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  • Writer's pictureGabriel San Roman

Slingshot: FairWarning's Death Before Diversity--And Me

FairWarning, a news nonprofit based in Pasadena, decided to fold on Feb. 19 with a farewell blog post. Coronavirus has stalked fragile newsrooms across the country like the grim reaper, but the investigative outlet couldn't pin its downfall on the pandemic.

Instead, accusations of racism from a prospective employee against Myron Levin, FairWarning's founder and editor, pulled the pin. A statement posted on behalf of FairWarning's board of directors last month cried foul:

"Circumstances beyond the board’s control have unfairly damaged FairWarning's reputation and made it difficult to carry on a small-budget news organization dependent on charitable donations."

Before establishing FairWarning in 2009, Levin previously worked for the Los Angeles Times at its California investigations desk. For the past decade, the nonprofit's watchdog journalism focused on public health, labor, consumer advocacy and the environment. Its stories appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Mother Jones, the Guardian and other outlets.

So how did everything come crashing down? The dust up all began with a cryptic Twitter thread in February by freelance journalist Matt Krupnick, who said he was offered an editor/reporter job with an unnamed outlet.

"The entire staff (and board) is white and I haven't found a single article written by a person of color," Krupnick tweeted. "When I mentioned to the editor that I wanted to diversify the freelance pool, this was his response: 'We're not woke."

Krupnick further claimed the editor didn't want journalists of color writing about racial justice--as if that's all they can report on--because that wasn't the newsroom's focus.

As the editor and the outlet remained anonymous in the call out, speculation fueled. Krupnick dispelled notions of the culprit being Capital & Main--hell, I've freelanced for them!

"Cal Matters?" a friend asked me.

"FairWarning," I responded, with an investigative hunch.

After a bit of research, I confirmed that FairWarning had an all-white staff and board; I couldn't find a byline by a person of color, either. Plus, it was a small, but reputable newsroom.

That, and back in late November I applied for the same editor/reporter position as Krupnick did without any customary response. As Han Cholo would say, "I've got a bad feeling about this, Chuy!"

The chatter continued privately when Levin emerged publicly to dispute the allegations, while confirming my suspicions, with a statement.

"What is true is that our staff is white, but not because we are averse to hiring people of color," he claimed. "Just to be clear, FairWarning has a staff of three, including me. If Matt had come to work here, he would have been the fourth white face in our tiny newsroom."

Not long ago, there was a brief period of time amid budget cuts when my brown ass was the only staff writer at OC Weekly. Also, what about FairWarning's nine-member board and lack of Black or brown bylines?

Upping the ante, FairWarning staff writers Alexandra Tempus and Eli Wolfe pledged to quit if the board didn't pressure Levin's resignation.

While the controversy simmered, Levin emailed me on Feb. 13 saying that the search for the editor/reporter position moved slowly--a laughable way of putting it given all the drama airing out on Twitter.

"The job is still unfilled and I'm not sure when it will be," Levin wrote. "However, I'd like to know if you might be interested in pitching a freelance story or two. I'd be happy to discuss this if you'd like to set up a call."

I didn't dignify the solicitation to help him save face with a response; FairWarning self-imploded six days later.

Levin made clear in his own farewell statement that he planned on transitioning from leading the nonprofit newsroom, but the row over racism mucked everything up. The decision to shut down instead came from him and his all-white board.

The whole FairWarning fiasco had me revisit the clips I sent along with my application. My portfolio included stories that exposed political corruption in Orange County along with a story I wrote about Disneyland Resort workers for Capital & Main.

In my mind, none of that fit the "woke, racial justice" content that Levin was allegedly allergic to. But then, I reread my cover letter. I listed my editorial responsibilities for a weekly immigration column written by immigrant activists themselves, mostly undocumented. And the more I marinated over everything, the more I began to realize that I sometimes hesitated before sending racial justice clips to any hiring news agency for fear of callous dismissal.

And that's a problem.

I'm not saying I was the best candidate, especially as seemingly every job posting is stuffed with hundreds of marooned journalists looking for their next act.

All I would've asked from FairWarning, though, was a fair chance. After its implosion, I can't say I was given that.

- Gabriel San Román

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Your Mouse Muckraker / Photo by Federico Medina

Mouse Muckraker

A former cast member called for another "Reopen Disneyland" rally later this month. The effort sought to back AB 420, legislation championed by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva that would've hastened the time table allowing for large theme parks, like the Mouse House, to return to business.

But the state is now allowing the Mouse House to reopen in the red tier with limited capacity as soon as April 1, as if this all hasn't already been one big, deadly April Fool's joke.

What awaits workers? Disney unions have been diligent in fighting for safety protocols but even that can't prevent maskhole encounters. Just ask cast members tasked with enforcing mask mandates and social distancing in Orlando, where the Walt Disney World Resort has been open since last summer.

While most guests undoubtedly behave, the Orlando Sentinel sheds some light with their reporting on parkgoers who throw pandemic tantrums worse than a petulant child dragged from a gift shop. The harrowing collection of cast member horror stories is part of an exposé exclusive to Sentinel subscribers.

In the writeup, one security guard recounted an incident to a reporter where he reminded a guest at Disney World's Contemporary Resort to pull his mask up over his face only to get spat on. Classy!

"There’s never a day when I don’t have a story," said another cast member, wishing to remain anonymous. "I cried the first week I started. It was not a good time at all. Imagine going to work every single day where people ridicule you."

Some guests berated the worker over Disney's strict mask policy as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis ordered no such mandate for the state.

Law enforcement records obtained by the Sentinel detail the more serious Walt Disney World encounters leading to arrest. One man, 47, snuck past the medical tent into Disney Springs (Florida's bigger version of Downtown Disney) without a temperature check and was cuffed by deputies when refusing to leave the grounds.

Magic makers deserve better than maskholes!

Has anything of the sorts happened at Downtown Disney or California Adventure already? Maybe a records request out West is needed, too!

Either way, some people celebrating the reopening of the Happiest Place on Earth in April may be the same to spit on cast members when the gates finally swing back open.

By the Byline

This week, I go "Off the Page" for LibroMobile with Santa Ana Gustavo Hernandez! His debut poetry collection Flower Grand First is out now!

I review the book in my column and speak with Hernandez about some of the key themes that thread through his poetry like immigration, family stories and memories of his late father.

Check out the writeup and pick up a copy of Flower Grand First from your local favorite indie bookstore in Santa Ana!

Lead photo: The classifieds / Unspalsh stock photo by AbsolutVision

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