Conflicts of Interest By Baynard Woods

Conflicts of Interest: Creating remarkable journalism

Conflicts of Interest: On The Sun's portraits of July's homicide victims, and Baltimore's media landscape

We report on things when we fail to understand, because we believe that, through reporting, we might come to some understanding. The murders over the last few months have been baffling to everyone. Of course, it is not without precedent either here or elsewhere. For whatever reason, sometimes people kill each other.

There is no sense in any of these killings, but, perhaps together, they might mean something. Justin Fenton, along with Mayah Collins and Christina Jedra, created a remarkable piece of journalism. I use that awkward phrase "created . . . journalism," because it isn't exactly a story, it is 45 stories that come together to be something different, and maybe more, than a story. It is like our own Murder Ink, created by Anna Ditkoff in frustration during another crime spike, but made deeper through reporting.

It is also important that Fenton et al start the story by saying, "July saw 45 homicides across Baltimore, a toll that matched the deadliest month in the city's modern history and came amid a violent crime surge that has stretched the entire summer."

Note that they didn't start by calling it a "post-Freddie Gray" crime surge, or post-riot or post-uprising or whatever. All of the formulations that use "post" make it sound like there is a causal relationship and we don't know that. But goddamn, I was happy that they ran that story—and proud to be up against Fenton in our Best of Baltimore Readers Poll for Best Journalist. The polls are closed now, but I hope you voted for him (I hope you voted for me for Best Columnist and Best Troublemaker, however).

In general, things in the media landscape have been really interesting in town—with a features editor and two reporter positions recently open at The Sun and a reporter and editor-in-chief position open here, it feels like the fucking '80s or something. Five full-time jobs? And fucking Baltimore Style—damn! They've always sneaked in really great stuff—I recall a pretty wonky but really well-written feature about Baltimore as the birthplace of American psychoanalysis—but Jessica Bizik seemed to start out really weakly as editor, with weepy editor's notes at the beginning of every issue. Then the "women on weed" cover came. The story itself was a bit weak—you may be surprised to learn that there are women who get high too?—but they put it on the goddamn cover and Wegmans pulled their support of the mag over it and Baltimore Style took their hits. And then they came back with the recent issue, which kicks fucking ass. On the cover, the three principles behind Le Mondo, Carly J. Bales, Evan Moritz, and Ric Royer, pose in the Psychic Annex, the Park Avenue building where I have a studio and Royer's and Mortiz's individual projects—Psychic Readings and the Annex Theater—will perform. I'm psyched to have a space there. Royer, perfectly, is looking off, distracted, in another direction. That Dylanesque disdain for the niceties of promotion makes it a real, interesting picture.

The space is in the Bromo Tower Arts and Entertainment District and Bret McCabe, erstwhile longtime CP music and arts editor, wrote a pretty spectacular story about the economics—and other things—of arts districts, which includes Le Mondo. But the inside art—especially the picture of Station North Arts and Entertainment District's Executive Director Ben Stone and Priya Bhayana, director of the Bromo Arts District, where they're "holding" graffiti balloons and goofily waving at each other like they are in a poster for a rom com—sucks. Come on art director, what the hell are you thinking? I never would have guessed that these terrible photos were produced by Justin Tsucalas, the same photographer who did the stunning portraits of transgender people elsewhere in the issue. They were accompanied by moving first-person mini-profiles taken from interviews with Bizik. Reading these beautiful moments of self-expression from individuals who have overcome a wide variety of difficulties and experienced a wide range of joys makes The Sun's portraits of everyone murdered last month even more devastating. Being dead is when there is no more first person.

When I wonder how Style can manage so many stories, I look not only at all of the ads but also at the sponsored content or advertorials such as "Really Trendy Real Estate" or "Brews & Booze of Baltimore," both by Justin Katz. Such "features" are the reason journalists transition to PR as easily as politicians to K Street. It's bullshit. But what do I care, it is bullshit that I won't read and it enables them to print a bunch of shit I will read, I guess, right? I mean, it's just another form of advertising? As long as your real writers never write that stuff and it is someone who only does that?

These questions were floating around the AAN conference a couple months ago, where all the alts came together to talk about such shit, mainly, how to fucking survive. But as I said when I last wrote about the conference, the real threat, I think, to alts was evident in the fact that in a conference with 113 papers, a panel on police and race was populated solely with white folks (including me).

But, I got some push back on that sentiment. My friend Wayne—everyone calls him Mr. Wayne—told me that I was wrong. He is over 60 and is black. Although he thinks black is a nonsense category. To him, he is African. I am European. And, he says, Africans don't need the Europeans to hold the doors to journalism open for them.

And he's right. A lot of the black writers in Baltimore I tried to court are too big for us (take Stacia L. Brown—she has been writing regularly for the New Republic, The Washington Post, and elsewhere and should receive every bit as much praise as her more-celebrated male peers). That Brown and D. Watkins and Lawrence Burney became more widely known to the world during the uprising is one of the great things that happened.

But, as I told Wayne, I was not arguing that Africans need the paper to open opportunity to help them. I was arguing, instead, that the paper, and others like it, needed African perspectives—not just as columnists, but in decision-making positions—if it wants to survive.

And finally, speaking of surviving, Urbanite magazine, which ended its run in 2012 (and for which me and many CP staffers and contributors worked), is coming back for a special uprising issue called "Truth, Reconciliation, and Baltimore." At first, despite my love for the mag, I was a bit suspicious, because it just seems sometimes like everybody wants to jump on the Baltimore Uprising bandwagon. But then when I thought about Urbanite's earnest intellectualism and serious approach, I began to deeply miss having its voice in the city and can't wait to see what it does with its November issue, which will be edited by erstwhile CP contributor Lionel Foster.

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