Swan Song: Sunsetting My Work on Domestic Violence

joanne swans

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.

 

Mood Management

omoaMy daughter had been looking for a full-time job in New York City.  She recently said to me, “I have mild unemployment depression.”  I told her it was a Quote-of-the-Day. (Happily, she has since accepted a job offer.)

I’ve been going through a bit of negotiating my moods lately too. I’m still carrying guilt and frustration over the demise of Big Mountain Data, while simultaneously facing financial insecurity as I attempt to pivot once again professionally.  I can feel myself slipping into a similar mild depression too.

When I sense I’m starting to get overwhelmed, I take precautions to pro-actively “change my mood.”

Yesterday, I took the afternoon off from client work and job-searching and visited the Orlando Museum of Art.  I’d been wanting to do this since I moved here last year.  The museum was lovely.  Architecturally, it’s more impressive than I expected with a contrastcotton2013 of vaulted, well-lit ceilings  and soft, low-lights for interior exhibits.  There were two featured exhibitions that I particularly loved. The first is this sweet display of sugary goodness: “The Influx Series: Will Cotton.” It instantly elevated my mood by the honestly displayed in how much we all love frivolous confections.  This portrait in particular, “Icing,” was spectacular.

The second exhibit I took a long time with was “Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment.” In a word, wow.  Many of these photos captured a palpable sense of the struggle these photojournalists wanted to reveal.  Most were depressing, yet had uplifting messages embedded within.  The series (11 photographers in all) presented a stark contrast to the silliness of my self-pity and sulking that brought me to the museum. There was something about the fact that these photos were taken by women that touched me.  It was deeply moving.  This exhibit is traveling around the U.S. If you happen to be in line to receive it at your local art museum, I highly recommend it.

After immersing myself in art for the afternoon, I stopped to eat in a funky downtown cafe.  I had my laptop with me, and the cafe was playing an 80s channel on Sirius.  I was inspired to write for a few hours, and spent the rest of the afternoon in a world of make-believe that I was creating in my mind.  Before I knew it, it was almost 6pm.  It was a great day, and I accomplished my goal.  I not only changed my mood, I put my troubles in perspective, and came away with a newfound confidence about my potential to make a contribution to the world.