On turning down work – and losing a writer
Publisher Bob Leahy says “Hopefully those familiar with PositiveLIte.com understand the place in the community we operate from – and get who we are, what we publish, what we don’t.”
Last week, sadly, we lost a regular contributor – one whom we valued - because we rejected a post that he had submitted for publication. The subject of the post? Let’s say it could easily be interpreted to relate to a specific staff issue - a contentious employee firing, in fact - at an AIDS Service Organization in Canada. The individuals described in the piece were given fictitious names but I thought I knew who they were..It was creative non-fiction.
Immediately I saw it on the site– the piece had just been published that morning - I pulled it. Damage control ensued. Bottom line was that the writer felt he had been betrayed and left us.
Why did the piece have to go? It had fallen outside our community standards. We just don’t comment or write about specific issues in specific AIDS Service Organizations, The writer, though. felt we were at fault for not publishing our community standards, which might have cut off this situation from happening. He had a point.
So what are our community standards? Simply put they are not written in any place but are carried in the heads of those who bring PositievLite.com to you daily. They are communicated on an “as needed” basis, in other words if and when posts are submitted that present difficulties. (In this particular situation, the post was briefly published before the breach was noted and the writer was contacted to explain and apologize to.)
PositiveLite.com has been in existence for ten years. It’s run by a small group of people living with HIV – three of us – with no government funding but rather existing entirely on ad revenues we generate. We don’t have the benefit of the kind of infrastructure our sister organizations have. We have no offices, benefits or paid vacations. Instead we work within a voluntary framework we have developed over the years, likely an imperfect framework but the result has won us publishing industry recognition that has eluded our professional counterparts.
We are a community group occupying a unique position. We have partnered with big names like CATIE and the OHTN and are accredited media at all the large conferences. We are still very grass roots but we know our stuff. That position allows us to take positions that don’t always jive with those of our professional colleagues. For example we were supporters of treatment as prevention when most of Canada, outside of B.C. was not. We had a unique view of the risk of transmission for people on HIV treatment that was disputed by many but that eventually became mainstream. We backed the Undetectable =Untransmittable campaign before most had heard of it and a year later continue to argue its merits to the intransigent.
Yet, despite these differences in approach, we feel very much part of the community-based response to HIV in Canada. True, we come out fighting against systemic problems we see, but we typically don’t point fingers at organizations or individuals we differ with. We dissuade our writers from doing so too. Hopefully those who are familiar with our work see that and understand why.
And there’is the rub. In the case I wrote about, there was a lapse – we thought the writer knew something they didn’t. That would normally have been caught and the article not published. Rejecting articles is not uncommon when they are not a good fit with the site. In this case our editorial process failed and then righted itself – and the post was deleted shortly after publication.
Our handling of this item wasn’t perfect. Just like our larger institutions we make mistakes. We won’t make this one again soon, I promise. And we likely won’t publish our community standards, just like our professional colleagues seldom publish theirs. Hopefully those familiar with PositiveLIte.com understand the place in the community we operate from – and get who we are, what we publish, what we don’t.
Thank you for understanding.