Retraction! (sort of)
11/12/14: Thanks in part to you, my diligent readers, Ms. Erin Hennessey, News Director at KPLU, got back to me on KPLU’s Skyway Nickelsville piece (see below). She also had a couple of clarifications for me:
1) The author of the KPLU piece, Ms. Monica Spain, is not, in fact, an unpaid intern. She’s a freelance writer and was therefore presumably paid for the story.
2) The two e-mails I sent to the station trying to make contact were not answered because they had gone into the SPAM folder, so nobody saw them. In other words: KPLU was not ignoring me.
Ms. Hennessey assured me that KPLU understands the depth and complexity of the Nickelsville story. She explained that that story can’t be told in a single article (don’t I know it!) but told me that KPLU has been covering the broader story over time and will continue to do so. I thanked her and assured her that I’d do some analysis on their historical coverage to see if the overall trend is one of thorough and comprehensive reportage or not. Either way, I’ll report my findings.
Ms. Hennessey expressed an interest in working with me as a source. So we’ll see how that works out. In the meantime, I’ve got to layoff the interns. Or lay on them.
Or something . . .
I still don’t have Ms. Spain’s contact info, by the way. If anyone can dig that up for me, I’d appreciate it.
Published on November 11, 2013
How many times have we seen this happen?
How many times have we seen the local media cover Nickelsville like it was a sweet, furry little kitten that needed adopting? How many times have we seen the media ignore the complicated –and sometimes ugly – truth about Nickelsville by making the whole story about Those Poor Homeless People?
Look at the story this so-called alternative news station ran the other day. It was written by someone named Monica Spain, who I’m guessing is an unpaid intern, just out of journalism school:
OK, the first thing wrong with this piece is . . . well . . . everything.
It conveys almost no information about Nickelsville or its history. And such information as it does convey can be summed up in two or three info-crumbs:
- Felicia Leathley is a pregnant 19-year-old who’s left her family and now lives at Nickelsville’s new Skyway squat. A guy named Andy lives there, too.
- Nickelsville’s not a nice place to live. There’s garbage, there’s no water, and you have to do chores.
- Nickelsville needs donations (hint, hint). They still owe $9000 to somebody for . . . something.
The rest is your basic adopt-a-kitten stuff: Felicia doesn’t care if there’s trash at Nickelsville, because Nickelsville is her new fambly.
Well, isn’t that just puh-WEH-shus!
* * * * *
OK. So winter is coming and Nickelsville is the kitten of the month. What else is there to tell?
Well . . . we could start off with the fact that Nickelsville is run by Scott Morrow, boss of SHARE, and that SHARE is supposed to be under some kind of criminal investigation. At least, that’s what David Takami of the Human Services Department tells me.
Or . . . we could talk about how Nickelsville left a godawful mess when they finally bugged out of Highland Park two months ago. [See this.] That cost the City of Seattle tens of thousands of dollars to clean up; a total waste of taxpayer money.
Or . . . we could talk about how Nickelsville broke several laws when they moved into Skyway. They moved in with no permit, for example, and they moved onto a property that’s three years behind on on property taxes, in violation of RCW 4.68.020. They also didn’t do any of the required community notification first. Minor details.
But that this is a human interest story! you scream. It’s a story about poor homeless people. It’s not about who’s running Nickelsville!
OK well . . . that’s pretty lame . . . because it’s not like we don’t already have a surplus of warm fuzzy stories about the POOR SOULS at NICKELSVILLE. Hell, I’ve written a few of those myself. But let’s suppose this angle about Ms. Leathley is still somehow the most relevant possible one. Well guess what: They still screwed it up, because there are important details missing from that story as well. For example . . . what about the welfare of Felicia’s soon-to-be-born child? Didn’t KPLU think readers might be concerned about that?
Photo taken at Nickelsville by David Preston
It seems that someone at camp has offered to take Felicia for a prenatal check-up. To which I say: Big. Fucking. Deal. Offering to drive a “homeless” and pregnant girl for a check-up is the absolute least we would expect of another human being. What I want to know is this: How do we suppose this woman-child, who is obviously not good in the life skills department, is going to care for a baby in a smokey, garbage-infested homeless camp? Did it ever occur to the KPLU writer to inquire of Ms. Leathley about that? Or to inquire of anyone else? Like maybe, her parents or some other family member?
Which reminds me . . . don’t you think it’s odd that there’s nothing solid in this story about why Felicia left her home in the first place, and how she ended up in this filthy camp? I’ll bet you dollars to donuts it has something to do with that pregnancy of hers. Which in turn probably has something to do with Felicia’s attitude to toward house rules.
Did KPLU make any attempt to contact Felicia’s family or guardian to get their side of the story? No. Of course not. And yet, it seems like it would have been the only fair thing to do, especially since Felicia is accusing her family – who live nearby and have probably read the KPLU story – of not providing her with a secure, safe, or comfortable (!) home. I’m sure every parent of a pregnant runaway would just love to read something like this about their kid on the Internet:
Pregnant and estranged from her family, [insert your daughter’s name here] says she has found something at Nickelsville: “security, safety, comfort.”
“They’re my family. They’re my brothers, my sisters. They’re my uncles my aunts, my mom, my dad—the ones I never had,” Leathley said.
–Yeah, right. That’s just what I’d say, too, if I were a nineteen-year-old girl and angry at my parents for, say, making me do chores, or not letting my boyfriend sleep over. We all remember what it was like being teenagers, don’t we? Some of us even remember what it was like raising a rebellious teenage girl. I sure as hell do!
Here’s something else Ms. Spain didn’t tell you about our young heroine, Felicia: She has a very recent arrest and conviction, for “Theft 3-dv.” (I’m assuming that’s third degree theft and domestic violence.) According to the records, she pleaded guilty to the charge, and a no-contact order was also entered against her.
Look it up if you want. Take ya maybe five minutes. I’m sure Ms. Spain knew about all that when she wrote the story. Or if didn’t . . . she should have.
For the record, I don’t think it’s cool busting on people like this, like I just did. And frankly, I hate to do it. But you know what’s even not cooler? It’s even not cooler running these horseshit adopt-a-kitten stories about a human dumping ground like Nickelsville, because when you do that, it encourages more pregnant girls, girls like Felicia Leathley, to go there, putting themselves and their babies at risk.
Fuck’s sake, Ms. Spain. There’s no water there. There’s garbage piling up in the corner. There’s rats! And when the weather is warm, you can smell the shit from people taking dumps in the woods.
Trash piles up at Nickelsville Skyway. (Nice place to have a baby.)
And that’s not even the worst of it. There are meth addicts there, people with their teeth rotting out from it. There are hard-core (and I mean hard-core) head cases! And you think that’s cute and cuddly? You want people to donate money for that? Shame on you!
I don’t care how many times I have to say this: a homeless camp is NOT an acceptable place for children or pregnant women under any circumstances, and any mother or would-be mother who insists that it is acceptable should be deprived of her parental rights until such time as she can be brought to her senses. It’s called tough love: Put the kid in foster care for the duration. She can get it back when she demonstrates the minimum life skills and common sense needed to raise a child.
That law is already on the books; it just takes the willpower to enforce it and the basic insight to see that this is what needs to be done. But there’s the rub.
See, under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t be hard to convince someone not to bring a child into a place like Nickelsville, but when you have government officials tolerating this behavior, and when you have respected news organizations like KPLU publicizing it and giving it their blessing, you’re sending a message to all the would-be Felicia Leathleys out there. And the message is: Yes. This is OK. It’s OK for you to be here as a pregnant girl or young mother. It’s OK to raise your kids in a place like this. This is a safe place for you, because you’re with family now.
When this story came out almost two weeks ago, I tried to contact Ms. Spain about it, but there’s no contact information for her on the site. (Guess she’s too new to be trusted with her own e-mail at the station.) Anyway: There’s no Monica Spain at that address. So then I tried to contact the news director at KPLU, Ms. Jennifer Strachan, so I could give her and Ms. Spain some background on Nickelsville, because obviously KPLU has some gaps in their knowledge.
So I e-mailed Ms. Strachan again a few days later. (Final notice.)
–Still no answer.
So then I thought, well hell . . . if KPLU’s not interested in the details on Nickelsville (or Felicia Leathley) then I guess I’ll have to provide those details myself, because that’s what truly independent news providers do. They give you the details the other guys don’t.
So that’s what I’m doing now. Eating KPLU’s lunch . . . and teaching an intern a very valuable lesson in the bargain.
If you’d like to contact Ms. Strachan yourself and tell her what a bang-up job they’re not doing, her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’d like to contact Ms. Strachan’s boss at the station, Mr. Erik Nycklemoe, he’s at email@example.com
The main phone numbers there are: 800-677-5758 (Seattle) and 253-535-7758 (Tacoma.)
If you can get anybody important on the line, maybe you could ask them what they’ve been doing with all that money people have been donating to KPLU’s pledge drives over the years, thinking that they were financing an “alternative” to the mainstream, commercial media.
Or if all that’s too confrontational for you, why don’t you just e-mail them a link to this story? Copy and paste this text: http://tinyurl.com/kplu-pay-your-interns
Show ’em what real journalism looks like.
* * * * *
My pal Domenic Feeney (who knows his Nixvilles) has a theory about why nobody does anything about kids at Nickelsville. His theory is that Nickelsville needs to have some kiddies around at all times, so they can keep the donations coming in.
Here’s what he opined in a post:
I can give you some info on the families that are continually turning up there. They are mostly not from Seattle. Nixsville is the new dumping ground for all the social service agencies in towns and cities around King County. Anytime they have some long-term total fuck-ups with a family in their own catchment area, they are told when eviction time rolls around that it is the only place to go and that Seattle Social Services will come to them and start taking care of them. And they do. One thing they will always do call at Nixsville is to call Social Services when a family turns up. More publicity, more pictures of innocent kids = more donations. [Meanwhile, it’s] one more troublesome group of people off the good god-fearing town’s budget. Sounds like win-win, unless you are a taxpayer in Seattle.
Wowser! Can you believe how cynical some people are?