A journalistic dilemma: To self-out or not to self-out?

This is a post purely born of insomnia.

Three uncomfortable hours of sleep on this Memorial Day morning and I found myself awake at 4:30 and unable to get my mind and body to agree on whether to stay in bed. The mind won out for now.

So I ran to my wife, Ms. HP Laptop, for a little comfort, and started noodling around on the Interwebs and decided to check in on what was going on in my old haunting grounds of New Haven, Ct. – hence, the New Haven Register’s website.

And I found a “Hoo-boyyyyy …” moment that has to do with my current state. And it raises a journalistic and moralistic dilemma in the process.

*****

Helen Bennett Harvey, one of the longtime news editors, put up a Facebook post Wednesday asking if New Haven’s plan to extend metered parking downtown until midnight was a good idea. I commented in response:

Nickel-and-diming people is never a good thing. It just makes you look cheap. And the sight of meter maids swarming around just looking for their next victim and plastering cars with tickets is enough to make someone go elsewhere to eat or do business. Remember that one of the reasons downtown bounced back economically in the ’90s was because the city eased up on the silly parking laws and invited, enticed people to come back. This tells them to go away again. And with less discretionary money, you can bet that’s what they’ll do.

I experienced this when I was home for Christmas, and living on a low budget. I love to do my writing from coffee shops, but now, with the meters at $1.50 an hour — and the meter maids swarming around on Saturdays as well — there were a couple times when I said “screw it” and, instead of my favorite Willoughby’s, drove out to the Orange Starbucks instead. No meters, no harassment from the city. Multiply my story by a few hundred — see how much of that million and a half you recoup by driving people away.

Well, one of the top news stories this morning was the city’s parking meter plan, which the parking authority/police commission plans to rubber-stamp in July. And I absentmindedly skimmed through the story in my semi-conscious state – humhmmblahblahblah – until I got to what was then the bottom of the comments, eighth one down – and a post from a reader named Dot Khan:

Another example of top notch reporting if the Register’s former music columnist, Fran Fried, is referred to as a SHE.

Hooboyyyyyyy … I’m awake now, if barely.

Well, for one, I now know why Abbe Smith, the reporter on the story, who I really don’t know (I met her briefly when I was home this last time), sent me a Facebook friend invite.

For another, I feel badly putting the Register on the spot like that. If you’re a newspaper, and you refer to a person who’s not a public figure but whom you know has transitioned, where do you draw the line at outing the person? How do you explain this one to your readership? And in my case, I was a quasi-public figure who had worked there for a long time. Knowing what Dot knew about me, Dot (I’m sure that’s some sort of nom de Web) was correct. And in Dot’s eyes, the Register, already much maligned in an environment where the chronically overstretched staff does way too much with too few resources, screwed up again.

So … what to do? How do I let the Register off the hook gently on this one? Do I chime in and add a comment gently correcting Dot – and, in turn, deflect the attention from the real issue at hand?

And if I do respond to Dot – well, let’s say there are a kazillion meatheads who post dozens of kazillions of comments on the paper’s stories regularly, seemingly unmoderated much of the time. It doesn’t take much to turn a Register story or reader comment into Flameboard Central. And what sort of can of Sterno am I opening if I post a “Uhhhh, excuse me, Dot …” comment?

I’m not worried about what the cowardly flamers say as they hide behind their aliases and say stupid shit. After all, if they don’t even have the courage of conviction to stand behind their real names on a post – except perhaps in cases where their lives or livelihoods would be at risk, and it’s not the case a lot of times with the Register posts – they’re not worth the time. And what are they gonna do – hop on a plane and fly all the way to Fresno just to attack me? But again, in this case, If I posted a correction, it would draw the spotlight away from a serious and infuriating matter facing the city.

Or do I just do nothing? After all, it’s one of the multitudes of stories that will wash over and grow moss once the news cycle runs out.

But my inaction is action, and my passive action puts my ex-paper and ex-colleagues, many of whom are still friends, in a bad light. And though I don’t know Abbe, it makes her look dumb, too, and for no good reason, no fault of hers. Dot and other readers are right – my male mug peeked out from my music column on Page 2 of the Weekend section for 11 ½ years, and in their mind’s eye, not knowing about my life the last 3 ½ years, I’m a he. But Abbe’s even more right – I’m legally a she now, with the name/photo/gender change on my California license.

Or should I write an op-ed piece for the Register? I had been toying with doing one as Connecticut’s legislature was holding hearings this spring on an anti-trans discrimination bill. (The bill is slated for vote soon in the Senate, and if it passes, Gov. Dan Malloy is set to sign it.) After all, I’m out publicly at home as well as in California – my family and friends all know; I rented a car over the holidays as my female self; and I came out on the air on my last fill-in radio show at WPKN in January. So I’m not hiding anything.

But if I do write something, would it be for a positive effect or would it be simply a “Look at me! Look at me!” moment? And at this point, I’m so beyond “Look at me!” Well, at least until I can finish my book.

So, what to do? Well for starters, I’ve been awake an hour and a half; I think I’m wound down enough now to go get back to bed. Without getting all Meat Loaf on you, let me sleep on it …

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11 Responses to “A journalistic dilemma: To self-out or not to self-out?”

  1. Alexis Says:

    I saw that article and that post too. I wondered what you thought about it. Seems like a lot of the posters on that site make ill-informed, frequently racist and homophobic commentary on most of the articles written. Dot Kahn is one of the many who apparently hate the Register but can’t stop reading it in the hopes that they can catch a mistake and mock it.

  2. Karen Olson Says:

    I don’t think I’d bother with responding to a comment. But I do like the idea of an op-ed tied in with the legislative action on the bill. I think tying an op-ed piece to that is incredibly timely, and then there wouldn’t be any more questions with the Register’s readers.

  3. Karen Olson Says:

    Oh, and PS…

    I think the parking meter thing is so incredibly stupid and short sighted. I would definitely question going downtown for dinner if I have to keep feeding a meter. And I can imagine anyone who wants to go into the city to enjoy the nightlife will definitely rethink that if they have to have a pile of quarters on hand and keep track of the time. I can see that this is going to drive a lot of people away.

    • franoramaworld Says:

      Yeah, Karen — that’s some serious pennywise, pound-foolish thinking on the part of New Haven. The people who run the city forget that back in the early ’90s, their hostile parking laws and the specter of tow trucks — along with the perceived crime problem (which wasn’t nearly as bad as it was perceived) — were like putting out a huge welcome mat that said GO AWAY. And once they came to their senses and started enticing people to come and stay, they started coming. And staying.

      And now they’re coming full-circle — trying to raise revenue by raising chump taxes that piss people off, and in the worst economic situation in 80 years, and in the wake of the stories about New Haven being the country’s fourth-dangerous city. And just before the really heavy work begins on the Q Bridge and the 91-95-34 interchange. GO AWAY GO AWAY GO AWAY GO AWAY.

      All it takes is one of these tickets — one of these highly negative actions — to drive someone out of your city or your downtown for years, pretty much for good, unless it’s absolutely necessary. And in turn, it negates all those years and wastes those thousands of dollars spent on PR and marketing campaigns.

      Also, how many times have you come downtown on the night of an event at the Shubert and found the streets clogged with cars desperately trying to cram into the parking garage, often to capacity? In my not-long-ago day, leaving my car on the street two or three or four blocks away was the more feasible idea — not just economically, but in terms of being able to make it to the Shubert on time.

      Anyway, if I’m a restaurateur in the suburbs, I’m already ramping up my advertising. (“Why go downtown when you can …”) If I own a restaurant or a bar or a shop downtown, I’m scared.

      Again, see how much of that million-and-a-half you recoup from the people you’ve driven away.

  4. mattderienzo Says:

    Fran, so happy you wrote that piece for the Register. It was so well done, and needed to be written by someone, especially in the context of that bill and some of the crap that has been put out there by the opposition. Best of luck on your job search and let me know if there is anything I can do to help you network in that regard.

  5. Paula Turco Says:

    Hey Fran,
    Haven’t seen you since your parents Anniversary party. I saw your video and I have to say you look a lot more comfortable in your skin. Wowww! I am not as eloquent (nor can I spell) but I think you know what I mean. I get to hear about you cuz hubby still hangs with bro & family. I am happy for you, it’s nice when something turns out right in life even it it takes time to appear. I tried to comment on the article but alas I am a 1970’s girl in a 2000 world. That stuff just plum evades me. So stay well & be happy. Hope to see you next time around. P.S. The first time I did this I messed up. Hope you don’t get it twice. Haha, Paula

  6. David Steinberg Says:

    Hi Fran. Saw the story about you on Romenesko and then discovered your blog. Look forward to reading the continuation of the story. I’m president of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association and a copy desk chief at the SF Chronicle, so next time you’re in the city give a holler. NLGJA can be a good resource for LGBT journalists, especially when it comes to networking and locating that next job. If there’s anything we can do to help, give a holler.
    -d.

  7. Ina Fried Says:

    Here’s to you from another transgender journalist named Fried. (mobilized.allthingsd.com)

  8. Dru Says:

    Hey Fran! I’m a longtime journo, just saw the item on Romenesko. Just wanted to say hi and YOU ROCK. Good for you for following your heart. I vote for your writing a piece for the paper. Write it for all the folks like you who wish they could, but can’t due to their own circumstances or simply because, well, they can’t write worth a damn. Glad I found your blog. If you’re ever in DC drop a line and I’ll buy you a drink. Hang in there sweetie!

  9. Jim Says:

    Fran, Hiya. I write about the media for the LA Times. I have a question for you about your journalistic endeavors. Can you give me a shout: james.rainey@latimes.com

    Jim

  10. Follow-up: A self-outing « Franorama World Says:

    […] Franorama World The wild, woolly world of someone who's in between two worlds. Strap in — it's some ride … « A journalistic dilemma: To self-out or not to self-out? […]

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