When the discourse gets ugly (#FreeMikeDixon)

Newsrooms love to use engagement teams to talk about fun stuff. Easy stuff. You know, pictures of Christmas trees and fall foliage. But when it comes to more sensative conversations, many of us aren’t quite sure what to do. 

Today at the Missourian, we found ourselves wondering just how (or if) we should talk about the Twitter conversation surrounding a woman’s accusations that Missouri basketball player Michael Dixon raped her in August. Dixon has been suspended from the team since October. No charges were filed as a result of the woman’s report, and the police never interviewed him during their investigation.

The hashtag #FreeMikeDixon first appeared on Twitter after he was suspended in October, before people knew the reason behind the action. After media outlets such as The Columbia Daily Tribune and the Missourian published detailed accounts of the accusations, some of the tweets took a more menacing tone. 

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I can’t speak to Dixon’s guilt or innocence, but I am interested in exploring the community’s reaction to a woman who came forward and said a Mizzou athlete raped her. 

On a superficial level, you can repost some of the comments in support of Dixon and some that support his accuser. Conversely, journalists can ignore the conversation because so much of it is graphic and profane. But I wonder what this accomplishes.

Sometimes reflecting the conversations people are having in the community is not enough. I think sometimes journalists should ask themselves what they can add to the dialogue. For this story, that could mean searching for the questions or misunderstandings that seem to be circulating. For example, a few people in online comments seemed to be under the impression that the Student Conduct Committee is run entirely by students when university faculty members make up the majority of the committee.   

What if we moved even farther outside of our comfort zone and tried to answer the question: What is rape? How can this kind of publicity affect the accused and the accuser?

What if journalists joined an ongoing public conversation and tried to add to it instead of just parroting it back to readers? 

These questions challenged me in the newsroom. I didn’t (and don’t) know where exactly my role as a journalist ends, particularly with stories as heavy and personal as this one.

What I do know is this: We don’t serve our community by assuming it isn’t capable of having nuanced conversations about challenging subjects. We aren’t doing our jobs as journalists if we cover our ears when a prevalent narrative makes us uncomfortable.

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Remember that time Derrick Washington got mad at me on Twitter?

  1. Last week I read an article about a former MU football player restarting his college football career at Tuskeege. Derrick Washington was kicked off the Missouri football team in 2010 after he was arrested on charges of sexual assault, and less than two weeks later, he was arrested on charges of domestic assault. He was convicted of the sexual assault charge and pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree domestic assault.

    In the article I read Tuesday, Washington’s new coach described him as “a good kid who just messed up.” I happen to think “just messed up” is not a fair characterization of gendered violence. So I tweeted about it. 

    And Derrick Washington responded.

  2. WashMeDoIt
    @AliciaStice Clearly you don’t know what happened… Can’t believe everything you read.
  3. Now, I’m not sure if you clicked on the links to stories about his case. If you did, you might have noticed something: I wrote them. 

    When Washington was arrested in 2010, I was the crime editor at The Maneater. I wrote the first three stories about the arrests, and I pitched and edited everything else we published about them between September of 2010 and May of 2011. One of my colleagues and I shared an award for news writing from the Missouri College Media Association for one of those stories.

    Now I work at the Columbia Missourian, a newspaper that extensively covered his arrests, though I never handled any of that content. Anyone who saw my tweet could find out where I worked just by looking at my Twitter bio. 

    So what did I reveal about myself with this post? That I think he’s guilty of the crimes he was sentenced to jail time for? Yep. That I’m a feminist? Sure. That I lack integrity? I really don’t think so.

    I think my Twitter account is a pretty fair representation of who I am in my professional and private life. 

    I use it to share what I think is interesting.

  4. AliciaStice
    Great/scary story from @finleybruce: Mines leak toxic metals into watersheds, but fear of lawsuits prevents cleanups http://www.denverpost.com/environment/ci_21499958/risk-suits-preventing-vital-cleanup-abandoned-mines-colorado
  5. AliciaStice
    The Rockies announcers might be higher on this list of biased baseball announcers if they ever had a win to brag about. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444180004578016652376246198.html?mod=e2tw
  6. I use it to find sources:
  7. AliciaStice
    @dangrote Hi, Daniel – I work at @CoMissourian. We’re putting together a Facebook album of today’s game. Would it be OK if we used that pic?
  8. AliciaStice
    @MerylCA Any chance you’d want to talk to me for a story I’m writing about local wineries for @KCBizjournal tomorrow? You can DM me 🙂
  9. I use it to share what the news means to me:
  10. westongentry
    MT Lin_Shapley: @denverpost 1A sneak peek #theatershooting http://pic.twitter.com/bVtEbU4X
  11. AliciaStice
    It’s surreal to see my neighborhood on the news like this. This kind of violence goes beyond description. http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_21118201/unknown-number-people-shot-at-aurora-movie-theater
  12. For me, commenting on the Washington story is a natural extension of this kind of sharing. I didn’t say anything while the cases were still open, but now that they’re closed and he is no longer a focal point of Columbia news, I don’t think I overstepped with my post. 
    This episode got me thinking, though, about where I should draw the line between transparency and professionalism. There’s tremendous pressure on reporters my age to come in and save newsrooms with social media; to be clever, open and personable with our readers. But we’re still bound by very traditional ideas of what journalists should share. 

    If I can’t say something as simple as “‘just messed up’ doesn’t describe domestic abuse or sexual assault,” I don’t see the point in trying to have an authentic social media presence.
    Thoughts?

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Domestic violence, nbd. Right?

After watching some of the online reactions to Chris Brown’s Grammy performance, I had to ask myself what his pretty seamless career comeback says about us.

The fact that Chris Brown performed at the Grammys — the fact that he won a Grammy — just three years after he beat a woman with his fists so badly that she had to go to the hospital shows us just how normalized domestic abuse is in this country.

These reactions to his performance tell you pretty much everything you need to know about what we’ve taught women to expect from their relationships. Violence equals love. Any attention from a man is good attention, especially if he’s wealthy and talented.

We tell women that having a boyfriend or husband is so important that it doesn’t matter how he treats them. If you leave because of abuse, you must be overreacting, and what did you do to provoke him in the first place, anyway?

With this cultural mentality, is it any surprise that one in four women will experience domestic violence, or that 40 percent of girls between the ages of 14 and 17 know someone who has been hit or beaten by their boyfriend?

Sasha Pasulka already wrote a wonderful piece about just how not cool it was for Chris Brown to perform at the Grammys, and she said it better than I ever could have.

I’ll just add this:

If we ever want to stop gendered violence, we have to stop sweeping it under the rug. We can’t just forget about it because it’s inconvenient to stop downloading music from our favorite artist. We can’t forgive violent physical assaults because the perpetrator is attractive and talented or because he just seems like such a nice guy.

It’s time to start siding with victims of domestic violence and stop encouraging their abusers.

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Bangkok adventures part one

A few people have asked what I’m up to in Thailand, so here are a few pictures from the first few days of my trip.

So far we’ve:

  • Shopped. MBK mall in central Bangkok puts any American mall I’ve visited to shame. It has seven floors packed full of almost anything you can imagine: clothes, Thai crafts, movies, salons and “Rolex” watches that you can buy for about $30 (I’m sure they’re totally legit). Jatujak Weekend Market is one of the most crowded and awesome places I’ve ever seen. Picture at least 20 flea markets squished into about one square mile. I took pictures, but they don’t quite capture what the heat, smell and crowds feel like when you’re there.
  • We also went to the Patpong red-light district… in the evening. Obviously we were there to shop at the night market and not to go into any of the shady bars. Still, it was an interesting experience to say the least.
  • My family and I spent a morning walking around and looking at the Water Monitors at Lumpini Park, which is a mile of my aunt’s apartment.
  • We took a trip to Krabi, Thailand and spent three days snorkeling, swimming and riding around in rickety longboats.
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Meme-sourian

My fellow reporters have been helping me come up with memes that describe our experiences at the Missourian. A special thanks to Caitlin Lukin, Karen Miller, Alexandria Baca and Shaina Cavazos for the ideas. Feel free to comment and leave your own!

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Advice for new reporters

Here is my advice to new reporters.

  1. Pitch your own stories on the first day. Seriously. It’s good practice, and it will guarantee that you’re covering topics that interest you. And for editors, having reporters come in and beg for stories without producing any ideas of their own gets really old really fast (not that I was ever one of those reporters…). Editors will appreciate your initiative.
  2. Volunteer for stuff when you’re on GA. You have to be there anyway, and you might as well get clips for it. It’s great practice covering breaking news, and it’s way more entertaining than sitting around doing nothing.
  3. Be nice to your ACE on weekend GAs. They don’t want to be there either, and you’re more likely to get good stories if you haven’t been whiny all day.
  4. Pitch your own stories! I know I said it before, but do it. Just do it. Worst case, your editor says no.
  5. Stop using so many quotes. You’re a good writer or you wouldn’t be here. Write with authority because presumably you know what you’re talking about. It’s a way to keep your voice and give the story better flow.
  6. Take notes when you’re being edited. It will help you avoid making the same newbie mistakes over and over.
  7. Be nice to copy editors if they call you and have questions about your article. They’re making you look good by clarifying points in your story. Don’t be overly protective of your work. Sometimes another set of eyes can do amazing things.
  8. Play with different storytelling techniques. I know you love writing long form journalism, but what does the reader want? When you’re writing a story about funding for sewers, be kind. No one wants to read 700 uninterrupted words about that. Use bullets.
  9. Ask your editor if you have questions or if you’re feeling overwhelmed. They are there to help you. Believe it or not, they’ve done this before. You are not the biggest basket case they’ve seen, so don’t worry about embarrassing yourself.
  10. Breathe. You are here to learn. You will make mistakes, and you will learn from them and get better. Chill out.
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A closer look at No Kill Columbia

No Kill Columbia is a local organization pushing for the Central Missouri Humane Society to become “no kill,” meaning they want the shelter to stop euthanizing healthy animals because there is no space for them. They think they have the key in the 11 steps they have proposed for the shelter.

Kaysie Moore wrote this story with me, and we had no idea what we were getting into when we picked this story up. I thought it would be more of a profile of No Kill Columbia. What I realized was that I couldn’t profile this organization without delving deeper into the issue they were focused on. The end result was more of a (what I hope was informative and helpful) discussion of what the shelter is and is not doing to reduce euthanasia and what No Kill Columbia thinks they could do better.

Every source we interviewed in this story is passionately committed to this story, and I think that’s what makes it compelling. The debate between the two camps has gotten heated and even personal at times. I hope Kaysie and I captured the emotion that is driving the debate.

If nothing else, read the story to see the photograph of the most adorable dog you’ve ever seen in your life.

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