The State of Raindrop Works
This is an editorial. All views and statements made are the personal words of the editorial staff. Please treat this accordingly.
If you’re reading this page, most likely you know that the entire Raindrop Works network was offline for a few days this week, with a static front page with a letter from me trying to put some context into what had happened. Part of the time we were offline I wasn’t sure if I wanted to bring the site back online, if the work that I was doing was beneficial to the community in general. Several people did reach out to confirm that yes, they did appreciate the insight that I’d been providing, and it started becoming less of an ‘if’ we would return as a media organization (Raindrop Works was originally billed as a tech company, this was as pivot post George Floyd) and more of a ‘when’.
‘When’ was up in the air because I needed to work on sorting out a number of missteps that I took, particularly in regards to a specific article I had written that caused a backlash from a portion of the community. I wanted to be able to come back with the article already fixed. The police shooting Friday short circuited the work that I was doing with others to sort that out. So while it’s not what I’d consider ‘ideal’, I have done a patch job of pulling down problematic things until we can properly fix it.
At the core of the problem, I found four issues that I needed to address with that article:
- I had accidently misgendered the person in question. I had no idea, and it was a complete accident that is a very easy fix for me to do
- I had used the person’s government name instead of their preferred name. Again, I had no idea, and I was more than happy to find a way to respectfully fix that issue. The one issue that I had was that documents that come from courts will always have the government name attached to them. I tried to research AP Stylebook for guidance on how to address what is admittedly a niche case. Transgender people (where my personal experience comes from, and how I used as a basis for research) are often victims of crime and finding articles that address them as just parties in legal proceedings (criminal or civil) was very difficult. I think I’ve got a way to do it that gives me a good middle ground.
- That I used the person’s name at all. While I understand and acknowledge that people on the ground had decided not to use the person’s name, that conversation seemed to happen after I had published the article and was actually asleep. Journalists don’t really like to write stories referencing a person without giving the audience an idea of who the person is. I only really need to use a name once to set the subject of the portion of the article, and then it’s done. Additionally, as I mentioned before, we make use of court records and make them publicly available. With no name in the article to correct the government error, the only name referenced would be an incorrect name.
- The final issue was using their government name in a few tweets. I fully admit that in light of the other issues, as well as the fact that the only reason I wrote about them at all was not because of the allegations, but of what the DA was doing to them on top of it. I was hesitant to delete tweets off the bat for two reasons. First being, it personally feels like I’m trying to cover up my mistakes. I realize that in this case, it was about much more than my feelings. The second reason, which if I knew the errors immediately, I could have deleted and reposted before anyone interacted, but there had been something of a conversation already. I didn’t know how to address removing the tweets without silencing the conversations that were attached to them.
Yes, with a bit of help and time, these were all things that could have been addressed. Unfortunately, the demands to ‘fix it’ immediately combined with not knowing how to fix it in a way that I felt comfortable with triggered a massive anxiety attack in me. Anxiety is a normal thing for me, and I have decent coping skills, but the circumstances that night overwhelmed everything I had prepared, I couldn’t work, and I was still dealing with demands to ‘do it’ to protect the person. I never handle split second decisions well, and in response, I tried to shut down the damage as safely as I could. I protected my timeline, but with well over a thousand followers at the time, ‘protected tweets’ don’t really do much. So all I could do was the ‘nuclear option’ of deactivating the whole account. I didn’t know until the next day that the data actually still existed (which made me feel marginally better). I also redirected this site to a static page so that none of the information could be accessed (even by myself at the time)
I fell back to an alternate account that I’d made previously to be able to vent about personal issues that didn’t belong on main. And somehow, I was seeing a different side of protest Twitter than I had been before. People justifying the assault on a reporter at the scene of the murder at the hands of police. People saying he shouldn’t have been assaulted, but other reporters were fair game. Reporters who had been accused of something almost a year ago, that when I looked at the claims, I didn’t believe were accurate. But enough to blackball them to certain people, and with no new evidence or claims of ‘wrongdoing’, they still glorify the idea of beating up a person.
That struck me deep. And hard. I’ve been involved in the conversations over streamer ethics over the summer (film the cops, not the protesters). I’ve argued that on top of that, protesters need to take actions to protect themselves as well. I’ve agreed with the idea of ‘no streamer’ protests. But what I saw online, coupled with what I had gone through this week, gave me the sinking realization that for a certain subsegment of the protest movement, any journalism will be too much journalism.
And the idea that members of a group of people who are opposed to violence at the hands of police seemed okay with, if not giddy, at the idea inflicting police-like violence on people they don’t like was a line too far for me. I’m not going to name names, because I don’t need to.
Going forward, I’m making a few adjustments to our editing and processes here, as well as clarifying a few things.
1 Raindrop Works is not set up as a “protest journalism” or “racial justice journalism” organization. It may have been in the beginning, but since I retired from on the ground reporting, our focus has shifted towards “courtroom journalism”, particularly with a focus on government accountability and transparency. That doesn’t meant that there won’t be overlap with protest related events, or racial justice (lawsuits against the city for excessive force alone can be a huge part of my work). But purely protest related stories, I don’t need to cover because others are already doing that, and far better than I can.
2 I will work to be more mindful of how individuals are portrayed in documents and articles. I have already made judicious use of redactions in the past, usually to protect victims of particular alleged crimes, but for the most part, everything that I get from court records can be accessed by anyone in the general public with a little bit of work. The court filings that I make available are meant to make access to the information easier. So while I will try to redact sensitive information, there are limits to how much I can do without making the documents useless.
3 As always, I’m more than happy to correct factual errors in articles. I often get leads for stories directly from court filings or from other outlets that may rush to be first to press and not get correct information. The likelihood of me completely deleting a story, especially because some people don’t like it, is unlikely. Show me the errors, and I’ll gladly address it. Of course, since Twitter doesn’t allow for edits, that will be handled a little differently going forward.
4 Since, as I said before, I’m no longer doing ‘protest journalism’, I don’t actually need to be observing all the protest chatter online like I have been. And even less reason to be paying attention to people who would be glad to see police violence be dispensed to other journalists. If you suddenly can’t read my tweets, that might be why. You’re still welcome to read my articles on the site, however.
Black Lives Matter
Black Trans Lives Matter
Indigenous Lives Matter
Sincerely, Heather Van Wilde