October 2014 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

October 2014

Grim Vindication: Autopsy Proves Miner's Black Lung Claim, Shames Company Shill

Steve Day, a 35-year veteran of the underground coal mines of West Virginia, had the worst case of black lung anyone had ever seen. But the doctor handpicked by the coal company to assess Steve’s black lung disability claim refused to acknowledge the obvious. He claimed that the huge scarred-out areas of Steve’s lungs were caused by a tuberculosis, or a fungal infection, or anything but the coal dust that Steve had been breathing every day for over three decades. So, Steve got no compensation for his crippling shortness of breath. 

Steve had to die before doctors could cut open his lungs and prove once and for all that coal dust choked him to death.

Chris Hamby, who started his Black Lung coverage at the Center for Public Integrity, continues his coverage as a staffer for Buzzfeed. The same doctor who misdagnosed Steve has been a consultant for countless other miners who have been denied black lung disability. Perhaps this story will help unseat the doctor as an expert in future cases. 


[Photo credit: gentlepurespace, Creative Commons. Image from a children’s book about coal mining.]

#Sidney's Picks: NLRB Rules that Facebook "Likes" Are Protected

 The Best of the Week’s News

  • The National Labor Relations Board rules that Facebook “likes” and comments constitute protected activity.
  • It’s more than an Ebola outbreak, it’s a chance for Dr. Philip Smith, father of the biocontainment unit at the University of Nebraska, to say, “I told you so.”
  • Irony alert: A report to Congress on authorized disclosures of classified information to the media is classified.

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

McClatchy and ProPublica Win October Sidney for Exposing Multi-Billion Dollar Tax Scam

McClatchy and ProPublica spent a year delving into the multi-billion-dollar tax scam of misclassification in the construction industry and beyond. Read our Back Story interview with Barbara Barrett, National Editor at McClatchy, who helped oversee this mammoth undertaking.

Philly Teachers' Union Faces "the Nuclear Option" from Ed Reform Commission

The Philadelphia Education Reform Commission deployed what observers are calling “the nuclear option” on the city’s teachers’ union, cancelling their contract on Monday, unilaterally and without notice:

In a stunning move that could reshape the face of city schools, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission voted Monday to unilaterally cancel its teachers’ contract. The vote was unanimous.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers was given no advance word of the action — which happened at an early-morning SRC meeting called with minimal notice — and which figures to result in a legal challenge to the takeover law the SRC believes gives it the power to bypass negotiations and impose terms. [Philly.com]

According to Philly.com, the commission has no immediate plans to cut the pay of the 15,000 teachers and staff in the Philadelphia school system who belong to the union. The move is a bid to wrest control of the teacher’s benefit program from the union in order to force steep hikes in the worker’s share of health insurace. 

The Commission insists that it has the power to cancel the contract, but the teachers intend to fight the decision in court. 


[Photo credit: Jasper Nance, Creative Commons.]

Amazon Warehouse Workers Required to Wait in Line to Leave Work Demand to Be Paid for Their Time

Amazon warehouse workers have to spend a lot of time standing in security lines to get out of their workplace. Management has decided that its own workers are such a security threat that they must be painstakingly screened before they can be allowed to leave. Amazon workers are okay with these screenings, but they want to be paid for their time. The company that imposes the screening claims that it shouldn’t have to pay because being cleared to leave the facility is not directly related to the workers’ job! Sidney-winner Josh Eidelson reports on the upcoming Supreme Court case that will decide this issue. 

#Sidney's Picks: Poverty; an Emmy in the Family; and Oral Roberts

The Best of the Week’s News


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Climate Change Drives 35,000 Walruses to Alaska Beach

In what may be a sign of the impending apocalypse, 35,000 walruses descended on a remote Alaskan beach last month. Walruses like to congregate, but a crowd this size is unprecedented. According to Climate Progress, some conservationists believe that the walruses are coming ashore because there’s not enough sea ice for them to rest on. Unlike seals, walruses need to take breaks from swimming. Normally, they would be congregating in smaller groups on pieces of ice at sea.