Walking on the Ledge
How I Killed Camelot
Five years ago today The Campus Ledger published my story “Was it a Complaint?”
After posting my recorded log describing the day of Carlsen’s interview, I wanted to see what my log had recorded for the day the story was published.
I remember it as a very exhausting day. Kevin Mimms [a longtime Ledger reporter and editor] and I stayed up all night in The Ledger office. We wanted to be on hand if, for some reason, the printer had problems and needed us to send it again to the FTP server. I was also concerned that I might get a call from the printer saying JCCC ordered them to cancel the print.
For some reason I didn’t write much about that day but rather recount a few events from the previous night as I prepared the story. I literally wrote it at the last moment. I didn’t want to do that way but once I had my interview with Carlsen, the story was like a river. It took everything I had just keep up with the moment-by-moment changes and to try to figure out if the changes affected the initial story I was trying to tell.
I remember when the paper was finally delivered, I loaded up a flatbed cart so I fill The Ledger bins around campus. As soon as I wheeled the cart out of the COM elevator, people started grabbing it. The papers were still bound with string — but that didnt matter. People grabbed it even if it meant that they’d get a torn copy. It was exciting and scary. I remember my eyes getting watery as I cut the string ties. I stood back and watched people take handfuls of the paper and I cried. I knew they were taking a copies for those employees who, for whatever reason, were no longer at JCCC.
I admit, I took special joy in filling the bin outside the president’s office near the cement staircase. I filled that particular bin probably five or six times that day.
My account of that day also includes the moment I met Benjamin Hodge for the first time.
You can read the story in the Billington Library’s Campus Ledger archives.
Again, this edited version is not an attempt to reframe history but rather an attempt to continue honoring a promise to my sources.
April 13, 2006
Well so much has happened in the past two days. [I note that I called the Student Press Law Center. I was having last moment jitters about publishing the story. I know I did everything possible to avoid libel and slander but got a little panicked and wanted to call for some legal advice. I called my sources to tell them that the story was almost finished and would be published the next day. I wanted them to be prepared.]
I sent an e-mail earlier this week to [a source]. [The source] unofficially and off the record, pointed me in a few directions. [I called the PR guru the college hired.] I wrestled with David Westbrook, the PR guy the college’s lawyers invited into their emergency meetings. He tried to be slippery but I nailed him on a few points. I didn’t use them because it wasn’t really important to the story. I just needed to wrestle and he was willing to spar. Everyone in the newsroom stopped and listened to me go back and forth with him. I’m happy with the articles but I wish I had more time to comb through my documentation for quotes to use from [two particular sources]. I guess I can still use them in the next installment or for my column. [I didn’t use those sources at all. I was afraid JCCC would retaliate against them.]
I know there are some weak spots in each story, just as there are in almost any story. However given the enormity of the topic, I wish the college had a lawyer I could trust to help me with libel and slander.
7 p.m. – [My sources have read my two stories — yes, there were two stories — and they loved them. A few of the sources call and we end up crying. I thank them profusely for trusting me.]
[My log includes a cut and pasted email I sent to trusted friends who I kept updated on the investigation. The email describes that I filed a complaint against Susan Lindahl and Mark Ferguson for the incident that took place in the library. I note that I did it for two reasons 1) because what they did was wrong and 2) college policy notes that when an individual files a complaint against another, the two parties are not to contact have contact. Filing a complaint against Lindahl and Ferguson was as much a cowcatcher as it was a means to complain for what I thought was questionable behavior I also write about the local media calling and wanting interviews. I describe a voicemail from an editor who treated me like crap when I was his intern. In the voicemail, he congratulates me on my story — and then asks for access to my sources. I deleted the message.]
I’m not going to return any calls tonight. I’ll put out the paper [refill empty bins] when I get out of work and then go to bed. I also plan hand out the paper to students tomorrow.
Also as I continue reporting, commenting in the media would compromise the story and violate my journalism ethics.
Hmmm … I think that’s my media response.
I also got a call around 4:30 from — oh crap, I forgot who his name. He’s an instructor but kind of a BMOC amongst the faculty. He said he wanted a copy of the paper because he heard it was scathing.
He also said he appreciated [my] years of Ledger truth-telling and to keep up the good work.
I’ll have to ask Kevin [Mimms] because when he came in to make sure the papers were received, I told him the name of the guy. I gotta hand it to ol’ Mimms, he’s proven himself with this issue. He wrote probably the best profile I’ve ever seen about Terri Sayler. And he did it because he stopped wrestling his stories. He surrendered to it. He got his aggression out in a news story and in a column.
I’m going to upload the PDFs to my student space late this evening just in case the bins are empty tomorrow after I fill them tonight and if our web space is “offline.”
Benjamin Hodge also came by the Ledger office looking for the latest issue as Kevin and I left this morning (around 10 a.m.). He saw us and I finally got to meet the boy who would be queen. He asked if he could see the stories. I said no.
He said he had heard about the college’s lawyer coming to visit me. Hodge said he couldn’t say whether it was wrong but he said it was stupid for the college to approach a student reporter who is working on a story about intimidation.
He also said that he was couldn’t attest to any intimidation but that he was still pretty new around here.
But he’s also not too bright. He admonishes the college’s lawyer by saying Ferguson’s actions were stupid and could be seen as intimidation. Then he approaches two Ledger staffers asking to see the stories, which could also be seen as him using his power as a trustee to intimidate us into granting him prior review.
Anyway, last night I had to call [Elaine] Perilla [chair of the JCCC Board of Trustees]. Anne and I were looking over my story and she asked if I had made one last attempt to contact Carlsen and Perilla. I said I had with Carlsen but that he left the office. I said with Perilla that she had promised to respond by press time in an e-mail message to me and she had failed to do so, which I put in the story.
Anne urged me to call her at home and ask for comment. It was almost 10 p.m. I called and she answered saying that it was 10 p.m. I apologized for the late hour and asked to get her comment.
She said she wouldn’t offer comment on anything because of the late hour. She said to call her the next day. I said we were going to print and I needed comment. She said she wouldn’t. I said then I’ll put that she refused comment. Then she said I better put the time in the article. Then I said I’d put that attempts to contact her by press time proved unsuccessful. Again, she said I’d better put the time. Again, I said I’d put that attempts to contact her by press time proved unsuccessful. She basically she said I was trying to ambush her.
I again apologized and said she should be happy that I’m making the effort to get confirmation for these stories rather than run with her promising to contact me and then not doing so. I said she was personally mentioned in [the 23-page document that described Carlsen’s alleged harassment]. She said that she needed to unpack her groceries and would call me back in 10 min.
So after talking with her groceries for about half an hour, she called me back. I guess her groceries said it would look bad if she refused to comment after having sent an e-mail promising to do so – smart groceries, very smart. She kept whining about the hour, which she created and made even later by waiting so long to contact me.