Sunday, July 17, 2005

Essay: Save the community

We're noting at the top that this is written by Third Estate Sunday Review staff Ty, Jess, Dona and Jim as well as by Rebecca (Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude), Betty (Thomas Friedman is a Great Man), Kat (Kat's Korner) and Mike (Mikey Likes It!). Ava and C.I. are off working on their TV review.

When we all got together in person and by phone this evening we got a big of shock. As most of you now know, Folding Star shut down A Winding Road. Many of you know about C.I.'s health and the time being put in the issue of reproductive rights. That could sap anyone.

We were surprised to hear C.I.'s thinking about ending the site, not turning it over to Ava, just ending it. This is being thought of, this is not an announcement: "The Common Ills is closing down!"

A few of us writing this piece just think C.I. needs some sleep, some long sleep. (15 minutes in 2 days doesn't cut it.) Since the resource/review went up in November, there's not been a day off. There have been multiple entries each day. And there are the e-mails. Regarding e-mails, our opinion has always been what goes up at our sites come first, e-mails are second.

The Common Ills isn't a blog. It's a resource/review. It exists to say something you're not hearing somewhere else and to provide you links and excerpts to voices that you may not hear otherwise. As a result of that purpose, C.I.'s feeling has always been that each e-mail must be read. If someone finds something by Grace Lee Boggs (she was mentioned three times last week) that's a resource that would go unnoted if the e-mails weren't read. Someone might need to share something with the community (like Attorney X and Billie last week -- Attorney X on the Plame issue, Billie on mass transit).

When the site started, everyone who wrote in got a personal response. When it reached 500 incoming e-mails a day, C.I. took a page from our book and started an automated response. Now that they top off at over 1000 a day, we feel there's no point in reading everyone. We admire the dedication but we feel that the time would be better spent putting up entries or getting some rest.

C.I. noted in one entry last week, after giving out the e-mail address, that flamers and drive bys need not bother e-mailing. Thing is, you never know who a flamer or drive byer is. While we were discussing this with C.I. this evening, an e-mail's brought up. Last night, C.I. couldn't sleep and decided to go into the e-mails to do some replies. This included one to someone will call "C."
C.I.'s explaining why there aren't personal replies to every e-mail and offering what's gone on at the site this week. "C" e-mails back later with a snippy little remark. We would have told "C" to go fuck his or herself if we'd bothered to reply. Instead, C.I.'s playing sin eater.

It needs to stop. C.I., who doesn't have the time, ended up making the the time to write a very nice e-mail and "C"'s response was bullshit. We've shared that opinion with C.I. We're sharing it here because we do have readers who are members of The Common Ills. We're not saying write C.I. a long e-mail weighing in on this; however, if you think that too much time is spent on the e-mails, from nonmembers no less, write C.I. and say, "Ignore these people." We don't mean a visitor like Attorney X who actually has something to contribute, we mean someone who wants to bitch that they e-mailed and they didn't get a personal response and when they do get a personal response, they want to bitch that they didn't need to hear about the week.

"C" and people like "C" are never going to be pleased. C.I.'s stretched thin enough as it is without having to put up with this bullshit. We've shared that. We're calling on other members to do the same.

In the days when C.I. personally responded to every e-mail, we know from the responses we got that they weren't three lines and "thanks for writing." If we raised an issue, C.I. would try to explore it and ask us to write something or did we want to be quoted. And if we noted something important in our e-mails, important to us, C.I. would discuss that at length.

Those days are gone. Reading the gina & krista round-robin, we realize that. (This entry will be reprinted in the next gina & krista round-robin.) Members realize that. Members (including us) know that if there's something worth noting, it'll go up at the site. And members know that C.I.'s got to make an editorial judgement due to all the e-mails that come in now. It's not playing "gatekeeper." It's about finding a focus.

Nobody deserves a break more than C.I. We actually urged C.I. to forget helping us and go get some sleep. That wasn't a possibility for C.I. So we urged taking off tomorrow and maybe a few more days. In a two line e-mail, members can write C.I. ( and say:

If you don't feel the e-mail's important, don't reply even if the person starts
e-mailing again to bitch about it. And take a break to take care of yourself.

That's all it takes to convey the message.

We've made that point in our discussion.

We've also made the offer that we can all pitch in over there. Rebecca said she'd even watch her language because it's a "work environment safe" site at The Common Ills. We've said, take a day or several, take a week or two, we can go help out. We can divide up days and we can cover what's breaking.

There are other issues as well. Some of us were prepared to do an article here on what happened to a kid this week. If you read Rebecca, Mike or C.I.'s entries on that you know the details. We're not going into it here except to say that we think it's disgusting and the adult who treated the kid that way should apologize to the kid. We also don't think the adult needs our instruction if he's truly an adult. He should have apologized a long time ago.

C.I.'s feelings on topics like this are that the issue is more important than those involved. So there's no naming of "____ attacked the kid." Journalism majors make up the five members of The Third Estate Sunday Review. As journalism majors, the feeling is, more information is needed such as naming the attacker. We'll go with C.I.'s feelings on this because we don't want to add to the stress this issue has already caused.

And that's not just to West, the kid. That's to C.I. There's a story that a few of us had heard before but C.I. told it again this evening. Stevie Nicks signs an autograph on a woman's arm as requested. Later the woman comes up to Stevie and shows her how she got a tatoo artist to go over the autograph. Stevie is appalled and says "I'm not here to harm anyone."

The attacker made comments to West about the four sites that West highlighted. One of them was The Common Ills. Sites would be banned by the attacker. The attacker used that to force an apology from a kid (who did nothing that required an apology). The kid then e-mails the four sites involved and apologizes to them if he's gotten them banned. He says he was just a fan of their sites and didn't mean to cause them any harm. To show the attacker he's sincere, the kid includes the attacker's e-mail address in the e-mail.

Rebecca: The kid had nothing to apologize for to any of the four of us. I was clear in my post that I didn't think the kid should have apologized. I still don't.

C.I.'s response was to stand by the kid (and to immediately make him a member of the community because no one deserves that treatment). But there's another response going on. C.I.'s eating the shit on this. C.I.'s taking the fall for this. Which is the point of retelling the Stevie Nicks story. C.I. feels partly responsible for the kid getting attacked in the first place because one of the four blogs the kid was promoting was C.I.'s site. C.I. was saying that if The Common Ills didn't exist, maybe the kid wouldn't have been attacked.

The kid was attacked because the attacker (and his buddy) are assholes. Arguing that West was "abusive" for posting a comment to "step out of the GOP closet" to a left site that elected to push Michele Malkin and another Republican in two seperate entries on a single day while real news was happening was not "abusive."

It was critical comment (that included a smiley face ":)" to show it was a joke). And that's what the attacker couldn't take. He couldn't stand that he'd been called on his shit. He should have been called on it. He presents himself as covering the finest of the blogs.

Anyone wanting to bill themselves that way has no place in singing the praises of a right winger who's made too many vile comments to list here but we'll note the justification and endorsement of internment for US citizens. The attacker made a huge mistake.

West was allowed to criticize. West's criticism is accurate. The attacker wants people to comment but your comments can't get to the heart of the matter apparently. You can talk about anything you want except "Is this a worthy topic?" Do that and the attacker and his buddy start team tagging and bullying you with e-mails.

That's not very left.

And while C.I. can write, and mean, that West has nothing to apologize for, C.I.'s willing to take the fall on this, willing to question whether The Common Ills in some way led to the kid being attacked? If it had been us the kid linked to, C.I. wouldn't have even wondered. We'd be told, "This has nothing to do with you." (As C.I. said to the kid in the Thursday post.)

When we all get together, we tease C.I. about "high road" or "for the record" or "I could be wrong" or "in fairness." And whether it's an article on being inside the mind of Bill Keller or whatever, we've gone off down our own road and respected C.I.'s decision not to take part in an article we were working on. We still respect that.

On our end, what we're going to do is entries like this one. If someone's committed a personal offense (such as the guy who attacked West), we'll note it. We'll note the incident and leave the guilty party unnamed. We're not sure that's good journalism (three of us say it isn't) but we'll do that because before The Third Estate Sunday Review started up, we were already members of The Common Ills community. We remain members of that community. We'll do our part to save the community.

We want you to do your part too. If you have a comment or entry you want posted at The Common Ills, say so. Don't make C.I. chase you down. Be an adult, be responsible. If you find something online that you want quoted, find your own quote from the piece, copy and paste it along with the link. Don't make C.I. hunt down "this story that's really important about Afghanistan." Ava helped C.I. with entries on Sunday. She couldn't believe that an adult would e-mail in saying that. No reference to the reporter who wrote the article, no reference to the title of the article, no reference to where it appeared, just that it was "really important" and "if you don't highlight it, I don't think it will get any attention."

C.I. wasted time trying to track down that link based on who usually reports on Afghanistan. Finally Ava was able to make the case that if the person cared about the story, the person should have provided a link. We'll go further. If a story speaks to you and you want it highlighted at The Common Ills, pull the part that spoke to you so you're not making someone else do your work for you.

Here's another thing you can do. When the Thursday late night posts went up, Ava read them the next morning and offered to go through some of the mail for C.I. A number of you are e-mailing to complain that the "Gang of 14" wasn't covered even though articles on it appeared in The New York Times. If you missed it, C.I. focused on The Times last week only in terms of human rights and the Plame outing. The Common Ills doesn't exist to note every article in The New York Times. If you feel something should have been noted, instead of complaining to C.I., write something to be quoted at the site. It will go up.

Jess: This is like C.I.'s standing onstage with a guitar and you think you can just scream out requests. Your e-mails are wasting everyone's time. Pick up your own guitar, write why the article spoke to you or what you thought was important about it and your words will go up. Quit hiding behind C.I. for everything you want said.

When the site started, it was a blog. Comments were allowed. We think the easiest way to address the issues raised in the incoming e-mails would be with opening up the comments section. C.I. says that core members would not approve of that. We're inclined to believe that because some of us can remember the days (some of us = Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess and Rebecca) when comments were allowed. There were two guys in particular that ticked members off. And then three members (no one writing this article or Ava) made the point that comments might include foul language and if the site was truly safe for the work environment that comments shouldn't be allowed. So the comment option got shut down. We spoke to Gina and Krista and they're going to put the issue to the membership in a poll in the next round-robin.

If you're opposed to allowing comments, then vote that way. But put your heads together and come up with some other ideas (and e-mail Gina and Krista) because the e-mails are getting out of hand.

We hope C.I. will get some sleep and we'd love for The Common Ills to continue. But it could be shut down. Now we could wait to make our comments until that happened or we can make them now when they could make a difference. C.I.'s been a brave voice but that doesn't excuse members for not using their own voices. If an issues not being addressed and you think it should be, weigh in, not in private but to be shared with the community. Quit making C.I. do the work for you on an issue you care about.

Mike: I discussed a cartoon that Isaiah did for the gina & krista round-robin. I had Isaiah's permission and the permission from Gina and Krista. I didn't realize that it would be a problem to C.I. I also didn't realize that when something goes up here or at Rebecca's site, we all skate by but C.I.'s getting the crap e-mails on it. C.I. very nicely asked me what my hopes were in discussing the cartoon? There was no real reason to and I won't do it again.

Which is another issue. C.I. has a private conversation and we all think, all of us, we can go post about it. We never ask, "Is this on the record?" We don't even confirm the statement. We just go off and post on it. Maybe we heard what we wanted to hear as opposed to what got said? Regardless, C.I. catches the shit on that, not us.

Rebecca: I'm the worst offender in that regard. I did a post on Bob Somerby this week and included comments C.I. was making to me in conversation. When C.I. realized that I'd be blogging about Somerby, it was clam up time. A better friend would have seen that as "Don't write about it." Instead I wrote about it. I don't want anyone to have the impression that this evening's conversation was a balling out. It wasn't. We'd all feel less guilty if it had been. As Mike said, it was questions like "What did you hope to accomplish with that?"

And we've all been guilty of it. (Kat notes that Betty hasn't been guilty of it and that's true.) While the mainstream press is examing the merits of "super secret background," we need to examine the merits of quoting from conversations without permission. Or one of us retells a conversation and then we're quoting from that and attributing it to C.I. Not only is that quoting C.I. without permission, it's also not quoting C.I. But we've done that here before and we're going to stop.

That it happened at a site run by journalism majors is deeply embarrassing to us. We'll take steps to see that it doesn't happen again. We're quoting comments here that are summarized in a way that we all agree were said or that an individual is quoting and noting that they are quoting. We also have the "write what you want" permission of C.I. for this entry (last words before heading off with Ava). In the past we haven't gotten permission of any kind. If C.I.'s not participating in an article, that's worth noting. To note it and then quote from C.I. is bad journalism. Obviously if C.I. wanted to participate and felt the topic was worth addressing, we wouldn't be noting in our note to the readers that C.I. didn't participate.

Kat: In my reviews I note Maggie or Sumner or other friends. I never felt the need to get their permission. We're talking about music in my entries. And no one's every complained to me. Dak-Ho gets upset if I do a review and he's not mentioned. But that's fine since you could read my reviews and think whatever you want because you don't know the people and you can't reach them. You don't have Maggie's e-mail and you can't write her and say, "Hey, organize your damn purse!" or "You drink too much!" I know Betty hasn't quoted from C.I. I'm not sure if I have. If I have I was applying the same approach to C.I. that I do to Maggie or Sumner or anyone else. I once did a joke on Shirley and got her permission to do it before the post went up. She loved the joke. But there are things that we have done, all of us except for Betty, where C.I. took a pass on them but we bring C.I. into it by quoting or misquoting and that was an issue that C.I. raised. It was raised nicely but it was raised.

Jim: "That's your opinion of what I said. That's not my opinion of what I said. Your opinion may be valid and accurate but I didn't participate for a reason." That's a paraphrase as I remember it. Like Rebecca said, this wasn't a bitchfest. This wasn't "How dare you!" This was I'm thinking about stopping The Common Ills. And when we discussed it, these were issues raised.

If the member who e-mailed on Sunday about Afghanistan feels we're being rough on them (and we're going by Ava's report, not by anything C.I. said), we're being rough on ourselves too. We're looking at our own actions. The examination doesn't stop with this entry.

But other members of The Common Ills need to do their own examing too. C.I.'s spending way too mcuh time with tracking things down that have no link or that you want quoted but you don't say what part you want quoted. If you can't pull your own quote, pull a section and let C.I. pull from that while you provide a link..

The abortion issue is taking up a great deal of C.I.'s time but even without it, we'd argue, a person has a right to a life away from the internet. Between work and volunteering on issues, the only time C.I. has left is online. That's enough to sap anyone.

Betty: Since it looks like I'm getting a pass, I'll note that I'm always e-mailing C.I. various drafts of an entry and asking, "Does this make sense?" The entry that went up Friday was first e-mailed to C.I. on Sunday. Then again on Tuesday. Then on Wednesday and Thursday. Various drafts. I understand members sending things in and wanting comments on what they've found because I've been just as guilty with my own writing. But like everyone's said, hearing that the site might go down was like cold water being thrown in our faces. So we're all looking at what we've done and what we could do different.

Dona: Which is the point of asking other members to do the same. And asking them to let C.I. know in a brief, two line e-mail that visitors are not the focus of the community. If they want to contribute, like Attorney X did, that's great. But these people who are writing in wanting an opinion, not at the site but in an e-mail, on something need to be ignored. These visitors are not contributing anything. They don't want to contribute to the community. They just want to have a private conversation. There's not time for that. We created an automated reply when we started our site because that's our position. We had a say. You can have a say in your own e-mail. It does get read by one of the five of us. But we're not here to engage in private conversations. Jim enjoys it when someone e-mails screaming about how lefty we are or whatever. He enjoys writing back to those people. I think it's a waste of time.

Jim: Ty's going to say "Trouble in paradise" if you're not careful.

Dona: Regardless, we had our say, your welcome to have your say. On my day for e-mails, I log on and see seventy, more if Jim had duty the day before, and I dig in and read over each one. A lot of them make me laugh or smile and we get some wonderful e-mails. Some of them point to something we overlooked and those are appreciated as well. But I'm sick and tired of the e-mails asking for last names. We're hoping to go into journalism careers. We obviously won't be working at The New York Times. We're not willing to cut off all potential employment because we've critiqued this organization or that paper. Nor do we want to limit ourselves in our critiques. For that reason, we only went with first names when we started this site. We're staying with first names. If you enjoyed or hated something you saw here, there's nothing coming with the package that forces us to grant you personal information. If we wanted it known, it would be up. Ava reports that people are still asking personal questions of C.I. "Is the cancer in remission?" and other questions. If C.I. wanted that up at The Common Ills, it would be up at the site. One nasty little asshole wrote C.I. that question and didn't get a response so, in the e-mail Ava read, weighed in with, "Fuck you, sorry I bothered to care. Hope you die soon stuck up asshole." What the hell is that?

Okay, we're all a little shocked because Ava only mentioned that to Dona. Dona says C.I. is aware of that e-mail and that many others like it come in. C.I.'s not Adam Nagourney. C.I. hasn't whined to us about this the way Nagourney did to Daniel Okrent. (And we're certainly not naming these e-mailers.) But we think that makes the case for bringing back the comments. If you disagree, you better have something to offer to Gina and Krista that goes beyond "No, I don't want comments brought back at The Common Ills."

Jess: To get back to what we're asking, we're asking that members let C.I. know in a brief e-mail that there's no need to reply to visitors. Even the ones who are griping that they aren't getting replied to. Here's a suggestion I'll toss out. Two e-mail addresses. One for members that is published only in the round-robin and one that's up at the site. C.I. focuses on the members. I don't have tremendous time but I could go through the visitors e-mails and pick out what I think it's important enough to pass on. I'm going to toss out a personal note here. Last week, C.I. told me about Carole King's new album coming out. I shared that Bright Eyes' "When A President Talks To God" just came out on a CD single. C.I. wants that CD single. I asked C.I. this evening if it had been ordered. It hadn't because there hasn't been any time. That's five minutes online tops. C.I. loves that song. C.I. wants that song. If five minutes aren't available to order the single, then there's not enough time to be wading through a lot of nonsense e-mails.

Ty: Members, including all of us, are treating C.I. like this is Survivor and C.I.'s Jeff Probst. And we all go running for approval. Or somebody gets upset because a link is offered from something a member suggests. Some of the e-mails Ava's seen are really not e-mails that needed to be written in the first place. If C.I.'s offering an opinion, it's clear by comments like "In my opinion."
If it says, "___ e-mails to note" then ___ wanted it noted. That may or may not mean C.I. agrees.

If you have better ideas than we do, suggest them. Our heads are still spinning from the announcement. This is what we could think up. If you have additional ideas, you can let Gina and Krista know. (You can also let us know.)

If C.I. decides to end The Common Ills, we'll support the decision. But if knocking off some of the nonsense will make things easier, we're willing to try that. We assume that our readers are willing as well. If The Common Ills goes dark, we'll note that it accomplished a great deal in eight months and that C.I. did great work and inspiring work. Being members, we'd prefer it that it continue and are attempting to figure out ways to make that possible. If you have ideas, you need to weigh in.

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