In a perfect world, The Broward Palm Beach New Times would have issued a retraction, taken down both articles, and posted a sincere apology.
This is not a perfect world.
What we got was an apology and the removal of the offending pictures from the article. The original articles still stand... but the photos of the persons being mocked are gone. A minor victory, and something we should be content enough with to move on to bigger and better things.
Remember, this is not a perfect world.
After the 2nd New Times post ran yesterday around 3:00pm is when I started on my first blog post on the matter. I spent the next 12 hours, until 3:00am posting on my blog, facebook pages, and twitter, as well as taking phone calls and responding to emails on the subject. At about 3:00am, I was pretty exhausted, and figured it would be best to start fresh in the morning. I got my first call at about 8:30am. At about 9:30am the Editor in Chief of New Times, Chuck Strouse, called the Supercon office phone. Valeria, my assistant, took the call... I was still at home working from my desk. She passed the message on to me, and I called Chuck back. We spent exactly the next hour discussing the problem at hand.
Chuck's stance was that the article, while snarky, wasn't done with the intention to harm anyone. My stance was the article did nothing but insult everyone. We were pretty far apart on things.
On one side, you have New Times, an alternative weekly that is struggling with the 21st century. Print circulation is down, digital revenue is appalling, budgets are at an all time low, and they are shifting (as are most similar alt weeklies) to an ever increasing base of amateur bloggers to create content. Bloggers with very little journalistic experience, desperate to get attention, page views, and notoriety.
On the other side, you have our community... a group that has a history of being mocked, bullied and humiliated by jerks who don't understand why we love what we love.
Papers (and websites) like the New Times have a history of using sarcasm and snark in their articles. It's one of the things that separates them from dailies like the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and New York Times... that, and the pain clinic / massage parlour ads towards the back of the paper. The powers that be seem to think snark and sarcasm gets readers interested... some readers love it... others, especially those on the receiving end of the snark and sarcasm seem to find it offensive.
I talked with Chuck for a long time. I told him we took issue with the mocking of the subjects in the photos, that the photos were taken under false pretences, and in some cases the photos were obviously shot in a manner to make the subjects look less than flattering. Chuck took issue with the amount of venom that had been directed towards his writer. It seems that following the blog posts, Ms. Conti received at least 4 death threats, numerous threats of physical harm, as well as negative comments about her looks, character, and pretty much any other insult you can think of.
There seems to have been, and possibly may still be, some confusion as to why we were upset. When Ms. Conti made her 2nd blog post, there was no mention of her mocking of Palm Con attendees. She spun the blog to look like she was being attacked for not liking the show. That is not the case. She was not being called a bully for writing a negative review about Palm Con. She was being called a bully for writing negative things, and posting pictures, about several attendees of Palm Con.
I explained to Chuck that we have a loud, vocal community. That if things were not settled soon, this would spiral out of control. I explained that geeks stand together... and the last thing he needed was for this to go national.
He agreed with many of my points. He disagreed with some. He reminded me that New Times has had many positive comments about our community in the past. I explained that the positives of the past were nullified by the actions of the now. I don't think that he felt the article was as offensive as many of us did. We went over all the points I brought up in my previous blog posts. He asked me how I felt he could fix things. I told him that I felt he should retract the articles, post and apology and tell the writer (Ms. Conti) to stop adding fuel to the fire by posting stupid photos (like one of the comic book guy from the Simpsons with a lap top around his neck) on her Facebook page in response to negative comments she was receiving.
Chuck agreed that fault could be found with the article. He defended his writer, which is to be expected. He felt that an apology from the paper was all that was necessary. I disagreed with him. He also pretty much stated that his paper has a policy of not pulling down articles once they've been posted. I pressed him on it, but that was the one thing he was not going to budge on.
Like I mentioned, we spoke for an hour. We discussed more than just the offending articles. When I mentioned how screwed up it was that the writer was mocking teenagers in the post he talked about his daughters, and how he could understand where there was a problem. We talked about the state of the industry that he is in, and the increasing reliance on bloggers. We talked about why the Power Rangers were far more relevant than what Ms. Conti alluded to in the article.
At the end of the first call, he agreed to post an apology and retract one of the photos... the one that had minors in it. I told him I would report on my pages that we had spoken and that an apology was forthcoming and that we should wait and see what they had to say. He had to work with his managing editor to put it together, and that it would be up soon. I sent a follow up email directly following the call to stress that I personally felt that taking down all the photos was pretty much a necessity.
30 minutes later I got a message that a national geek website, Bleeding Cool had picked up the story. I called Chuck immediately to inform him that the dam was bursting and something needed to be done... sooner rather than later. I reiterated that I felt it was imperative the photos come down. I again asked that all the articles be retracted... but that was not something on the table.
Soon after our second call the apology went online and the one photo of the minors was removed. Shortly after that, the rest of the photos came down... but not the offending articles.
This is not a perfect world.
At that point, I, personally and speaking on behalf of no one other than myself, had to take a step back and decide if I felt that was good enough to call off my attack. I did, and here's why.
We proved our point. We mobilized as a community and got our voice heard. The editors of New Times addressed the situation and posted an apology. The apology can be found at http://blogs.browardpalmbeach.com/pulp/2013/09/to_everyone_upset_about_that_p.php
They addressed the fact that people felt mocked and insulted. They asked that the readers accept their apology. In the apology, they also pointed out that their blogs are "a collection of viewpoints from our various writers. Most of the items are newsy, but we do run many different types -- opinions, rants, lists, etc." That is something I will get back to shortly.
They removed all the offending photos. While the article is still online, the images are gone.
They did not remove the articles. That is a tough pill to swallow... but, there was compromise. A minor victory. I didn't get everything I think we should have... and neither did they. New Times had to post an apology... that's gotta suck for them. They had to post a public apology, for the entire world to see.
I personally felt that the fight was over. What could be gained by pushing things further? More attention to a poorly written article by a hack wannabe journalist? More attention on the negative aspects of Palm Con? More attention on the subjects of Ms. Conti's mockery and disdain? I felt that we had fought a good fight, achieved some minor victories, and that it was time to move on and leave this whole disgusting mess in the rear view mirror.
That being said... I still hold the following beliefs and feelings regarding the matter
1. Allie Conti is an awful writer, blogger, and journalist. She has an atrocious sense of humor and seems to take some perverse pleasure by pointing out the faults of others, and has some twisted feelings of superiority. I hope that she grows up fast. If not, I hope that her career in journalism comes to an end soon.
2. Chuck Strouse, the Editor in Chief, showed genuine interest and concern for the issues on the table. While he didn't agree with everything I said, he listened... not only to me.. but dozens of other individuals who contacted him directly. He attempted to make this as right as possible, while sticking up for his writer and paper.
3. New Times is not a bastion of journalistic integrity. It is what it is... an atypical alt weekly fighting for relevance in the 21st century. It has some good writers.. it has some bad writers. It has an editorial policy that encourages snark and sarcasm... two things that can be very damaging when put in the wrong hands. The apology mentioned that they run "a collection of viewpoints from our various writers. Most of the items are newsy, but we do run many different types -- opinions, rants, lists, etc."
That is their editorial choice, and they file Ms. Conti's article under that umbrella. I call it a poorly sourced, mean spirited hatchet job. Humiliating people (especially minors) is not acceptable from a major news outlet.. it's a shame they feel that it is.
4. There are some really awesome people in our community, including the people who were in the offending photos. I already knew a few of them personally before this incident. I now know five of them. They all seem like really awesome individuals that did not deserve the treatment they got.
5. I personally will not be advertising with New Times in the future. That's just me. I'm not looking for a boycott... i'm not going to tell anyone else what to do... but I personally will find other things to spend our advertising dollars on. Truth be told, Supercon has spent very little with New Times over the past several years. I've generally felt that there were other, more effective means of advertising. But sometimes their sales reps have been so persistent that i'll do something with them. Unless something radical changes in the future, I will not even do that.
6. I will no longer send press releases to New Times. Nor will I solicit them for coverage of any events we are a part of. Furthermore, We will no longer issue press passes for New Times writers to our events as long as their editorial policy allows for writers such as Allie Conti to produce works of derision towards our community. That won't stop a New Times writer from buying a ticket to the show, which is what Allie Conti did with Palm Con, but the dozen or so press passes we issue to New Times writers each year will not be approved.
7. I will no longer read New Times until such time as massive editorial changes are made. I cannot support a paper that allows writers such as Allie Conti to get away with humiliating members of our geek community without sanction. Again, this is a personal choice. I will not boycott them. I will not tell others what to do. Once more, the truth of the matter is I have found myself picking up New Times less and less in print form over the years, and very rarely, if ever checking out the website. It's not something I will really miss.
Everyone else is entitled to feel, or take action however they wish. This is just a list of how I feel and what I will be doing in the future.
That's pretty much it. I personally want to put this in the past and move on to more positive things and I hope you will join me. I want to encourage anyone who has any cool photos from Palm Con to post them and share with your friends. Show your friends the positive elements of the show. If you have any cool cosplay pics from any past shows that you love... post them too. Let's focus on the awesome of our community. Help spread the word of cool geek events to your friends... conventions, store events, movie screenings, etc... if its a cool geeky event, let your friends know. Word of mouth can do wonders. Don't be shy.
This is not a perfect world.. but our little community can be pretty awesome.