A Few Nomination Suggestions for the Shadid Award for Ethics in Journalism

Last year marked a moment in American journalism that we may not be able to turn back from: we allowed propaganda to overwhelm our election process, diluting our shared ability to take action based on the news we receive. Throughout that process, though, there were journalists sharing articles, videos, and other media in ethical and principled ways.

There are awards for everything, and ethics in journalism is no exception. The Anthony Shadid Award for Journalism Ethics recognizes “outstanding application of ethical standards by an individual journalist or group of journalists.” We’re talking about stuff like protecting sources, going up against large organizations, and generally doing the right thing as a journalist. Nominations are due January 31. The award winner receives $1,000 and a trip to the awards ceremony.

I’ve already sent in a letter nominating a journalist showing the ethics and principles we need in the days, months, and years to come. But you should do the same — there’s no limit on who can submit a nomination. Technically, I didn’t see a limit on the number of nominations a single person can submit, but one nomination per person seems pretty reasonable.

You Too Can Nominate People for Awards

You’re welcome to use my letter of nomination as a model to submit a nomination of your own for the Shadid Award in Ethics. Here’s the file on Google Drive — just copy it and start writing. Make sure to address all five points the nomination instructions ask for! You can export your finished letter as a PDF and send it in to the Center for Journalism Ethics immediately.

In case you need a few suggestions for nominations, here’s a short list to get you started:

  1. Sarah Kendzior: Sarah has consistently written the clearest analysis of the new administration’s goals and tactics that I’ve seen, across a variety of sites. Her post-election article on living under an authoritarian government has rapidly become required reading. Sarah’s work is impressive, but it’s also leadership that we need under the new administration.
  2. Myron Dewey: Myron, through Digital Smoke Signals, has been providing video updates on the #noDAPL protests since last summer, directly from the water protectors’ camp. He and his gear have been targeted; the drone he used for filming was seized without a warrant by police. In particular, check out the primary video here.
  3. Sarah Jeong: Sarah live-tweeted Google v Oracle as an independent journalist in May 2016. We’re talking about a key copyright decision that could impact software for decades to come, which Sarah found ways to document and discuss in real time. Just about every article I read about the decision wound up quoting Sarah in some fashion. Additionally, Sarah’s discussion on publishing at XOXO is one of the clearer (and funnier) examinations of media and money I’ve seen in a while.
  4. Unicorn Riot: Unicorn Riot is a decentralized media collective. They specialize in telling stories around social justice, including the Dakota Access Pipeline and #BlackLivesMatter. Unicorn Riot reporters are routinely on the frontlines of protests — they’ve been beaten, arrested, and had their gear seized. One story is particularly worth noting in a nomination: in Denver, Unicorn Riot is drawing attention to abusive policing against people without housing, providing a basis for a class-action lawsuit.

If you’re in need of more suggestions for nominations, I’d suggest Kong Tsung-gan’s round up of the best human rights journalism published in 2016. I’m slowly working through the list and haven’t yet read everything included, but what I’ve read so far has been both moving and meaningful.

A Few Further Thoughts on Nominations

You may notice that my suggested nominations focus on independent journalists and publications. There are a couple of reasons for that:

  1. Independent journalists and publications don’t have the time or resources to devote to finding and landing awards in the way that larger organizations can choose to.
  2. An award of $1,000 can make a major difference for an independent journalist or publication. In 2016, a team from the Associated Press won. The Associated Press’ revenue in 2015 was $568 million. In comparison, Chipotle gift cards made the difference in Sarah Jeong’s ability to cover Google v. Oracle.
  3. When I first looked at the past winners of the Shadid Award, they mostly seemed very similar. But white men from large news organizations do not have a monopoly on ethics in journalism. In fact, sometimes ethics seems like something that we have to commit to despite the gender and racial majorities we live among. (Quick caveat: Duaa Eldeib won in 2015 as part of a team from the Chicago Tribune and Martha Mendoza, Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, and Esther Htusan won in 2016. They’re all impressive journalists who you should look up and follow.)

I know that I’m talking about these nominations with only a day before they’re due and I know that we’re all focused on the new administration’s efforts to seize power. But I need to be able to celebrate something or I’m not going to be able to keep protesting. If you feel the same way, consider celebrating some journalists with a quick letter.


Baen and Scalzi: Who Are You Willing to Work With?

Deciding whether or not to work with someone or some organization you don’t agree with is always a complex question. We all have lines that we won’t cross — I would never take on a marketing project for a company I believed was scamming its customers, for instance — but when you’re deciding whether or not to work with someone over a less crucial issue, it can be a tough question.

There’s been a bit of upset with a certain subset of the science fiction community of late and John Scalzi’s response has stuck with me. He disagreed with the publisher of Baen Books on a specific topic but continues to promote Baen Books’ authors. One paragraph of his discussion of how he’s handling the situation is particularly well worth paying attention to:

You all know that I recently signed to do a TV series with FX, correct? That’s owned by Rupert Murdoch, the same fellow who is responsible for Fox News. He’s also responsible, if that’s the correct way to note it, for The Simpsons, Firefly and the new Cosmos series. It’s possible to have issues with a company, its C-suite and things it does and still find reasons to do business with them and/or support some of the things it does.

Rupert Murdoch is an excellent example of why it’s a good idea to give yourself as much latitude to work with people you disagree with as possible. I can think of plenty of people who don’t like Fox News, who are fine with Fox News but don’t like Murdoch’s business practices, who are fine with Murdoch but can’t deal with one of the other 48,000 people who work for News Corporation (let alone the tens of thousands more who work for subsidiaries of the company or who freelance for some part of the organization), and so on. Eliminating that many potential connections from your network, not to mention the big projects associated with working with such large organizations, on the strength of just one disagreement can be a tough call.

It’s a personal decision where to draw the line. Personally, I try to avoid letting more minor opinions drive my decisions. I’ll read books by authors with opinions I find abhorrent (consider the general opinions of most of the authors of books we consider classics these days — you can’t make it through high school English if you’re only going to read literature by people who agree with you). I’ll also work on projects (as long as they are unrelated to our disagreements) with people whose general opinions are far out of line with mine. I don’t need everyone in the world to agree with me, as long as we can be civil and well-intentioned.

Review Copies: What to Do With Them After You’ve Written the Review

One of the perks of writing articles for various publications is that you can wind up with review products. If you write about cooking, you can wind up with pots and pans. If you write about technology, you can wind up with software. And if you write about anything, well… through review copies, I’ve learned that there really is a book on every topic.

All of that is great, but you can wind up with enough review products in your home to drive you crazy after a while. Even worse, you may be technically expected to report any review copies that you receive on your taxes, due to the fact that you received value for your freelancing business. Unless there’s a very good reason not to, I make a point of getting rid of review copies — preferably in a way that does not change my financial situation so that I don’t even have to consider the tax situation. All of this, by the way, does not include books and other items that I bought to review on my own.

  1. Donate ’em: If it’s something that will be useful for someone else, I donate it. Libraries, for instance, are often pleased to see brand new books that they can either add to their collections or resell. Other items can go to appropriate charities. I’ve also been known to give books directly to educators who can use them — the receipts don’t matter in this situation beyond proving that you no longer have the item in question. You can’t actually write these types of donations off on your taxes.
  2. Give ’em away: Every so often, I’ll have a giveaway here on this blog. I try to only give away books here that are actually something that one of you would want. If you saw my stack of ‘books to get rid of’, you’d probably appreciate that fact a little more, but if it’s not relevant I don’t worry about it. I’ve also just handed books off to people who were in my house and said that they wanted to read a particular book. As long as it’s gone, I’m happy.
  3. Trade ’em: I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of this approach simply because I feel like, technically, it might bother the IRS. I’m pretty paranoid when it comes to my taxes and I’d like to avoid any potential problems. But there are a lot of online tools that allow you to hand off books to people who really want them. I particularly like Bookmooch because it allows me to send out books and then donate the books I would get in return to charity.
  4. Send ’em back: In some cases, you can simply return the review copy to the seller who provide you with it. With big items such as microwaves — yes, I’ve reviewed a microwave — the public relations firm is much more willing to take such steps. For smaller items, such as books, though, the postage to send it back seems like too much for most of them.
  5. Delete ’em: With ebooks and other digital review copies, I make a point of getting rid of items that I don’t need anymore. Even if it’s just cluttering up my hard drive, it’s still clutter that I don’t need. I may as well get rid of it and make sure that I’ll have that much more room still on my hard drive to fill up with my own writing. I’ve actually started requesting electronic copies when possible because it makes getting rid of them when I’m done so much easier. Sure, I could just toss print copies in the trash, but I’d feel pretty guilty about it.

There are a few ethical concerns that go along with review copies, especially these days, and I’ve found that getting rid of books and other products after you’re done with them is the easiest way to resolve the issue. In a time where, every so often, we hear about a blogger asking for (and even getting) a new laptop in exchange for a review and equally unethical situations including reviews, I feel that it is important to make sure that my readers here and elsewhere have no reason to question my integrity. What about you? What do you do with your review copies?

Considering Freelancing From Your Cubicle?

There are many stories of writers making it big by writing when they really ought to be doing other things. Anne McCaffrey, for those SFF buffs among us, wrote her first novel in Latin class. Writing in class can get you a few sideways glances, but what about in your cubicle?

If you are considering trying to freelance from your cubicle, there are some questions you need to answer, if only to protect yourself. Leaving aside the ethics of such a situation — I don’t condone stealing time from your employer, but that’s all I plan to say on the matter — it can become a big issue down the road.

  • Do you have any sort of contract giving your employer the rights to work you’ve done while clocked in?
  • Can you handle an increased workload? Can you complete all of the tasks your employer expects and still fulfill your freelance contracts?
  • Are you financially comfortable enough to handle losing your job over your freelance work? If your boss finds out your plan, is it likely that he or she will fire you?

I have plenty of friends who seem to have a lot of downtime at their jobs. They seem to gravitate towards the idea of freelance writing, because they feel that they can do it in their spare time. For them, it’s like a hobby that they get paid for. They don’t really think about any other factors, whether it’s the taxes they may have to pay on their added income or it’s being sure that their employers won’t be upset about their sideline.

I know I rant a bit about professionalism, but I really do think it is important to take your career as a freelance writer seriously. If you don’t see your work as a business, you have less incentive to push yourself to earn more income, build a reputation or take on new projects. If writing is just a hobby that you do when the boss isn’t looking, what reason do you have to take new opportunities? After all, you can just do it later on, whenever you want, when the boss turns around again.