'Piece of trash,' dead animals on the doorstep and other insults from sources
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“You’re a piece of trash.”
That piece of invective, hurled at Atlantic reporter Elaina Plott by an EPA spokesman on Wednesday, is part of the price journalists face for keeping a constant eye on public officials to ensure they are honest.
Plott told me it was the worst thing she'd been called by a public official. When asked, Poynter readers, rushed to share what they've been called, and they offered advice for responding — or not responding.
OK, so just exactly what were you called, Ziva Branstetter? Eva Braun, a black widow and a scorpion, Branstetter recalled, with the last two slurs coming from the same Tulsa County commissioner. “He had an arachnid fear I guess.”
Tina Cassidy found a box with dead animals on her stoop the morning after her husband, also a journalist, had written a tough story.
Joel Mathis had the district attorney in his Kansas town grab him on Election Night and pull him over to her mother, who was on an oxygen tank. “Mom,” the DA said. “This is Joel Mathis. He’s the one who writes all the terrible stuff about me.”
It gets better:
Before you launch a rocket back — as tempting as that rocket might be, veteran Texas Tribune reporter Jay Root counsels prudence.
“My instinct is to never engage, never take it personally," Root emailed me. “I think reporters should resist being baited into a tit for tat. We should almost always let our stories do the talking in these instances. When they call us names, I think people generally see it for what it is: an insult hurled for lack of real answers.
“It’s a different story if we are physically or legally blocked from doing our jobs. In that case, we must fight back with legal action and by documenting and publishing the attempts to stop us."
Root has a final thought: Use the anger from slights and slurs — less than imprisonment or worse faced by reporters in some other societies, we should add — as motivation for better journalism.
“When they attack us with insults and profanity, it’s tempting to fight back on Twitter, turn the tables, call it unfair and dangerous," he says. "But if we took that energy and instead put it into more original reporting — on Puerto Rico, campaign finance, inequality or a million other worthy topics — I believe we’d all be better off.”
SEIZING A REPORTER'S EMAIL, PHONE RECORDS: The Trump Department of Justice secretly took years of email and phone records of now-New York Times reporter Ali Watkins in a case that prompted the arrest of a former Senate Intelligence Committee aide. The former aide, James A. Wolfe, 57, was charged with lying repeatedly to investigators about his contacts with three reporters. The seizure of a reporter's data, the first cataloged under the Trump administration, suggests the U.S. will maintain the aggressive tactics used under President Barack Obama, writes the NYT's Adam Goldman.
BUZZFEED FRANCE TO CLOSE: At least 12 staffers have lost their job in the latest cuts to BuzzFeed, reports The Wrap’s Jon Levine. But BuzzFeed is hiring more in other places, it says, via Recode's Peter Kafka.
ONE MORE STOP: Vivian Schiller, a former news executive with Twitter, NPR and The New York Times, will be the first CEO of the Join Civil Foundation, a platform using the blockchain technology and the Ethereum cryptocurrency in hopes of promoting local and niche news sites. She’ll focus on governance of the new foundation and philanthropy. In her note of introduction, Schiller quotes Clay Shirky’s decade-old observation: “No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper. But over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need." Background: What's Civil?
HOW, EXACTLY, ARE WE SUPPOSED TO MAKE A LIVING?: How one journalist has done it by economizing through shopping at Asian grocers, pregaming before going out and limiting restaurant meals. Julia B. Chan has been able to save enough to get a company match on retirement and pick up a mortgage in the Bay Area. Meena Thiruvengadam writes on this, side hustles and new horizons in this piece for Poynter.
JAILED, BUT AWARDED: Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo did their jobs reporting on a genocide of Myanmar's Rohingya minority. For that, the two Reuters reporters have been imprisoned since December. On Thursday, they were awarded the Don Bolles Medal of courage from Investigative Reporters and Editors. "These two dedicated journalists were interested in one thing: the truth," IRE President Matt Goldberg said. "The pursuit of the truth should never be a crime, in Myanmar or in any country." The 1976 killing of Bolles, an Arizona Republic investigative reporter, prompted nearly 40 reporters to head to Arizona to work on his investigation. Their message: Even if you kill a reporter, you can’t kill the story.
A NEWSLETTER JUST FOR YOU: The personalized newsletter, based on past preferences and algorithms, has long been an El Dorado of publishers. NYT’s Elisabeth Goodridge believes the Times is on the path, with Your Weekly Edition, a 3-week-old experimental newsletter. By Laura Hazard Owen of Nieman Lab.
AJ PLUS CLOSING S.F. OFFICE: It’s unclear how many of the Al Jazeera unit’s 68 employees will make the move to Washington, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
STRONGER WITHOUT FACEBOOK: A Facebook experiment killed traffic to a Guatemalan site, forcing it to deal with a question it hadn't wanted to address. So the investigative outlet Nómada found other distribution channels to regain readers. “At the beginning, we were very upset," founder Martín Rodríguez Pellecer told Nieman Lab. "But at the end, we can thank it because it exploded the bubble we were living in.”
RELATED: Facebook book says a software bug affected 14 million who thought they were sending messages privately but (whoops!) weren't. Recode's Karl Wagner reports.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT TRUMP AND RUSSIA?: If you work in spreadsheets, you may love this from PBS NewsHour. Four hundred data points contextualizing and connecting key players and moments in the attempt to influence the 2016 election.
FAST COMPANY, NEW YORKER GAIN SUPPORT FOR UNIONS: The vote by Fast Company and the decision by New Yorker employees (note the understated New Yorker headline) are the latest moves in an industry-wide effort for worker protection. Here’s a recent industry-wide union update by Poynter’s Rick Edmonds. Can't leave you without this logo:
What we’re reading
DESTROY THE EVIDENCE: That’s Sean Hannity’s advice to anyone who gets called to testify before the investigation into President Trump’s association with Russia and criminal elements. Hannity, a frequent phone chatter with the president, referred specifically to destroying smartphones. Upon reflection, Hannity later said he was kidding.
CLIMATE GENTRIFICATION: It’s happening in Miami, where real-estate speculators are moving inland and to (relatively) higher ground to balance luxury coastline investments as sea-levels rise. What does that mean? The Takeaway reports that rents are rising and housing becoming scarce in neighborhoods such as Miami’s Little Haiti.
TRAINING A PSYCHOPATH: Feed a robot with violent content on Reddit, and artificial intelligence will do the rest, a team of MIT scientists concluded.
THE DAUGHTER WHO TAUGHT ME: Unexpected — and arriving relatively early in Elizabeth Bruenig’s adulthood — this little girl brought a lesson every journalist should get: don’t worry all the time about time. “I was glad to put aside the prescribed order of things, the whole notion of organizing my priorities along some received set of principles, and to have the imperative to do so presented to me by this marvelous conspirator inside me,” Bruenig writes on her daughter's second birthday.
HE IS 5 YEARS OLD: Half a country away from his mom. Cried himself to sleep at night. Then "just moaning and moaning," says his new "mom." Here is the picture of a once-intact family that he tucks under his pillow at night, via Miriam Jordan of the NYT.
Also on Poynter.org
A project that seeks former investigative editors. By Kristen Hare.
Teaching 500 teens — and you — to fact-check the internet. By Tina Dyakon.
From BuzzFeed to a fact-checking nonprofit in the UK. By Daniel Funke, Jane Elizabeth and Alexios Mantzarlis.
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Have a good Friday and weekend. Catch you Monday morning.