago!” Newsweek’s blown cover story on bitcoin. (March 10, 2014)
* “Events by which ‘Dr. V’s Magical Putter’ came to be published are now the best argument I have for you on diversity in the newsroom. (Jan. 22, 2014)
* Rolling Stone’s ‘A Rape on Campus.’ Notes and comment on Columbia J-school’s investigation. (April 6, 2015)
re: ‘But the kinds of clichés that doom the piece are not glitches in the writing. They are way beyond the use of tired phrases that one could avoid. Rather, the author of this work thinks in clichés, superficialities that were fatal to the piece before he typed a word. This is not a matter of technique. It cannot be cured by better editing. It is not a lapse into cliché but a prior condition that should have disqualified him from ever taking on this subject’
I’ll be thinking about this from now on as I read feature writing on environmental issues.
Good piece, but I think you gloss over a key point – the amateurish nature of the author, and really, all of SB Nation when it comes to true journalism. I think SB Nation has done a great job at many things. But the site wasn’t founded on journalism, per se. That isn’t to say what they do doesn’t have merits. A lot of them. But even most of their people admit that’s not what they are. …. It’s as if the author has seen a lot of profound 60 Minutes thinkpieces and lengthy SI profiles, about the guy who did “something bad” but is really good at heart .. and thought “I’m gonna do this too.” And over-reached in order to find a subject to do it with, with no real idea of how to do something like this. And the editorial staff was probably of a similar mindset.
That’s true about the origins of SB Nation, which are in fan blogging. But it doesn’t help that much in penetrating the mystery because professional editors, experienced journalists, were involved in this piece at every step.
In the immediate aftermath of these events, my social media timelines lit up with sportswriters saying some variation of Matt Tullis’ comment quoted above. Glenn Stout is a great editor, they said. He made my work better. He cares about good writing. It was a chorus of support. To a man—they were all men—they ignored the facts of this case, that the editorial operation he oversaw had committed “a complete failure.”
In other words, they were doing the same thing the Holtzclaw piece did, though of course the stakes were different. They were minimizing the wrongdoing and saying, “He’s really a good guy!”
That is an excellent point, King. I was perplexed by it, as well.
Don’t disagree, but know that Glenn Stout is more than a “good guy.” For about a quarter-century, he has been the editor of a series of annual books that are collections of the best American sports writing of the year. I pull from these collections in the sports writing courses I teach. Amazon.com says, “GLENN STOUT has served as Series Editor of The Best American Sports Writing since its inception in 1991. He is the author of many books, including The Selling of the Babe, Nine Months at Ground Zero, Young Woman and the Sea, Fenway 1912 and the forthcoming The Selling of the Babe. He has also served as editor for award-winning Longform narrative journalism.” So there was every reason to believe he could have avoided this horrendous error. Just mystifying.
Greg Howard of Deadspin is interesting on Stout’s reputation and limitations.
But these people were not saying, “He’s such a good editor. It’s mystifying to me that he could have screwed up so badly.” They were saying, “He’s a good editor and a good guy.” Full stop.
I’m well aware of Stout’s good reputation and was before this incident. My point is, pointing to it is as beside the point, and seems to come from a similar impulse, as pointing out Holtzclaw’s good reputation among friends and colleagues in the original piece.
What’s interesting to me is that the “wait, what happened? We lost our minds, we have no idea how it happened” is eerily similar to the lack of insight that the piece itself reports about Holtzclaw’s friends being unable to connect the dots between the Holtzclaw they “knew” and the rapes he committed. From the article: “Each time, Selman reached the same conclusion: There was just no way. There was nothing he could point to in his time with Holtzclaw that squared with that of the man in trial, or the testimony from the 13 women victims during Holtzclaw’s trial.” In otherwords: they’re looking right at it and they still don’t “get it.”
What if you have a piece written about rape and sexual assault that is written and edited by people who share that cultural blind spot — the one that makes some people unable to connect the dots between people who commit rapes and their acts?
I don’t know for sure, but I think this is reason Lockhart Steele has five women on the team investigating the crash site.
Well shoot that was meant to be a reply to KO.
No…they knew exactly what they were doing. There was just negative blowback. The many menz working there at Vox RELATED to a rapist and saw themselves in him and dismissed the black women raped in their misogyny haze.
They don’t have many non-white staffers because THEY DON’T WANT TO HIRE THEM.
Let’s stop pretending with these fake “diversity” empty conversations. When you posit your own self-indulgent think piece on how Vox screwed up by mentioning “minority hires” it’s indicative of a white hierarchy that will maintain its dominance no matter what.
One thing that’s always stuck with me from J-school was a bit of advice on profile-writing. The advice, put simply, was to show some good qualities of a subject who’s perceived to be a villain, or some flaws of a subject who’s perceived to be a hero. I think it’s good advice that generally makes for a more interesting profile, but to me the Holtzclaw piece is an example of that approach taken with blinders on. Way too far.
“it’s entirely possible for Vox to come out of this a wiser and stronger company that’s even more attractive to editorial, technical and commercial talent. But that only happens if the investigation is thorough and the truthtelling is real and detailed— and made public.”
That’s a nice sentiment, but I don’t see any particular reason to believe it’s true. Even writers and editors who are proven plagiarists eventually find work again. Sometimes they get book deals. I see no reason to start believing that there are meaningful consequences for publishing stupid things. Not career-wise, not advertising-wise, not attracting-new-writers-wise. What exactly is it you have in mind here? Prospective writers and editors will turn their noses up at Vox jobs in favor of freelancing or unemployment? That seems extremely unlikely.
What I meant is this: The most talented people have choices about where to work. This is especially true for technical talent and great journalists — editors and reporters — who happen not to be white. It’s not that jobs at Vox would go unfilled, it’s that the people Vox most wants may think twice.
Jay, thanks for calling my attention to this case, and the article that spawned it. I plan to study it. In the meantime, I want to riff on your language, or suggest that you are riffing on the work of Donald Murray. Don won a Pulitzer for editorial writing and became the dean of writing coaches and composition teachers.
My book Writing Tools is dedicated to him, and in the chapter on avoid cliches is this:
“More deadly than cliches of language are what Donald Murray calls ‘cliches of vision,’ the narrow frames through which writers learn to see the world. In Writing to Deadline, Murray lists common blind spots: victims are always innocent, bureaucrats are lazy, politicians are corrupt, it’s lonely at the top, the suburbs are boring.”
I think a cliche of vision occurs at the point where archetypes become stereotypes.
I had not heard Don’s term, ‘cliches of vision,’ but yes, that’s it exactly.
A good example is the author’s apology note. This, for example…. “By not spending more time reaching out to victims or their families as a way of accounting for the horrific abuse they suffered, I made a grave mistake. I accept responsibility for that.”
You can almost see him smacking his forehead and saying to himself, “I didn’t get the other side! Of course! Now I see. Journalism 101, man. How could I forget that?”
When in fact the whole premise that a football life offers some special illumination to a rapist’s mind was cracked to begin with. But his “cliches of vision” prevent him from seeing that.
I looked into the Holtzclaw story and there are signature signs of him being framed. I don’t like cops and I particularly don’t like rapists.
The heart of this case is very simple. It’s sexism that runs rampant beneath the surface of our culture. Only 30 percent of women are represented at all junctures in this story… lack of women in journalism management, a lack of respect or merit for women’s voices in the workplace — by white, male editors who don’t have to listen and lack of women’s voices within the story itself. The fact that a reporter, naive and ignorant, with only compassion for the superficial story line, was even hired to work for this company should be questioned. It all comes down to group think which doesn’t leave any room for “sane” reasoning since it’s all motivated by the same “insane” reasoning.
I have covered police misconduct for 25 years including harassment of female officers and other topics that while male government officials don’t want to talk about to domestic violence by police officers. OIDV doesn’t see the light of day because most of the time it gets quashed and pushed under the rug before media even has a chance to make it more public. Unions have contributed to this problem further hiding these despicable perpetrators from losing their jobs. We’re talking here about police officers who should be held to a higher standard, who are tasked with protecting the public and doing the opposite.
Let’s not dissect this debacle without talking about the basic premise of sexism.
Great analysis as always, Jay, but I feel like your curiosity is wasted on this “mystery”: It seems to me obvious that the story was conceived via some inherently misguided editorial mission, written and edited (primarily) by two men whose confidence far surpassed their abilities, and published via some combination of stubbornness, laziness, cluelessness, and amateurishness. I suppose there’s some mystery regarding the specific ways in which those factors contributed to the whole affair’s broader ineptitude, but I can’t imagine ever hearing a satisfying breakdown of those details, largely because I expect that no two participants would offer the same account of events, leaving anyone on the outside forced to conflate, extrapolate, and make assumptions about what *really* happened. But we can already make assumptions! Here’s mine: The writer was way out of his depth, and the editor was ALSO out of HIS depth, but neither of them recognized this fatal flaw in either himself or the other. The editor’s ignorance was exacerbated by a fundamental opposition to feedback (both historically and in this specific instance). For a variety of reasons (largely deriving from laziness, and possibly the editor’s fundamental opposition to feedback), the higher-ups gave the editor too much rope. So he hung himself and everyone else whose neck was near the noose.
I should add that my assumptions are based on details offered in Deadspin’s postmortem combined with my own observations of the story itself. Let’s momentarily put aside the irresponsible omissions (and inclusions) that made this story an example of egregious negligence and a fireable offense; let’s pretend this wasn’t a COMPLICATED story about the rape of 13 women, but a SIMPLE story about an amateur athlete. It’s STILL a badly written, badly edited, badly constructed story! If you’d told me I was reading an unedited first draft, I would have believed you. At no point here do I feel like I’m in the hands of a capable storyteller. So it seems safe to assume that the (vastly) bigger problems were a result of that same base-level ineptitude. I hear the rebuttals of writers who have worked with Stout, who claim he’s a good editor, but everything here suggests he’s a quite bad editor with very low standards who’s been given a great deal of unchecked responsibility. Is this a mystery? There are plenty of crummy editors out there whose big egos and bad habits are inflicted upon trusting writers who walk away from those interactions feeling sanguine — even energized; even *educated* — by the experience. A writer saying of an editor, “He made my writing better,” isn’t evidence of a job well done. Every writer wants to believe that their story was handled capably and responsibly, that they worked hard for a good reason, that they walked away from that interaction a better writer, and that their byline is on a solid story. Stout may have longevity and disciples and a bunch of books to his name, but, hey, so did L. Ron Hubbard. That doesn’t mean his beliefs, policies, or practices stand up to any scrutiny. Now they’ve been scrutinized, and now – would ya look at that! – Stout is out of a job.
“signed off” means the editor pushed it along.
It’s supposed to mean the editor read it and, usually, requested modifications.
The difference in the result between this editorial catastrophe and the editor not reading it at all is what?
One can see Rolling Stone sending out Erdely to get a story of the perfect rape with all the necessary villains (white frat guys, unresponsive administrators, friends who didn’t care)because that’s what they wanted to run. Even if it was made up.
This is different. Is there any evidence these folks were a bunch of jock-sniffing excuse-makers all along? And after H lost his celebrity limning by not making the NFL–lots of guys don’t make the NFL–he was a cop and so he was in another protected category? I presume he would have been in a protected category in other publications. Here?
It is inexplicable.
Nobody needs to be diverse, nobody needs to attend sensitivity training classes, nobody needs to be a feminist or feminist ally to think rape is really, really bad.
There’s “no excuse” and there’s “no explanation”.
In this case, the latter fits.
To look at it another way: The grunts at CBS did voice some concerns. A couple of fact checkers at Rolling Stone did the same.
A button for “I’m concerned” won’t work when the top brass WANTS the story.
So, CBS and RS.
But here? Is there any evidence whatsoever that this publication WANTED this kind of near-hagiography?
As I say, inexplicable.
They have one woman and one minority (same person) in the top layer of editors, but they don’t listen to her. Why is she the only one, and what is she there for? To click the diversity box? And, no, Vox’s internal culture is apparently not a strength.
Either they wanted the story–why?–or everybody who looked at it thought it was okay.
Everyfreakingbody who looked at it with the exception of the double-diversity person thought it was okay. Nobody listened to the special knowledge from the diversity person in the pressroom.
Apparently hiring diversity persons for the pressroom doesn’t overcome either massive and immovable incompetence or some inexplicable reason to WANT to run this kind of story.
It would be different if this guy were Peyton Manning busted for not visiting enough children’s wards or something.
It was …..RAPE. Using the power of being a cop. By a nobody who’d played for a team nobody ever heard of–except the MAC plays the Big Ten early in the season. Seasoning for the latter, money for the former and sometimes hilarious results for those favoring the underdogs.
I hate to use this metaphor, but the internal investigation is going to be like the deaf trying to figure out what the deaf didn’t hear. By listening for it.
That’s Ms. Staiti, please. Chris will do.
There are some parallels here to Grantland’s Dr. V fiasco. ESPN had a transsexual editor on staff but failed to consult her on the story. It’s always vital, when writing about diverse groups, to seek opinions and listen to them from people who are in those groups, else you’ll hear it from 400 angry readers.
I don’t really understand the diversity “blindspot.” It’s like saying “He’s a great editor, but just has a fairness blindspot,” or a conflict-of-interest blindspot. Sensitivity and checking one’s own biases should be among the basics for an editor. Having said that, we have all missed something that’s right under our noses.
There is a great fear in newsrooms that a low-level reporter will lose it, but we fail to recognize that this can also happen at the very top where’s it’s more dangerous. The most senior editors are often seen as too important and indeed infallible, and it is hard to dissuade them when their judgment fails or they get too caught up in the drama of a story. We saw that at Rolling Stone, too.
The point of all this public flagellation is that we’re supposed to be learning from it, and we don’t seem to be learning anything, Jay.
Chris. Mea culpa.
What I find inexplicable is that the diversity person did as diversity persons are supposed to do, flag a story for further review.
And nothing happened.
Did they blow her off, or did her communication not get to them. Do they have diversity persons as “spam” in their email system?
If they heard her and decided to go ahead, have they wiped the servers on which they communicated the reasons to ignore her cautions?
For some reason, I am reminded of the hoax pulled on a San Francisco television station after an Asiana (Chinese) liner crashed short of the runway. Apparently nobody in the most diverse city on Earth, not to mention the Pacific Rim, figured out that Ho Lee Fuk sounded too Korean to be flying a Chinese aircraft. Or, if they did, nobody who was anybody heard about the caution. Or if they knew, cared.
Here we have a story which, in a sane world, could only have been commissioned by H’s mother, if anyone, flagged repeatedly for being really, really stupid by a person of rank in the institution part of whose responsibilities included looking for such nonsense and bringing it to the attention of the editors.
I can see why they think the investigation’s results will be kept in-house.
You will not be allowed to take over this thread. Four out of six comments is an attempt to do that. If you want them all killed, keep it up. You have been warned about this before. You’re doing it again.
A question. Does ‘commissioned’ mean ‘accepted the writer’s pitch’? Or does it mean that the one who commissioned the story is also the one who suggested it?
And is coercion, or other influence on those who give a story thumbs up or down, something that happens in reality, or just in fiction?