Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

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 Be Stopped?

The Best of the Week’s News

  • 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. 

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. []

According to, 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.