October 2014 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

October 2014

Sidney's Picks: Rogue Drills, White Supremacy, and Other Scary Stuff

The Best of the Week’s News, Halloween Edition

  • As we gear up for the weekend, let’s remember that overwork kills. Don’t take any chances!


[Photo credit, Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

The Undocumented Immigrants Who Rebuilt New York After Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy damaged or destroyed more than 650,000 homes in New York. At least 4000 day laborers toiled to clean up the mess. An estimated 75% of these workers were undocumented migrants, an atypically high percentage. Most hailed from Mexico or other Latin American countries. 

Buzzfeed joined forces with sociology professor Héctor Cordero-Guzmán and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network to tell their stories


[Photo credit: “The Power of Hurricane Sandy,” by Rob Gross.]

Overseas Facebook Mods Whisk Away Beheading Videos, Dick Pics

In Wired, Adrian Chen profiles the small, poorly-paid army of overseas content moderators who preview facebook, YouTube, and other social network uploads to nix some of the truly horrible stuff that some users try to foist on the unsuspecting public. 

Other content moderation is done by American workers who earn more money, but who typically burn out after just a few months on the job, previewing the absolute worst of what the internet can dish up: 

But as months dragged on, the rough stuff began to take a toll [on Rob, a recent U.S. college grad]. The worst was the gore: brutal street fights, animal torture, suicide bombings, decapitations, and horrific traffic accidents. The Arab Spring was in full swing, and activists were using YouTube to show the world the government crackdowns that resulted. Moderators were instructed to leave such “newsworthy” videos up with a warning, even if they violated the content guidelines. But the close-ups of protesters’ corpses and street battles were tough for Rob and his coworkers to handle. So were the videos that documented misery just for the sick thrill of it. [WIRED]

Chen’s piece offers a rare glimpse of an international workforce that slogs away behind the scenes to make sure that social networking spaces are free of disturbing content.

The piece doesn’t really grapple with the larger cultural implications of private, profit-driven companies engineering their spaces to give the minimum offense–sometimes minimal transparency or accountability to their millions of users about what’s forbidden or why. Facebook was criticized for censoring some photos of breastfeeding, an activity that is not only legal, but endorsed by public health experts worldwide.  The social network eventually backed down in the face of public criticism.

Hat tip: Amanda Marcotte


Sidney's Picks: The Trouble With Teeth

The Best of the Week’s News

  • Remembering Maria Leonor Fernandes, the New Jersey woman who died trying to nap between shifts at her low-wage jobs.


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Liberian Churches Scapegoat Gays for Ebola

Powerful Christian leaders in Liberia, a West African nation hard-hit by Ebola, are blaming gays and lesbians for the epidemic from the pulpit. The Liberian Council of Churches announced that the outbreak was a punishment for “immoral acts” including gay sex; and the Archbishop of the Catholic Church of Liberia said that homosexuality was one of the major transgressions for which God was punishing Liberia with Ebola.

Their denunciations have marked LGBT people for violent reprisals.

“Since church ministers declared Ebola was a plague sent by God to punish sodomy in Liberia, the violence toward gays has escalated. They’re even asking for the death penalty. We’re living in fear,” [LGBT activist Leroy] Ponpon told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone from Monrovia. [Reuters]

Ponpon and his allies want the government to step forward and defend the human rights of LGBT people against the bigotry of these religious leaders, the neglect of the police, and threats they face in their communities. 

[Photo credit: Liberian Flag, Nicholas Raymond, Creative Commons.]


Call for Entries: Canadian Hillman Prize

The Sidney Hillman Foundation is now accepting nominations for the 2015 Canadian Hillman Prize honouring excellence in journalism in service of the common good. The Hillman Prize seeks out the best investigative reporting that draws attention to social or economic injustice and hopefully leads to corrective measures. We strive to recognize discernment of a significant news story, resourcefulness and courage in reporting, skill in relating the story and the impact of the coverage.

The deadline for submissions is January 9, 2015. 

Click here for full entry details. 

[Photo credit: Samuel George, Creative Commons.]

Pregnant New Yorker Gets Job Back Amid Public Outcry

A pregnant Queens woman has been rehired at the Bronx potato-packing plant that fired her in August for declining to work overtime on the advice of her doctor.

Rachel L. Swarns of the New York Times published Angelica Valencia’s story on Oct 19 and the next day she got her job back. Score one for crusading journalism! 


[Photo credit: Glenn, Creative Commons.]

They Can Punish You Without Convicting You First?

Life is chaotic, but a few things proceed in soothingly predictable order: Pants, then shoes. Chew, then swallow. Convict, then punish. 

Well, you can strike that last one of the list of comforting regularities. Radley Balko reports that federal judges have started punishing people for crimes for which they were not convicted, including murder. 

#Sidney's Picks: Must Amazon.com Be Stopped?

The Best of the Week’s News

  • Amazon.com is the marquee monopoly of our Gilded Age, and it must be stopped, says Franklin Foer.
  • Ebola is spreading in West Africa because of weak–but fixable–health systems, not because it’s an unstoppable super-bug, says humanitarian and infectious disease expert Paul Farmer.
  • Charles Gilbert was a self-described “angry white man” who joined a militia to hunt “illegals,” but what he saw on the border made him question his mission.


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Katha Pollitt Makes the Case For Abortion Without Apology

In her new book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, the feminist Nation columnist and poet Katha Pollitt urges pro-choicers to embrace abortion as a positive social good. The book makes a bold case in lucid and often acerbically funny prose. Pollitt deftly dissects the muddled thinking that characterizes our national abortion debate. I review the book in the latest issue of The American Prospect.