To write or not to write?

For Goodness Sake

For Goodness Sake

That, increasingly, is the question.

No, I’m not reconsidering my profession, but I do find myself thinking and rethinking who I choose as the topic of my column and how to tell their story – and this is the disturbing part – whether to tell their story at all.

Now, I do not have these protracted internal conversations when the subject is a politician or public figure. Then, just about anything is fair but astute observers will notice that I do not, and have not, and never will poke fun or be critical of public figures whose fundamental problem is that they are sick. (Fill in the blanks for yourself here.)

But when the subject is a regular citizen, or worse, someone I know and respect and admire – do I write about them and tell their entire story – knowing that to do so is to subject them to the cesspool (small but very vocal cesspool) of commenting folks who are going to ridicule them, make up lies, denigrate them, and rip them to shred – all anonymously on the CA’s comment boards?

Do I subject people I admire to this sort of treatment? Am I obligated to warn them that – hey, as soon as this goes online, the bigots and homophobes and people who apparently don’t have a lot to do are going to, with the paper’s full knowledge, spout all kinds of nastiness that way that even I, as a professional, am never quite able to completely shake? Or should I expect that they understand how this works?

Today, I wrote this. And I told the lesbian storyteller/playwright/mom/amazing woman before I even interviewed her that to be in my column was to risk abuse. Undeserved, uninformed, ranting, often idiotic, usually mean-spirited abuse. And if she didn’t want me to write about her, if she’d rather me forward her story to the features department, I would completely understand.

But Elaine Blanchard said no, she wanted ME to write about her. And what I predicted would happen did – and I’m wondering where the GLBT community is – Elaine was one of the ministers on the MGLCC’s billboard campaign – where are they now? Why can’t their voices drown out the others?

I, of course, cannot do what I want – which is to contact all my GLBT friends who contact me when there’s news to be covered and say – um, hey, can you support Elaine on the CA message boards? Some words of common sense and reason would be appreciated right now – but it is maddening as hell.

I know that I did not do this to Elaine. But I had reason to believe it would happen. I warned her, but I wrote the column anyway. I thought about leaving out the part about her being gay, but then, I’d be doing what she did for many years – and that was being untrue to herself. Is some of this my fault?

I’m fairly used to the crap people say about me – have not gotten to the point where my instinct is to pray for them instead of assuming they’re toothless idiots with an extension cord strung to a neighbor’s generator to power the computer from which they’re typing this garbage. But people attacking others – it drives me up the wall.

I’d probably get in trouble at work for talking about all the drama around the comments that followed the story on the death of Vasco Smith, on the very day the man died. I was up LATE that night, flagging comments so the online staff could review them, because I felt an obligation to his wife, Maxine, to keep as much of the mean-spirited, bigoted lies away, out of the universe, for as long as I could.

But more and more, I feel like my participation in a system that subjects those who are unable to defend themselves to unwarranted criticism is to be complicit. But – if I don’t tell these stories – about transgender Duanna Johnson, about racism, about homophobia – it’s not like there’s a line of staffers at a news outlet where the staff is shrinking who are just waiting to take on GLBT/race issues as a sub-beat. Often I feel like if I don’t write the stories, they will likely not be told in the mainstream paper.

And on the global scale of importance, this ranks just above toe jam. I know that. But still, it’s something I wonder  and worry about.

Oh, by the way, all the e-mails I received about Elaine’s play, “For Goodness Sake”, you know, where people use their names, were positive. I’d guess 90 percent of the online anonymous comments by cowards who RARELY have their real names as their handle, were negative.

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9 thoughts on “To write or not to write?

  1. The Commercial Appeal has to approve my comment as I have never had to comment before. But here is what I submitted. Thanks for drawing my attention to it through your tweet and for telling some of Elaine’s story.

    THANKS Wendi for once again showing us a member of the Memphis community that knowing a bit more about makes me think. You routinely point out that Memphis is a place of differences. Some of these differences are hard to work through as individuals or as a community but none the less we need to work through some of them.

    I must admit that I had to stop reading these comments. The opinions, and the voraciousness of attacks is astounding. Attacks don’t help anyone work through anything.

    It concerns me that religion is used as justification for some of these hateful words. Religion has been a major force in my life. For decades, my mother has worked at the church my families gone to for generations. My brother & his wife are ordained ministers. I have uncles, inlaws, etc who are ministers or leaders in churches. And, by and large, it is a family of great faith even when individuals do not practice religion every Sunday.

    Our faith guides us to accept others. Our faith guides us to love one another. And due to the annonymity of this board, I can’t be sure that some of the people on this comment board don’t sit just down the pew at church with some of us. I can be certain that even if that is the case, we have very different faiths. Our faith does not allow us to tear people down like some of these people are trying to do.

    Based on the rants I’ve seen on the Commercial Appeal boards & in other public venues previously, you can now count me as one of the straight members of the Gay Lesbian Bi & Transexual community center.

    Elaine, I hope you know there are many more out here who support you having a voice and using it. Since I haven’t seen your play, I feel I should also say, I hope your voice is one of hope and healing. We certainly need those things in Memphis.

  2. I wonder how the tone of all the comment boards would change if IDs were required.
    Policy question: Does CA print anonymous emails and snail mails to the Editor?

  3. Joe: Well, I have been “forbidden” to talk about company policy although I am a seasoned journalist and know our policies well. I am supposed to say – if you have any questions about the CA, please talk to the editor or publisher as this darky is not allowed to speak on behalf of the paper. (Can you tell I’m a little peeved about that? Oh, I added the darky part.) BUT, as a reader and a subscriber of the paper, I have seen anonymous comments from online in the paper on the editorial page.

    I think the tone would be different if people had to attach their names. What do you think?

  4. Travelwithjp:

    Thank you for your comments – and I think you make a good point. That’s one of the things about being a columnist – you know who I am. My picture is in the paper and I get recognized everywhere. But the bigots and name-callers could be my mortgage banker, my doctor, my dentist, my neighbor, my co-worker – everyone around me or no one around me. Do you know what that’s like? If I had ANY idea that doing this job would rob me of my privacy/anonymity… well, I love my job, but no one told me about this part. And it’s scary.

  5. I’ve seen the type of comments you are referencing and I think it reflects poorly on the CA and I’ve said so on those boards. I frequently read other online newspapers in different cities and think that some of the comments left on the CA boards make the paper look small and petty because the CA tolerates the bigots and provide space for them to spew forth their hatred. Additionally, it discourages honest conversation because these posters will attack others who post.

    The CA has rules about posting that is placed underneath each article/column but I have yet to see them enforce those rules without first being prompted thru a flag.

  6. Yes, the CA absolutely needs to require real names for comments, and do a better job of policing the nasty trolls. When I write a letter to the editor, your editorial staff calls me to confirm that I wrote it — why should online comments be treated so differently?

    I never comment on CA stories because I don’t have time to argue with people who are too chickenshit to use their real names.

    I like to imagine that all of the CA trolls are played by the same person (I call him Leroy) who got a genius grant to create an interactive social satire intended to skewer fundamentalist/racist/sexist/homophobic southerners.

  7. Wendi,
    Thanks for the story on Elaine Blanchard and thanks for airing one more voice that needs to be heard.
    It is the press that gives voice to the people. Or should.
    As I have heard it, as a journalist, if everyone likes you/what you write, something is wrong.

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