I Messed Up

Street Justice Newsletter Special Edition (9/25/2020)

NOTE: I know I said the water report would the last one until October 5th, but I wanted to share this reflection. Before COVID-19, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) and I agreed that I could cover their Vision Zero Summit set for March in person and record audio. I had some conflict with their staff when they prohibited my recording of their summit, postponed to yesterday and virtual. I made a big stink about it with their event speakers. I regret that stink-making for reasons I explained in the below email text I’m sharing with you all and posting for the world. I meant for the message to be shorter, but I am an over-communicator of my feelings. Hence, the writing career.

Update. Responses to this are Off the Record.

I did not end up recording any of yesterday's Vision Zero Summit, at the request of WABA and DC Families for Safe Streets. I communicated with you yesterday to proactively give you notice that I *may* record the event, something I will do in the future because sharing public/civic event content (not just one journalist's/news org's take) is something I really believe in. Participants at the Summit intended to create a place where they could be candid and asked their trauma not to be rebroadcast. I disagree with WABA that prohibiting recording and distribution is an attribute of a "public event," but that's a technical debate with a nonprofit. If it were a government entity or elected official, I would not feel remorse for loud, public resistance. I should not have shared my behind the scenes conflict with them with you.

This conflict is something I have in my own head and heart everyday. When I push subjects of my stories/interlocutors like WABA staff, it's something that I know can be annoying. I try to approach the balance of public access and participant privacy/dignity with as kind and loving heart as I can muster. Producing accountability journalism intentionally provokes conflict. Being firm in your conviction, making an evolving calculation for editorial public interest, and not responding to disagreement with animosity is really, really hard. It's probably why we erect monuments and teach college classes for the nonviolent resisters of past, current, and future social justice movements.

James Brady at WABA wrote on Twitter yesterday that I have a reputation for burning allies. Maybe so. In a world where reputation is everything, and too often a greater audience is won with polarizing behavior, I'm just trying to do what I think is the right thing. It's fucking exhausting to do this without experienced journalist colleagues for advice in a newsroom, and while struggling to pay my bills doing local news in a way that works in 2020. The need for help, emotional support, and second opinions is why I'm turning my newsletter into a nonprofit and planning for healthy work/life balance when the enterprise is funded.

This isn't an apology to anyone in specific at WABA -- disagreements remain -- but I am sorry that my internal struggles and conflicts with sources do have collateral frustration/damage as in this email thread with you all BCC-ed.

Thanks and have a good weekend,

Gordon Chaffin, Founder/News Director at Street Justice


DISCLAIMER: Street Justice is a different kind of journalism. We produce factually accurate, thoroughly reported content. We write with a personal and opinionated voice, contrary to “view from nowhere” journalism that produces an unrealistically symmetrical portrayal of matters in dispute. Where there are power dynamics, Street Justice applies greater scrutiny to agents and stakeholders with greater privilege and more questionable motives. Objectivity is a process of contextualization, not a state or static condition -- a verb, not an adjective. Judgment calls have always been made in the composition of every article, podcast, video, and photo. It’s irresponsible to deny that subjective editorial decision-making. We will be transparent about those decisions.

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