PGN: Philadelphia Gay News

Ending on breaking news and a broken system

A breaking story happened after the April 12 issue was published. At least it was breaking to us. A man living in the John C. Anderson Apartments had been attacked outside that “urban LGBT-friendly senior 62+ apartment community,” one of only a few of its kind.

Getting the details wasn’t easy. This is what we had:

Keep in mind, the incident happened Friday, the post was put up Saturday and we didn’t know until Monday!

First, I was concerned the pictures could’ve been any two of thousands of people in Philadelphia. Also, it happened in the middle of the area called the Gayborhood (really!) and could be a threat to many, if not most, of the newspaper’s readers.

I called the police and the media people said they don’t give out police reports, and they wanted to email.

I asked:

“1. Can you tell me what people there say happened?

2. Do you know the victims’ genders and ages?

3. What kind of injuries and what was stolen?

4. Better descriptions of who police are looking for (in words) than the pictures show, since they’re kind of vague and could be many people?

5. Could this be considered a hate crime against LGBTQ people?”

The police let me know,

“Our SVU is handling the investigation.”

So that led to another few questions:

“Is there a reason SVU is handling the case? Would the victim’s age be a reason in itself, or would procedure require something more than that?”

The answer was,

“No, it has nothing to do with his age. It was the type of assault.”

Of course, that was not mentioned in the Philly LGBT Police Liaison Committee post!

I also privately tweeted two people I know live in the building and got one response:

So we apparently didn’t have enough to go by on Monday.

Tuesday morning, police sent out this news release:

Notice the police didn’t mention where the victim lived, and the Philly LGBT Police Liaison Committee post didn’t mention a sexual assault.

I felt we had something to jump on right away, putting information from the police and much better pictures on the website. The TV stations that got the release at the same time certainly thought so. I edited the pictures above and made a map on my own. Then, on the way in, I stopped at the Anderson Apartments. Nobody was going in or out, but I took pictures all around.

Unfortunately, in the newsroom, there was some sentiment that readers don’t trust the police and showing the pictures could be inflammatory. I couldn’t believe my ears! There was no reason not to trust the police, the police have come a long way over the past decades and our responsibility was to report the news: that two people were wanted for a very serious crime in the neighborhood where many, if not most, of the newspaper’s readers live or visit. There was no question in my mind between keeping the city — and especially the neighborhood — safe, and potentially probably making people who didn’t like us anyway angry. Public service had to rule!

We did nothing. I didn’t know what to believe other than what the police sent and that the person who tweeted me from the Anderson Apartments confirmed the victim lived there.

Luckily, we got a tip on the victim. He was known. I thought he may have been in the hospital after who-knows-what sort of attack, but I called and emailed him that night. The calls went directly to voicemail and the emails weren’t returned. We figured he needed his rest while recovering.

The next morning, Wednesday, he called me at home. I had questions prepared and we hit it off! I got a lot of information that I wrote up and emailed in. Details are in the story. Then, they took a generic picture of the apartment building and published it online. They never did publish the pictures of the suspects, but I had an exclusive story — even if it was “a day late and a dollar short.”

It still sounds good except Wednesday — deadline day, with the departing editor helping the arriving one — they forgot to put the front page exclusive article in the paper at all! It was only on the web and social media.

Then, Friday morning, I got an email from police saying one of the two suspects was identified and the other was cleared. Of course, the one who was cleared had been at the scene. The other has not been caught. And I don’t know if the article was ever updated.

Onto another subject: You can decide if it’s better.

On April 9, we’d gotten word of a protest at the University of the Arts over a professor considered anti-transgender with feelings against victims of sexual assault. The professor was scheduled to give a public speech that night, but the paper had nobody to cover it.

I was finishing one of several articles due ASAP but definitely by early the next day, which was that infamous Wednesday.

The situation was like having nobody to cover the transgender flag-raising ceremony that turned into a war of words and led to one candidate for City Council at-Large having to drop out.

I had to play catch-up.

I spoke to the protest ringleader who explained their side. It turned out, somebody, believed to be a protester, pulled a fire alarm about 30 minutes into the talk and the whole 17-story high-rise had to be evacuated. The presentation had been taking place on the 17th floor!

I emailed everybody in charge at the university, and then the professor, but with different questions for her — more on her views than speaking for the university. She was extremely nice and wrote back in less than an hour and a half.

I thanked her and the next day, she wrote back,

“I was very impressed with the professionalism of your email last night, and hence I wanted to reply to you at length.”

She even wrote a third time. I don’t know whether that was genuine or to get a better story from her angle, but it doesn’t matter.

I finished the article and sent it in.

Then, Wednesday morning while I was speaking with the assault victim I mentioned earlier, the university’s communications person emailed,

“I apologize, I came in this morning and found my reply to you stuck in my Outbox from yesterday afternoon. To reiterate, here is the University’s statement.”

I forwarded that to the editors in the newsroom so they could finally add a quote from the university while I wrote the article on the assault victim from scratch.

That quote made the paper and that protest article made the front page, and even one of the pictures was inside with the proper courtesy!

Also in the paper was my story on health human connections which ended up being perfect for a local profile of Action Wellness’ Buddy Program. They have volunteers who reach out to people living with various chronic illnesses to provide emotional support, companionship, and socialization. I used information from my original source on five benefits of relationships, but this turned out even better than I could’ve imagined.

Like the previous week’s story on Alli-Beth Shinberg and an earlier one on summer camps accommodating LGBTQ youth, sometimes it takes several weeks for a story to get published.

I did Street Talk again and there was some desperation. My question — “What do you want to know from the candidates for mayor and City Council?” — should’ve been easy for anybody! A person would not have to even know an election was taking place and pretty much have the opportunity to complain about anything in the city!

But nobody seemed to know anything, which proved my point about not liking having to do Street Talk segments.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the William Way LGBT Community Center for letting me in to talk to people who were there talking and reading — and also to the three people who happened to be there and were willing to talk with me.

Luckily, the analytics from Facebook were the most impressive yet! That was probably a combination of the stories and how they were presented on social media. Whichever it was, I’ll take it!

Up next: the end of my run at PGN and a look at responses to my stories.

Click here to return to the PGN, 2019: Reporter, Copy Editor, Social Media Specialist page.

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