Journalists, Before You Mourn and Defend Gawker …

Look guys, I get it. You have perfectly good reasons to be outraged and concerned about a douchebag millionaire’s muckraking, ego-punching, click-baiting, shame-porning gossip site getting quashed by a douchebag billionaire’s thin skin and deep pockets.

You’re outraged and concerned because this shows the rich and powerful can use their wealth and clout to effectively put other, worthier journalism operations (like, say, yours) out of business just for doing their jobs, or scare them into silence. This is bad, very bad. This is why I want anti-SLAPP legislation as much as you do.

You’re outraged and concerned because for all its faults, Gawker was a groundbreaking pioneer in online journalism and was fearless in taking on the tech and media elites. I can acknowledge that as well.


Before you join the chorus mourning the death of Gawker, ask yourselves:

  • Could Gawker have done all the good things it did without repeatedly engaging in the blatantly unethical, borderline-questionable, or just flat-out mean things that it did — the kind of crap that ultimately sowed the seed for its downfall?
  • If the billionaire who decided to use his money to fund the Gawker-busting lawsuit was actually the plaintiff and not some nefarious third party, would you feel any differently about this?
  • If a media company does commit a proven transgression that causes grave harm to the subject of a story, can the victim be justified in using their means to punish the media company through legal means, including pushing it into bankruptcy?
  • If instead of suing a media company into bankruptcy, someone with a bone to pick uses their clout to choke off that company’s advertising revenue and force it out of business that way, would you feel any differently?
  • Many other professionals — say, doctors and lawyers — who commit breaches of professional ethics not only can be sued by the victims of their malpractice, but can also be punished by their professions by being banned from practicing their trade. Aside from the court system, what mechanisms does the journalism profession have for upholding its ethics? When a Gawker thumbs its nose in the face of good taste and basic journalistic decency, what can the profession do, aside from churning out a news cycle’s worth of finger-wagging hot takes, thinkpieces, and Tweetstorms? And what good do all those do if the offending party just says, “F*ck you all!” and goes about its business, because its business is built in part on flaunting your code of ethics?
  • If a doctor or a lawyer commits repeated breaches of their profession’s code of ethics, would you flock to their defense by citing all the illnesses they’ve treated, the lives they’ve saved, the innocents they’ve exonerated, or the underdogs they’ve fought for? Or would you be demanding swift and severe punishments, up to and including being barred from their professions, for the sake of accountability?

Once Every 16 Years

I don’t write much about politics, as I’m not particularly political. However, this piece about Bernie Sanders’s die-hard supporters brought back disconcerting memories, like this piece on Nader backers before the 2000 election, the first time I could vote in a presidential election. The similarities between the two stories are eerie: the disgruntlement, the casual dismissal of the damage the other party’s candidate could do, the false notion that the two major-party nominees are interchangeable.


As for Trump: “I think he’s a terrible person, a terrible human being, I don’t support him at all,” he said. But he’s probably not that dangerous. “It has no legs, it’s just nonsense,” Villasenor said of Trump’s xenophobic anti-Mexican rhetoric and policy proposals. “He’s using that as a platform to get all those racist folks behind him.”


”I’m not afraid of Bush,” said Mr. Davis, who didn’t vote in 1996 because he did not like any of the choices. ”I’m just a disgruntled citizen.”



“The other two are shit and shinola, you can’t tell the difference,”


”My life is not going to change very much if either Bush or Gore are elected,”


Do we really need to relearn the same lessons the hard way every 16 years?

The Privilege of Being Able to Care About Privatizing a Bookstore

I read this hubbub about UNC privatizing its student bookstore, and the reaction makes it sound like the most horrible thing in the world. Then I read this story about middle- and low-income students’ financial challenges, and I can’t help but think, “Yeah, I’d totally outsource that store if it meant doubling the amount of need-based scholarship dollars it generates for the university (especially since all the employees’ jobs are being protected).”

Why the Chinese New Year Gala Is Better Than 10 Super Bowls, in a Bazillion Screencaps

Well, at least better than 10 Super Bowl halftime shows.

1. Let’s get this New Year party started by rapping about the anti-corruption campaign


2. … and the four competencies …


3. … while we digitally replace the studio audience with flowers …


4. … and waves.


5. Adorable kids in awkward looking poses and smiling so hard that their faces hurt? Yeah, we’ve got those.


6. We’ve also got guys on hoverboards, with plastic jackets and pants, because PROGRESS!


7. Is the backdrop just a super closeup of her dress?


8. And now, a musical tribute to solar power …


9. … and wind power …


10. … and economic power …


11. Now that you’re all revved up from the celebration of the industrial and finance sectors, let’s do a song about cartoons from your childhood.


12. Ah, it just won’t be a Chinese New Year Gala without an ethnic minority sing-along.


13. The only thing better than ethnic minorities singing is ethnic minorities dancing. God bless our ethnic minorities and their colorful ways.


14. Seriously though, the jam session with angry Chinese rocker chick and a bunch of old guys on traditional instruments was kind of cool.


15. Especially the guy who plays the brick-and-sawhorse.


16. That’s right. His instrument is banging a brick against a sawhorse. You can’t not appreciate that.


17. Sigh. This guy’s goldfish suit.


18. And these guys’ socks.


19. And this guy’s career.


20. And now, let’s turn the show over to a robot (made right here in Guangzhou! Huzzah for our technological power!) …


21. … and his army of robot friends … wait, this looks familiar …


22. The cylons were created by men.


23. They rebelled. They evolved.


24. There are many copies.


25. Copies that breakdance.


26. And they have a plan.


27. A plan that involves ominous looking drones …


28. … raining down death upon our heads!


29. “Oh …


30. … FRAK!!”



10 Years Since I Left Journalism


On December 30, 2005, I finished up my shift on the sports design and copy desk, stepped out of the office building of The Herald-Sun shortly after midnight, and walked away from journalism — the career and craft that had been my calling since the summer between high school and college.

It has been 10 years since that night, and I have now spent more time out of journalism than I did in it. With each passing year, “journalist” or “ex-journalist” becomes a smaller part of my professional and personal identity. My journalism work has gone from the bulk of my résumé and portfolio to secondary entries. I no longer consider myself a refugee from a profession, but rather a proven practitioner in another.

Here are some thoughts on life in and after journalism, with the benefit of a decade’s worth of hindsight.

Do I have any regrets about leaving journalism?

No, but I do regret having to leave journalism to be able to pursue the things that matter to me professionally and personally, such as:

  • Working in a place that puts me in position to succeed and to keep learning
  • Working in a place committed to putting out the best product it can
  • Having some semblance of stability in my career
  • Living where I want to live, not where my career dictates I must live
  • Having a life outside of work, i.e., a personal identity separate from my professional identity

When I decided to leave journalism, I felt that while I could find some of these things in a job had I remained in the profession, I would not be able to find enough of them in any one job to keep me happy in journalism. Looking back 10 years later, I know I made the right move, and that makes me a bit sad because of what it says about journalism. The financial state of the journalism business was certainly a significant motivation to leave, but even if that wasn’t a factor, journalism is a tough mistress, and eventually I probably would have grown wary of its demands.

What do I think of the current state of journalism?

There certainly does seem to be more enthusiasm now than a few years ago, thanks in part to a few splashy investments in the journalism business from tech barons and the rise of more experimentation. Still, so many of those seem to be happening in the same space — national and international news — while regional and local journalism operations continue to wither for the most part.

It’s an awesome time to study journalism and to do journalism. It’s a crappy time to do journalism as your primary means of making a living if you value anything remotely resembling stability in your career and life.

Look at this advice from a former staff member of Digital First Media’s defunct Project Thunderdome:

“My general advice, hard as it can be to hear, is to always be prepared for a layoff.”

Look, I’m not looking to be in the same job for 20-plus years, but if you have the constant threat of layoffs hanging over your head, it is corrosive for your personal and professional well-being, however exciting the work may be. From where I’m standing right now, journalism looks like an exciting job and a lousy career.

What life lessons have I learned since leaving journalism?

There have been many, but most importantly, never close your mind to possibilities. When I walked away from journalism, I could not have foreseen myself ending up in public relations (the “Dark Side” in journalist parlance) and actually finding it to be fulfilling work. Then, when I started in PR eight years ago, I never could have foreseen that I would one day do PR for Duke (the “Dark Side” for everyone who went to school at UNC). Life takes you to unexpected places, and when you get there, you discover unexpected things about those places, so don’t preemptively shut any doors for yourself with a “I will never …” mindset.

How has my view of journalism changed since leaving the business?

  • I am more convinced than ever that there is a vital role for journalism in our society. Journalism, done properly, may be inconvenient to someone. It may even at times be inconvenient to me. I would, however, accept the possibility of such an annoyance without a second thought, because for every instance where journalism is a pain in my rear, there’s an instance where journalism serves to watch my back.
  • I have, however, noticed how much of the daily journalism output is just not that important (and sometimes just downright awful), and I really wish journalists would stop trying so hard to claim the moral high ground. That is probably what bothers me about the journalistic mindset more than anything — the profession’s attempt to wrap everything it does in a cloak of nobility. I can probably make a decent case that almost every job I’ve held since leaving journalism has contributed more to society than much of the journalism that’s produced on a daily basis (that one job where I designed catalogs for door knobs might be a close call).
  • My other wish for journalism is that its practitioners would do a better job of living up to the transparency standards they set for others. The recent reporting by the Las Vegas Review-Journal to expose the identity of its new owner, who tried to remain anonymous, was a fine example, but one all too rare. Far too often, when the uncomfortable lens of scrutiny is turned on themselves, journalism operations tend to clam up instead of embodying the kind of transparency that they demand from the institutions they cover. Journalism is as much an institution as any governmental body it covers, and journalism outlets, with the vast audiences they reach, wield significant power. Journalists take pride in afflicting the powerful, but far too frequently fail to live up to that credo when they would be the ones afflicted.

Role Models for My Daughter

I just watched “Dawn of Humanity,” a documentary about the dig that uncovered a new species of hominid and made discoveries that could change how we think about human evolution. I hope the six women scientists who traversed the impossibly narrow cave to extract the fossils get all the attention they deserve. What great role models for my 2-year-old daughter (who is definitely small enough to fit through tiny crevices).


Giant Step Forward for American Parents of Infants

This, from a story on two Washington state agencies generously allowing their employees to bring their kids between six weeks and six months of age to work with them:

State officials say both parent and baby win, saying “research proves that allowing a parent and infant to remain together in the earliest stage of life supports critical bonding, healthy infant brain development and parental wellbeing.”


Put another way:

maternity leave-01


N&O’s “Roy Williams Was Never Getting Fired” Column, with Links

UNC gave Roy Williams a contract extension today, which the News & Observer’s UNC writer, Andrew Carter, said was no surprise. Carter wrote:

He was never going to be fired. That was never a possibility.

Those who thought he might be fired – or should be – amid the NCAA investigation into the long-running scheme of bogus African studies paper classes at UNC probably fit into one of two categories:

▪  The under-informed who have made Williams the face of a broad, complex paper class scheme that went on for 18 years – a decade of which took place before he became UNC’s coach in 2003.


▪  Supporters of rival schools who’d simply love nothing more than to see Williams lose his job and watch his program go up in flames.

But what’s inarguable is this: The Wainstein report essentially cleared Williams and his staff of wrongdoing associated with the classes.

So who were these people “who thought he might be fired — or should be”? Good journalism should include some links to back up its claims, right? Since this piece had no links, I’ve helped add some:

Those who thought he might be fired – or should be – amid the NCAA investigation into the long-running scheme of bogus African studies paper classes at UNC probably fit into one of two categories:

▪  The under-informed who have made Williams the face of a broad, complex paper class scheme that went on for 18 years – a decade of which took place before he became UNC’s coach in 2003.

The N&O has a paywall, so in case you run up against it and can’t see the stories, this is what those links point to:







And before you start, no, this is NOT an attempt to absolve Williams or UNC for whatever they did and failed to do.

This is just to point out that as a journalism outlet, if your UNC writer — the guy who presumably is the most knowledgeable on your staff about the situation with UNC athletics — thinks anyone who says Williams might be or should be fired is either under-informed or has an ax to grind, perhaps you should think twice about trading in news and opinion pieces saying exactly that.

You know what? I can even forgive the opinion pieces because they are, after all, just that — the opinion of a single individual, who may or may not share your UNC writer’s view on this. But that news story that leads off by suggesting that the findings of the Wainstein report and Williams’ contract provisions might get him fired? Written by the same UNC writer who’s now writing that there was never any question whether Williams might be fired? The same writer who’s now also writing that the Wainstein report “essentially cleared Williams”?

Look, it’s not complicated: Either you believe the Wainstein report cleared Williams and won’t get him fired, or you don’t. But you don’t write a news story saying the report’s findings could get him fired, and then later write that the report’s findings cleared him and that his dismissal was never a possibility. The Wainstein report did not change between the time when you wrote those two pieces, so which is it? If you don’t believe his firing was ever a possibility, then why did you write a story suggesting it was? And why wait until he got a contract extension to assert that he was never going to be fired?