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From newsroom to newsletter: How local journalists are DIYing important coverage via email
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July 31, 2017, 12:57 p.m.
Reporting & Production
LINK: www.washingtonpost.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Shan Wang   |   July 31, 2017

R. Kelly has allegedly been keeping women in something like a sex cult. An investigation published last week by Chicago rock critic Jim DeRogatis, backed up by court documents and police reports as well as interviews with named sources, revealed how the young women in Kelly’s inner circle were being subjected to mental and physical abuse.

It was a story from a reporter who’d been following it since 2000 — yet three news organizations ultimately passed on the piece before BuzzFeed took it on. Some cited the demise of Gawker.com, DeRogatis told Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post:

Three separate media organizations were interested but got cold feet at the last minute, DeRogatis said. Each one, after investing months of work, backed away from the story that used named sources and documents to describe how women near Atlanta and Chicago were held as if in a cult, according to what parents and others had told police. (DeRogatis declined to name the news organizations because of his appreciation of the editors he worked with; they weren’t the ones who pulled the plug. They include a regional print publication, a world-famous multimedia behemoth and a radio-based digital outlet.)

“Gawker came up in a lot of those conversations,” DeRogatis said, referring to the snarky and risk-taking website that was put out of business last summer after a lawsuit brought by Terry Bollea, also known as Hulk Hogan. The invasion-of-privacy suit was bankrolled by billionaire Peter Thiel, a confidant of President Trump. “Nobody wanted to take that risk.”

The backstory of the R. Kelly investigation confirms some of the warnings last year of a chilling effect that was about to set in, after it came to light that Peter Thiel was secretly bankrolling Hulk Hogan in the suit against Gawker Media. (Fast forward to today: Univision owns Gawker Media’s other sites as part of the rebranded Gizmodo Media Group; Gawker.com is dead and the site potentially up for sale; Nick Denton is working on some sort of messaging/forums play.)

If a “regional print publication, a world-famous multimedia behemoth, and a radio-based digital outlet” had all chosen to pass on a solidly sourced story about a rich and powerful man (still apparently unfazed and on tour), what other stories might be being held in the wings, out of fear of retribution?

As BuzzFeed’s assistant general counsel Nabiha Syed, who vetted the R. Kelly investigation, told the Washington Post: “I don’t feel like anything has changed legally. But there is a lot of fear out there.”

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