Swan Song: Sunsetting My Work on Domestic Violence

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Photo: Joanne Rosanio, 2017. Seaside Park, NJ

I admit, at first, it began as a vanity project. I was high off the success of my two prior Internet-based startups and felt invincible.  I had a lot of friends.  I felt empowered that I could do this.  I brought a whole lot of arrogance and conceit to the fight.

Then, nearly as soon as I began, I got knocked off my my pedestal.  I had to learn how to really work… how to really do research, how to make a real relationship, how to inspire someone to work for me for free with no guarantee of any return at all.  I had to learn how to persuade people very different from me that I could be trusted and that I was sincere.  I had to learn how to accept rejection, in the face of all logical evidence to the contrary that what I was selling was highly effective and worthy of investment.

I was told, “YOU HAVE NO STANDING” to have conversations in this field.  In other words, GO AWAY.

Nevertheless, I persisted.  But maybe, (h/t Stevie Wonder), like I fool I went and stayed too long––  I actually made progress against my goals.  I believe what I’ve set in motion will pay substantial dividends in the future.  I’ve said it hundreds of times: The Answers are in the Data.  The problem in domestic violence is the offender, and we can identify, track, predict, and control their behavior with proper data analysis and monitoring.  I’ve even filed a provisional patent for a software tool that will save lives if implemented properly.

Yet, after three years, I’m quitting.  Maybe quitting while I’m ahead, but quitting nonetheless.  The reason is personal, not business.  You see working on domestic violence brings me to the front lines of my own personal horror show every damned day.  I simply cannot continue to work on this for health reasons.  Let’s call it a graceful exit.

I will leave behind the seeds of an important beginning conversation about the vast potential of data, and the powerful transformational story told by High Point, NC in our film.  We should have a final cut soon.  I wholly underestimated the toll this work would take on my mental health.  At my peril.

Over time,  I’m contemplating writing a short ebook about my experiences working in this field featuring what I learned–– the challenges and opportunities as I see it–– but there I go being thought-leadery again.  I may also consider doing some public speaking aligned to the film, but we’ll see.

For now, I’m going back to tech consulting, and continuing with my R&R time in the comfort of the Florida winter chillzone.

Namaste.  And a sincere thanks to everyone who helped Big Mountain Data and our ambitious goals.

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Update 4/15/18:  I was asked to speak at a National conference in the fall and looks like the software tool is moving forward in the hands of some industry experts who can take it to the next level.  So, not exactly gone for good.  Plus, I have a meeting tomorrow with a  local data scientist who’s interested in our work.  There is that UPenn machine learning case study I’ve been interested to replicate on the assessed risk of DV bond hearings… 

 

Truth and Consequences

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Before we were engulfed in the digital age, reporters depended mostly on human to human interactions to get the news. As a professional writer, you had to cultivate sources on the phone and in person.  You needed to be an expert listener and build trust with your sources.  It was a careful balance (as it is today) to get the story while protecting your source at the same time. Once you had the story, you had to cajole and horse trade to get a few sources to confirm the story on the record before you’d consider writing your piece.

I read somewhere recently that journalism is one of the few respected fields where you don’t need credentials to be really good.  It never occurred to me that this is true, although my experience certainly bears this out.  I’ve even heard it described more of a trade than a profession.

In the 90s, I was a columnist and a newsletter editor.  I penned an insidery trade publication that had a lot of clout in my corner of the tech market.  In those days, the trade and business media would rely on niche market newsletter editors to get the inside scoop on what was happening in the field.

One week, I had just gotten off the phone with a couple of sources who were spilling details about a big deal (measured in hundreds of millions) going on behind the scenes in Australia.  They happened to mention one of their company’s leading executives was flying home at that very moment after personally pitching the customer’s executive team.  These guys weren’t part of the leadership team, but they were solid sources. I could always trust them to be reliable, and them me. I checked in with them from time to time to confirm something I was hearing on the whisper circuit.  I had cultivated sources at many levels within the company I was covering by that time and getting confirmations was fairly easy when something big was going down.

The next day, I got a call from the corporate executive they had mentioned.  He wanted to talk to me about something unrelated, but mentioned that he was thinking of me the day before.  When I told him I was flattered he was thinking of me in his corporate jet half-way around the world, he was a little unsettled.  In fact, he really was shocked that I knew he had been flying back from Australia.

Things changed for me after that day.  The executives at the company became a little fearful of the deep sources I had inside the company.  A friend who was involved with someone doing PR for the corporation told him, “When Susan calls Dallas, butts pucker.”

That was a long time ago, and I’m not writing this to show off.  I want to use this example to explain something critical to getting to the truth of a matter.  In short it’s this:  in order for people to tell you the truth, they have to trust you. Earning someone’s trust is an iterative, slow process.  As a writer, you have to repeatedly demonstrate your sincere interest in learning the truth.  You have to carefully transcribe what a source told you into prose that accurately reflects what he or she said. And you have to wrap their testimony in accurate context – every time. No mistakes.  And above all, you can’t have an agenda in seeking out the truth.

Decent people want to tell you the truth.  There’s a powerful tool always working for a good reporter which is the human conscience.  Not surprisingly, unscrupulous people generally want to lie, confuse, and mislead you.

Where am I going with this?

Today’s political climate is filled with paranoia, distrust, and fear. Alternative news sources that are proliferating propaganda and skewed reports are reaching new audiences hungry to trust them as credible outlets. More importantly, serious news outlets being cast as dishonest and inaccurate are struggling adjusting to new business models.

“The media” – the highest profile, most revered publishers and broadcasters in the world – are under siege from factions (foreign and domestic) that benefit from their delegitimization.

While all this is true, I’m feeling optimistic that truth will ultimately prevail over media manipulation and “fake news.” In my experience, decent people operate regularly within a clear set of moral boundaries that define them.  These individuals will always seek reputable writers whom they trust implicitly to tell their truth.

While the media landscape is changing, what I know for certain is decent people share a common characteristic that transcends brands, pedigree, titles, or platforms.  It even transcends politics, race, ethnicity, and gender.

That common characteristic is integrity.

Good writers can sense it instinctively. Bad writers don’t need it. Networks of outlets and audiences strung together with alternative, fake stories will dissolve over time because they have no foundation. There will be too many disappointments and promises broken. A strong network based on mutual respect, trust, and honesty has truth as its bedrock. It grows only stronger and is reinforced with every interaction. At some point, it becomes impenetrable.

So, have faith in humanity as this new chapter in our history is written.  We’re going to survive this era by trusting ethical and moral principles that have stood the test of time.

 

Hug a journalist today; he/she’s no blog-ebrity.

 

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RichardatDell, posited a few things today in general about blogging. One of which was the difference between bloggers and journalists.

Richard’s post inspired Chris Brogan to ask tonight on Twitter, “Do you make much of the difference between bloggers and journalists? http://tinyurl.com/2dv5xw” This is an area I feel particularly passionate about and felt compelled to blog about tonight.

You see, I matured professionally surrounded by ace journalists in the 90s. My journalist “friends” were all reporters at the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Businessweek, Newsweek, USAToday, etc. All mainstream print media. For the longest time, I subscribed to the Columbia Journalism Review. Because I was a writer myself, I had a healthy respect for the tenets of journalism, although I had never been fortunate enough to have been schooled properly in journalism fundamentals.

Technically, I started blogging in 1999 by posting daily tidbits and scoops on the tech sector I was tracking. My private access “blog” was widely read by financial analysts, execs, and industry insiders. I remember having a long lunch conversation with a veteran New York Times reporter and friend about how the Internet was going to turn his world upside down. We had a great chat that day; I will never forget it. I told him he couldn’t beat me on “fast” or “free.” But, the 1.0 Internet was an arrogant era; I would have a much different conversation with him today.

A few months ago I was IM-chatting with my friend Anne Zelenka about this blogger-journalist conundrum. Ironically, I had mentioned to her that Jeff Jarvis, the blogger, is self-described as an “American journalist” on Wikipedia, but even Richard would agree (I hope) that once a journalist becomes part of a story, it sort of invalidates their objectivity and credibility as Jarvis did with the Dell Hell spectacle. So, Jarvis is a blogger, but not a journalist, IMO. As we were chatting, Anne told me she had published a scoop for GigaOm on the Teqlo demise, but felt sad all day when one of the founders commented on the story.

Reporting the news (with its instantaneous results) is changing our worldview overnight, but I firmly believe we need both bloggers and journalists to keep us informed. In short, the difference between bloggers and journalists is, well, vanity as far as I can see. You won’t find many journalists checking their stats on tweeterboard or racking up friends on Facebook. They’re comfortable to be invisible, maybe a little surly. But mon Dieu! We need them more now than we ever have. Who is going to get to the truth of the greatest issues of our day, stripped of ego, self-aggrandizement and promotion?