What I Have Been Reading; Online Journalism Edition
There has been a series of stories that I have been reading over the last couple weeks which I thought were pretty interesting, for a myriad of reasons. I thought I would put them up here and see if anyone else had been following them or had any interest or response.
First, a story that has two communities upset, yet engaged in a relatively civil and healthy conversation, as a result of the piece.
The remarkable story behind a mysterious inventor who built a “scientifically superior” golf club
Sounds fairly innocuous. If you aren’t aware of the controversy surrounding it, I would encourage you to read the story first before delving into the drama. It will not taint your impression of the piece and be an unadulterated test of how you process, perceive and consume information.
But, once you have read the above, there are some links I would recommend as follow up.
– The obligatory Letter From the Editor (which may of attempted to quell some of the controversy but may have only inflamed it further).
– A guest editorial, which I think inadvertently highlights the most egregious error Grantland committed: having a transgender sportswriter and GLAAD board of directors member under the ESPN umbrella, and not running the piece past her! Kahrl does an amazing job of tactfully and clearly laying out the problems of the piece. She manages to humanize Dr. V and the realities the transgender community face daily in her 2,000 words, something that Hannan couldn’t seem to muster in his 7,700. (Not that Dr. V needs to be humanized, she is already after all. But you wouldn’t know that by reading the original piece and Grantland and Hannan seemed to completely miss this point, so I mention it.)
– The obligatory, and unfortunately-now, obvious resource of the GLAAD Media Reference Guide. This has certainly heightened my awareness and consideration, not just of the transgendered community, but that of anyone I write about. It has certainly caused me pause to reconsider how to look at and treat stories and subjects, especially those unfamiliar to me. As a writer, editor, journalist, everything.
– Nieman Storyboard has done a great job of aggregating various grievances about the piece and has been updating it regularly. Without minimizing the tragic outcome at all, it is an interesting case study in bad journalism altogether.
The story is just flawed. Which is why I am curious of people’s impression of the piece past the transgender angle. Do other people pick up on that too, or are more casual readers just blinded by what may be the novelty (for them) of a “strange” twist? That aside, it is still poorly done. This isn’t a story about a putter, Dr. V, golf, or the sports world. It is a story by and about Caleb Hannan. It is a good example of the bad practice of new school, first person journalism. Except this isn’t a journalistic endeavor. It is bar talk. “I have this crazy story about…” There is no narrative. (Other than Hannan’s.) No questions are answered. And the one’s that should be asked, aren’t. Hannan has been the target of people’s venom and even reported death threats. I don’t think that is fair or right, but it is understandable. I hold editor Bill Simmons and the “between 13 and 15 people”(!?!?) who read the story responsible. Not for Dr. V’s suicide, but for running a piece of bad, irresponsible writing masquerading as journalism that had life altering consequences. I talked to dear friend of mine runs an LGBT community center, and he seemed to echo my sentiments. He was compassionate both for Hannan and Dr. V, thought Simmons was brave and correct for falling on the sword and Kharl brilliantly filled in the necessary blanks.
Sadly, in conclusion of this, many online have pointed to a story in the Tampa Bay Times by Leanora LaPeter Anton, Persistent genital arousal disorder brings woman agony, not ecstasy. The subject of this piece took her life on the eve of publication. A year later, the journalist revisits not the story, but looking at what role, if any, she played in Gretchen Molannen’s death.
Next was the response/fallout to Richard Sherman‘s post-game interview following the N.F.C. championship game. Seattle Seahawks cornerback Sherman tipped a pass that was intercepted with less then a minute left in the game to seal the Seahawks’ victory and the 49ers’ fate.
Much has been written about his “thug” reaction. Which I found confusing because we root for players to be vicious in this violent game, and yet when that intensity boils over, only minutes after the play which sent his team to the Super Bowl, Sherman is quickly vilified. (Reminds me of the reverse of what I tend to see which is for six days a week, many express their hate for “niggers” until that “nigger” is quarterbacking, running point or knocking one out of the park for the win when they inexplicably become “my man!”)
I came across a few posts that really, to me, highlight what matters.
Sherman graduated from Compton’s Dominguez High School with straight-A grades — better than straight-A grades, actually, thanks to all the advanced placement classes he insisted on taking. Raised by a father who works as a garbage man and a mother who teaches disabled children, Sherman chose to go to Stanford to play football because of its academic reputation. His charity, Blanket Coverage, is impressively specific: It focuses solely on providing school supplies for inner-city kids, making sure they have the most updated textbooks and materials. Unheralded by the pros after he requested, before his junior year, to be moved from the glamour position of wide receiver to cornerback, he has worked his way into one of the best corners by force of will. The man is a state of matter. He is absurdly smart. He is an inspiration.
Sherman responded with two great posts over at MMQB.
It was loud, it was in the moment, and it was just a small part of the person I am. I don’t want to be a villain, because I’m not a villainous person… To those who would call me a thug or worse because I show passion on a football field—don’t judge a person’s character by what they do between the lines. Judge a man by what he does off the field, what he does for his community, what he does for his family.
5. It’s not all black and white. Race played a major part in how my behavior was received, but I think it went beyond that. Would the reaction have been the same if I was clean-cut, without the dreadlocks? Maybe if I looked more acceptable in conservative circles, my rant would have been understood as passion. These prejudices still play a factor in our views because it’s human nature to quickly stereotype and label someone. We all have that.
I thought it was great how he bookended the list. In his first point, he admits he shouldn’t have tried to make Crabtree look small. (“I shouldn’t have attacked Michael Crabtree the way I did.”) In his last point, he expresses no regret. (“I may have been wrong in my gestures, but if I had to do it all again, I’d probably do some of the same things. It was a big moment, and it was how I felt at the time.”) Sure, he is contradictory, but who isn’t? I don’t think this is justifying he opposing views of the same act, it but shows the duality of life and human beings. Both are full of complexity. Life and people are full of contradictions. Cerebrally he understands it may not of been the most principled response, but he is human too and unapologetic for being himself.
Plus, now he has a ring.
Two other stories came out over the past couple weeks, centered around popular “reality” television.
First was a piece about the most popular reality show on Animal Planet:
A seven-month Mother Jones investigation—which drew on internal documents, interviews with eight people involved with the show’s production, and government records—reveals evidence of a culture that tolerated legally and ethically dubious activities, including: using an animal that had been drugged with sedatives in violation of federal rules; directing trappers to procure wild animals, which were then “caught” again as part of a script; and wrongly filling out legal documents detailing the crew’s wildlife activities for Kentucky officials.
It shows the lengths, and costs, that networks will go to produce reality television.
But the one that really floored me was about what had been one of my favorite shows of all time, The First 48.
But the cops’ case wasn’t nearly as strong as Sanchez made it sound. To lock up Smart — which they’d do for a staggering 20 months — Miami Police would grossly misrepresent witness statements and tell outright lies. They’d take an impoverished kid and destroy his character not only on the streets but on a national scale. Finally, they’d ignore the man who was fingered as the real killer.
The tragedy inflicted upon this wrongfully accused man, however, is only the latest injustice in this show’s history. In Detroit, city police shot a 7-year-old girl in the head in a bungled attempt to catch a suspect on The First 48. In Houston, another man was locked up for three years after cops wrongfully accused him of murder within the first 48 hours. And in Miami, according to a New Times examination of court records, at least 15 men have walked free of murder charges spawned under the program’s glare.
I mean, I was aware that it was pretty bottom of the barrel entertainment, but my brain does also like pointless, mindless entertainment at times. But damn. I think both the above articles are a tad sensationalistic, but they both do a good job of showing that a tragedy that occurs may not be an anomaly, but part of a more systematic problem. Both seem to display no remorse, nor any regret or effort to right the ship. Instead they want to plow ahead with business as usual putting dollars over ethics. Or dollars over life. Reprehensible. While I never saw Call of the Wildman, I will never watch The First 48 Again.
Had anyone read or heard of any of these? Care to weigh in?