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ThisistheVoxMediaPeerReviewGroupreportconcerningtheSBNation.

comstoryWhoIs
DanielHoltzclaw?ThePeerReviewGroupbeganitsworktwodaysafterthepublicationofthe
HoltzclawstoryinFebruary2016,andsubmittedafinaldraftofthisreporttotheSBNation.com
seniorleadershiponApril4.ThefinalreportwassubmittedtoleadershiponMay26.

OnMay26,SBNation.comreleasedthereporttoitsaudiencealongwiththisnote.

=====

VOXMEDIAPEERREVIEWGROUPREPORTONTHEDANIELHOLTZCLAWSTORY

Acompletefailure.

ThatswhatSBNation.comeditorialdirectorSpencerHallcalledafeaturestorythathadbeen
publishedonthesiteandsubsequentlypulledinaFebruary17notetoreaders.

Anditwas.

HeadlinedWhoisDanielHoltzclaw?the12,000wordpiecewasanattempttodelveintothe
lifeandmotivationsofamanwho,inDecember2015,hadbeenconvictedofrapingmultiple
blackwomenwhileondutyasanOklahomaCitypoliceofficer.Builtaroundexclusiveinterviews
withHoltzclawsfriendsandfamily,thestorypositionedtheconvictedrapistasaformercollege
footballplayerwithdashedNFLdreams.ItstonewashighlysympathetictoHoltzclaw,andit
largelyglossedoverhiscrimesandhisvictims.

Thestoryitself,andthecontroversysurroundingitspublication,devastatedandhumiliated
staffersatSBNationandthroughoutVoxMedia,infuriatedreaders,andheapedaconsiderable
(anddeserved)amountofnegativeattentiononSBNationandthecompanyingeneral.

Thepeoplehurtbythisincident,bothinsideandoutsideVoxMedia,wantedtoknow
howithappenedandwhatSBNationcoulddotomakesureitdoesnthappenagain.Atthe
directinvitationoftheSBNationseniorleadershipteam,withsupportfromVoxMediaCEOJim
Bankoff,VoxMediaeditorialdirectorLockhartSteeleconvenedaPeerReviewGroupofeditorial
leaderswithintheorganizationRecodeexecutiveeditorKaraSwisher,Eaterexecutiveeditor
HelenRosner,andVox.commanagingeditorLaurenWilliamsandawellregardededitorand
journalistfromoutsidethecompany,DouglasMcGray,editorinchiefoftheCaliforniaSunday
MagazineandPopUpMagazine.

ThefiveofusundertooktheworkasagroupwiththefullcooperationandsupportofSB
Nationsteam.Ourchargewastoinvestigatethestructural,editorial,andcommunicationissues
thatledtoSBNationspublicationofthestory,andproviderecommendationstohelpprevent
anotherincidentlikethis.ThisdocumentisaresultofthePeerReviewGroupswork.

OurgroupspentamonthinterviewingSBNation.comeditors,compilingstatementsfromteam
membersthroughouttheSBNationnetwork,andmeetingfrequentlytodiscussandanalyzeour
findings.Wespoketoeveryonedirectlyinvolvedinthepublicationofthestoryaswellas
peopleindirectlyinvolvedandmadeourselvesavailabletoanyoneatSBNationwhohad
somethingtoshare,regardlessoftheirconnectiontoSBNation.comortheHoltzclawstory.

OnekeypersonweinterviewedisGlennStout,whowastheeditorofthepieceandtheheadof
SBNation.comsLongformunit.Histitlewasfeatureseditorhisdepartmentwithinthesitewas
responsibleforproducingahighqualityfeaturestoryeveryweekdistinctfromotherfeature
storieselsewhereonSBNation.com.OnFebruary18,thedayaftertheHoltzclawstorywas
published,thedecisionwasmadebyBankofftotemporarilysuspendtheLongformprogram.
StoutwasplacedonpaidleaveonFebruary19,thesamedaythisgroupbeganitsinvestigation.
Afewdayslater,Stout'semploymentwasterminated.ThePeerReviewGroupasawholewas
notinvolvedinthatdecision,whichwasmadebySBNationsenioreditorialstaffwithsupport
fromVoxMediaseniorleadership.

WhilethespecificfailuresoftheHoltzclawstoryrelatedirectlytothisreport,thePeerReview
GroupalsolookedatlargersystemicissuesatSBNation.comundertheleadershipofeditorial
directorSpencerHallandvpofSBNationeditorialoperationsKevinLockland.

(Theterminologyherecangetconfusing.SBNationincludes300plusindividualwebsites,most
ofwhicharededicatedtospecificteams,leagues,andtopicsandhavetheirownnamesand,in
manycases,URLs.Despiteitsname,SBNation.comreferredtointernallyasdotcomis
justonesitewithintheSBNationuniverse,andHallonlyhadoversightofthecontentthatwas
writtenexplicitlyfortheSBNation.comsite.)

Thisreportisdividedintotwosections.Webeginwithacomprehensivetimelineofthe
Holtzclawstory,basedlargelyoninterviews,emailrecords,andotherprimarysources.Thegoal
withthiswastoagreeasagrouponthefactsbeforeproceedingfurther.Thesecondsectionis
ananalysisofthestructuralandoperationalproblemsthatthetimelinerevealsitsscopeis
organizedfromnarrowtobroad,movingfromthespecificsoftheLongformprogramtogeneral
SBNationeditorialstructureandstaffingtooverallissuesofdiversityandsensitivity.Within
eachsegmentofouranalysis,weveincludedrecommendationsthatwehopewillhelpfix
existingproblemsandpreventnewonesfromforming.Bydesign,wedontprovidearoadmap
forimplementingthoserecommendationsultimately,itsuptotheleadershipatbothSB
NationandVoxMediaasawholetodecidehowtomoveforwardfromhere.

ThemandateofthePeerReviewGroupwastoidentifyandsuggestfixestotheflawedsystems
atSBNation.com,withthegoalofmakingSBNation.comandindeedallofSBNation,and
perhapsallVoxMediapublicationsstrongerandbetter.

TheTimeline

OnDecember11,2015,ChicagobasedfreelancejournalistJeffArnoldpitchedGlennStouta
storyaboutarecentlyconvictedrapistnamedDanielHoltzclawaformerOklahomaCity
policeofficerwhoalso,incidentally,playedcollegefootball.

Arnoldsnotewasbrief:

Glenn,

Ihopeyou'rewell.
I'mwonderingifthereisastoryforSBNationwiththesadtaleofDaniel
Holtzclaw,theformerOKCcopwhowasjustconvictedon18countsofan
arrayofcharges.IcoveredDanielatEasternMichiganforfouryearsand
finditinterestinghowinthematteroflessthan10years,hegoesfrom
AllAmericanlinebackertoshamedcopwhoisnowlookingat260yearsin
prisonforwhatheapparentlydidto13womenwhileondutyasacop.
Itwouldtakealotofdiggingandsensitivestorytelling,butIthink
thereisalongandwindingstorythere.

OnDecember18,StouttookthepitchtoSBNation.comeditorialdirectorSpencerHall,who
regularlyapprovedStoutsstoryideasforLongform.HallrecallsthatwhenStoutpresentedhim
withthepitch,hethought,Wevedonegoodworkonstoriesonsexualassaultbefore.Iseeno
reasonwhythiscantwork.HallaskedStoutwhetherArnoldwasqualifiedtowriteastorylike
this,sincehehadnotpreviouslytackledsuchcomplexandcontroversialmaterial.

StoutassuredHallthathewas.Jeffhadknowntheguy,saysStout.HecoveredEastern
Michigan,sohehadcontacts.Iconsideredhimadecentwriterandagoodreporter.Nota
spectacularwriter,buthewasagoodreporter.Iwaslike,Thisshouldprobablywork.Hall
approvedthestory.

ThestorythenprogressedthroughthestandardLongformeditorialprotocolthathadbeen
approvedbybothHallandLockland:FollowingHallsapprovalofthepitch,StoutandArnold
workedtogetheronthestorynooneelseatSBNation.comsawituntilnearlyeightweekslater,
onThursday,February11.Onthatday,StoutcirculatedArnoldscompleteddraftviaemailtoa
groupofeditorswhotypicallyreceivedLongformsfinaldrafts:Hall,Lockland,editorialengineer
GrahamMacAree,senioreditorKurtMensching,engagementeditorMichaelKatz,and
managingeditorBrianFloyd.WiththeexceptionofHall,noneoftheseeditorswaspreviously
awareoftheassignment,andHallknewonlywhatStouthadsharedwithhimintheirinitial
conversation.

Inhisemailintroducingthepiecetotheeditors,StoutdescribedtheworkasacomplicatedbutI
thinkfascinatingstory,onethatisbothfairandrespectfulofthevictims,compassionatetoward
3

thefamilyandfriends,yetdoesnottakeissuewiththeconviction,orspeculatewildly.Inastory
thatinvolvesbothraceandsexandpolitics,Ithinkwe'vesuccessfullynegotiatedthat
intersection.Attheendoftheemail,Stoutwrotethatthestorywasreadyforproofingandwas
settopublishonWednesday,February17,sixdayslatertheusualweeklytimingfor
Longformpieces.

KurtMensching,whogenerallycopyeditedStoutsLongformstories,wasthefirstpersonat
SBNation.comtogivethepieceadeepread,thedayafterreceivinghisemail.Thestorywas
unusuallylong12,000words,comparedwithwhatStoutdescribesasabout5,000fora
typicalLongformassignmentandMenschingspentmuchofthemorningandafternoon
workingonit.Herecallsthathedidnotlikethestoryhesaysthattypicallyhewouldreada
storythreetimesonceforspellingandgrammar,onceforfactualaccuracy,andonceto
checkhisworkbutheonlyreadthisonetwice.

Itsjustareally,reallybadstory,Menschingsays.Butheaddsthathedidntfeelitwashis
placetosharethosefeelingswithStoutoreditorialleadershipaddressingtheissueswiththe
story,hesays,wasabovehispaygrade.SohesentitbacktoStoutwithminorcopyediting
notes.

Hall,whowasonvacation,saysheskimmedthepiecethatFridayaswell,andnoticedsome
issues,buthedidnotact.Instead,hesayshetrustedthatFloydandSBNation.comsenior
editorElenaBergeronwhowasnotonStoutsoriginalemailfilingthestory,becauseshewas
generallynotpartofthestandardLongformworkflowwouldworkwithStoutonfixingthem.In
Hallsabsence,FloydandBergeronwerethetwomostseniormembersoftheeditorialstaff.

OurtypicaldivideinourdualeditorialstructurehasbeenBrian[handles]contentmanagement,
saysHall.Andinmystead,Elenawasgoingtoperformtheworkingwithwriters,talkingto
them,comingupwithideas.WhetherthatwasclearlycommunicatedornotIdontthinkit
was,obviously.

OnSunday,athirdpersonlookedatthestory:GrahamMacAree,aneditorialengineerwho
oversawdesignandproductionforStoutsstories.MacAreebuiltoutthedesignthen,on
Mondaymorning,herefineditandforwardedthestorytoBergeron.Itwasnttypicalfor
BergerontoreviewLongformfeatures,butSBNation.comeditorsoftenaskedhertoadvise
themonsensitiveorcontroversialstories.Floydhadnotyetreadthestory,butgiventhesubject
matter,healsoforwardedthedrafttoBergeronthatmorning.Shedidntgettoituntillaterinthe
afternoon.Onceshedid,shewashorrified.

IsatdownandIreadittwicebecauseIwastryingtogetmymindaround[howStoutdescribed
thestoryinhisemail]versuswhatitwas.Andinmyopinionitwasntastrongjournalisticpiece,
shesays.Noteventomentionthenumerousproblemswithlanguage,withtone,withangle
tometheoverarchingproblemisthatifyouknowyouregoingtodoasensitivestory,orastory
4

thatsgoingtobecontroversial,fromtheoutsetthereneedstobeareallycompellingreason
whyyouredoingit.AndIdidntthinkthatthatwasthere.

At9:30Mondaynight,BergeronsentanemailtoStout,withFloydcopied(andLocklandblind
copied),explainingsomeofherconcernswiththestoryandidentifyingoneparticularpassage
thatillustratedtheoverallproblems.Shewrote:

IknowthatyoubelievethatthisstoryshowsathreedimensionalportraitofDaniel
Holtzclawandoffersinsightintothecircumstanceswhichpotentiallycouldofferan
explanationforhowheturnedintoasexualpredator,butIdon'tthinkthispiecefocuses
itselfwellorwithreasonablerigoronresolvingthedynamicsofhispersonality.[...]I
worrythat,inpresentform,thisstorymakesitseemlikewe'vedevotedanextreme
amountoftimeandspacetowonderinghowthishappenedtoamanwhooncehadNFL
dreams,ratherthananexplorationofhowthepeoplearoundhimareresolvingthe
Danieltheyknewwiththeonewhowasconvictedinacourtoflaw.

Earlythenextmorning,thedaybeforethestorywassupposedtopublish,Stoutrepliedonly
toFloydasking,Sowhat'stheexpectationhereinregardtoHoltzclaw?It'squitesomething
togetanotelikethatfromElenafivedaysafterthestoryhasbeenturnedinandonedaybefore
it'srunning.Inthecourseofthelengthyemail,hedefendedthestoryagainstBergerons
concerns,eventuallyconcedingtoaslightrewordingofthespecificparagraphshehad
identified.

FloydsaidhedcallStoutshortlyandthensatdowntoreadthepiece.Ireaditinafairlyhasty
fashionjusttogetageneralideabeforeItalkedtohim,hesaid.ThenFloydspokewithStout.
Hewasprettyforcefulaboutwantingitto[publish],Floydrecalls.AndIthinkhewasimposing
hisownpacetopushthestorythrough.

AfterhisconversationwithStout,Floydsayshefinallyreadthestorymorethoroughly.That
time,Ihadsomeconcernswithit,too,hesays.Floydarrangedaconferencecallwith
BergeronandStoutfor4pm,thesoonesttheywouldallbefreetodiscussthestory.

Therewerenosignpostsof,Oh,mygosh,thisisunpublishable?Stoutrecallsofhis
conversationwithFloyd.Nothingremotelylikethatwaseverutteredtome.Notevenclose.
StoutdidemailArnold,however.ThesubjectlineoftheemailreadImportantfromGlenn:

Justaheadsup,butIgotsomeblowbackonthestorytoday,whichIamvigorously
defending.YouavailableifIneedyou?Mostofitstemsfromoneperson'sreactionwho
thinksthestoryshouldhavebeenaboutthefriendsandfamily,whichIfindabsurd.I
thinkitwillbefine,butjustincase,shootmeyour#andavailability,orgivemeacall.

ArnoldandStoutspokeonthephoneshortlythereafter.ArnoldrecallsStoutdismissing
BergeronsobjectionswhilealsonotcommunicatingthemspecificallytoArnold(whowas
5

worriedand,hesays,willingtomakechanges).AccordingtoArnoldsrecounting,Stouts
descriptionoftheconflictunbeknownsttoArnoldmischaracterizedbothBergerons
seniorityandherreasoning.

"Hedescribeditmoreas,Thisisalowerleveleditorwhoisaclimber,saysArnold.He'slike,
'Thishappensacoupleoftimesayear.Peopletrytomakeastinkaboutastoryasawayof
makingmelookbad.'That'sthewaythatheplayeditoff,as,like,'Hey,thisiswhoitis.She'sa
female,andshe'sprettyopposedtotheangleofthestorythatwe'retaking.'"

Stoutdisputesthis.Iwouldnthavedescribedherasaclimber,hesays.Ididntevenknow
whatherpositionwas.Ihavenoideatothisday.

Meanwhile,MacAreewasfinalizingartandlayout.IdidthedeepreadonTuesdayandstarted
beingquiteworriedaboutit,hesays.HemessagedBergeronwithhisconcerns,andshetold
himshewasscheduledtospeakwithFloydandStoutlaterthatday.Inthehoursbeforethen,
MacAreeandBergeronhadalongdiscussionwhileIwasworkingon[thestorylayout],
MacAreesaid.Itriedtokindofmitigatetheeffects[ofthestorysinadequacies]byadding
videosofthevictimsandtheirperspectiveupnearthetop.Andthenwejustpreparedforahuge
reboundaftertheircallat4.

Accountsofthatcallarewildlydivergent.

BergeronandFloydbothdescribethecallasunpleasant,condescending,andultimately
unproductive,withStoutunwillingtohearBergeronsconcerns.FloyddescribesStoutsattitude
asforcefulanddisrespectful,andsaysheseemedintentonpushingthestorythroughwithno
changes.Bergeronrecallsthatasshewentthroughthestorybeatbybeat,everypoint,Glenn
hadarebuttalto,orhewouldjuststarttalkingoverme,whichmademeangrierthanitdid
anythingelse.Shedescribesthecallasaseriesofstalemates:Shewouldbringupanissue,
Stoutwoulddefendit,andshedsaysomethinglike,No,Iunderstandwhatyouresaying.I
dontthinkthisachieveswhatyouresaying.AndthenFloyd,whoadoptedtheroleofmediator,
wouldsuggesttheymoveontothenextpoint,inmostcaseswithoutresolution.

AfterwegotoffthephoneBriancalledmeback,andwewerejustbothflabbergasted,says
Bergeron.ItwaslikeacyclonehitWhatjusthappened?

Stoutperceivedthecallverydifferently.ItseemstobeBrianhasalreadydecidedit'sokay,
basedonwhathesaidthatmorning,andwe'rehavingthisdiscussionasacourtesy,aswe
should,hesays.Herecallstheconversation,whichlasted10to15minutes,asawkwardbut
notcombative.Wediscussedthatcentersection,wediscussedthechangesbeingmade,and
wesaidgoodbye,hesays.Thiswasnotanargument.I'vehadargumentsbefore,andthiswas
notanargument.

FloydnotesthathefelthehadtogiveintoStout,eventhoughhehadthepowertostop
publication.Inthiscase,Idofeellikeheheldallpoweroverbothofus,hesays.Itfeltlikewe
reallycouldn'tdoanything.Wetriedtopinpoint[to]getourwayin,topickaspottotrytoget
change,insteadofgettingbroadchange.Thenwefocusedon,Let'sseeifwecanfocusthis
andthisandthisandtrytochipaway.Wepickedoutspecificpartstotrytogainconcessions.

Floydnowsaysheregretsthisapproachandwisheshehadbeenmoreforceful.That'swhatI
shouldhavedone.Ididn'tfeelthatIhadthepowertodothatinthatsituation,hesays.He
describesitasweighingtherisksinmyheadofupsettingtheLongformeditor,whowillraise
hell,versuslettingastorygothrough,[onethat]maybe,ifwemadesomechanges,itwillbea
notgreatstory,butitwon'tbeafatalstory.

StouthademailedthetwoagreeduponchangestoFloydandBergeron,andtheywereedited
intothestory.Inresponse,BergeronsentStoutanemailreading,Worksforme.Thanksfor
beingsoreceptive!areplythatBergerontellsuswasmeantassarcasm,asshefeltthathe
hadntbeenopentomakingchanges.TherewasnothingelseIwasgoingtogetoutofan
interactionwithGlenn,shesaid.Ijustwantedtobedonewithspeakingtohim.

ButStouttooktheemailatfacevalue.Ireaditthatshewasokaywithit.Andifitwassupposed
tobesnarkyandmeaningtheotherthing,Ithinkthat'saveryoddthingtodo,saysStout.

Towardtheendoftheday,StoutwroteanemailtoArnold,onethatthewritersayssurprised
him.StouttoArnold:

Wewon,asIknewwewould.Iagreedtomaketwoinconsequentialchanges(below)the
firsttosatisfyaquestion,thesecondbecausewe'dusedthePaterquoteuptop.Story
runstomorrowandlooksGREAT.

AndsothestorypublishedonSBNation.comthenextdayasscheduled:Wednesday,February
17,at12pmET.

Bergeron,MacAree,andMenschingallseparatelyrecallfeelingthatthestorywouldbepoorly
received.Theactualmagnitudeofthebacklash,however,wasgreaterthananyoftheeditorial
staffexpected.ReaderresponsewassoswiftandsooutragedthatSBNationleadership
understoodsomethingneededtobedonequickly,butittookseveralhoursfortheeditorsto
cometoaconsensusonwhattodo.Ataround4pm,FloydandHallagreedtopullthestory
fromthesiteadecisionStoutdisagreedwith,butaccepted.

Anhourlater,HallpublishedaneditorsnoteonSBNation.com:

Earliertoday,SBNationpostedastorycalled"WhoisDanielHoltzclaw?"thatattempted
tofindoutthebackstoryofconvictedserialrapistDanielHoltzclaw.Thestoryfocusedon
hisfootballbackgroundinparticular.
7


Thepublicationofthisstoryrepresentsacompletebreakdownofapartoftheeditorial
processatSBNation.Therewereobjectionsbysenioreditorialstaffthatwent
unheeded.Itwastonedeaf,insensitivetothevictimsofsexualassaultandrape,and
wrongheadedinapproachandexecution.Thereisnoqualification:itwasacomplete
failure.

Inlightofthatfailure,we'vetakenthestorydown.Itakefullresponsibilityforthisas
editorialdirector.Itwasnotuptoourstandardsasawebsite.Itwasnotuptoour
standardsasapartofVoxMedia.Itisnotreflectiveofourideals,orwhowewanttobe
asanorganizationinthefuture.

We'rereviewingallofourprocessesinlightofthisfailure.Therearealotofthem,andI
promisetotalkindetailaboutthempubliclywhileweworkthroughallofthem.

Whyithappenedandrecommendations

WhileitmayhaveappearedthatthepublicationoftheHoltzclawstorywasmetwithamonolithic
wallofoutrage,thereweremanypeoplewhowereunabletoseethestorysfailings.

Itseemsnearlyimpossibletoextricatetheissuesofrace,gender,andabuseofpowerfroma
profileofDanielHoltzclaw.Amanofracialandinstitutionalprivilege(Holtzclawsfatheriswhite,
andhismotherisJapanese),heterrorizedtheblackwomenhewassworn,asapoliceofficer,to
protect,choosingthemasvictimsbecausehebelievedhecouldintimidatethemintosilence.
YetWhoIsDanielHoltzclaw?managestoglossovertheseissuesalmostcompletely.

Thestoryperiodicallyacknowledgesitssubjectsguilt,butitsoverallstructure,language
choices,andunderlyingreportingmorefrequentlyhavetheeffectofeithercastingdoubtonthe
criminalchargesofwhichHoltzclawwasconvictedorportrayingHoltzclawhimselfasavictim.
Thestorygivessignificantspacetounsubstantiatedspeculationaboutwhatexternalfactors
mighthavedrivenapoliceofficertorapenumerouswomen,barelyaddressesthespecificsof
thehorriblecrimesofwhichhewasconvicted,andreliesheavilyonextensiveinterviewswith
peoplewhodisputethevalidityofhisconvictionwhilealmostentirelyexcludingthevoicesofhis
victims.

Itfitsintoafamiliarmodel:anindepth,humanizingcharacterportraitofasuspectorcriminal
usuallyonewhoswhite.Ifapublicationtakesonastorylikethis,itseditorsshouldbe
particularlycautiousaboutmakingsurethepiecedoesntenduperasingthesubjectsvictimsor
crimes,ashappenedhere.

Theabovetimelineoutlinestheseriesofeventsthatledtosuchastorybeingpublishedon
SBNation.com.Inthissection,weanalyzethebroadersystemsandpracticesthat,working
together,ledtothepublicationofsuchaneditoriallyirresponsiblepiece.

1.TheLongformvertical
TheLongformverticalwasconceivedin2012byKevinLocklandandJimBankoff,withtheidea
thatitwouldbeahomeforSBNation.comsmostambitiousreporting.AndwhileStout,the
verticalsonlyeditorandaveneratedfigureinthesportsjournalismworld,frequentlydid
producesomeofthesitesmostcelebratedpieces,thewayhewaseitherencouragedor
permittedtoworkwasrisky.

TURNAROUNDTIME
Longformpublishedonefeatureaweek,usuallyonWednesdayonlyonveryrareoccasionsdid
Stoutskipaweek.Thatsagruelingpaceforoneeditor,workingalone,withnostaffwritersand
alimitedbudgetitsafuriousrateofoutputthatsnotconducivetoconsistentlyexcellent
reportingandediting.Inthecaseofapotentiallycontroversialstory,workingquicklyand
cheaplywithnomeaningfulinputfrompeersorsupervisorshasthepotentialtoputeveryone's
professionalreputationatrisk.

Any12,000wordstorythataddressesrape,race,andabuseofpolicepowerisboundtobe
sensitive.IntheworkingenvironmentSBNation.comcreatedaroundLongform,itwasexplosive.
ThepiecehadafastturnaroundforStout,whofrompitchtopublicationspentabouteight
weeksworkingwiththewriter,andespeciallyfortheSBNation.comteammemberswho
assistedinreadyingitforpublication,whohadbetweentwoandfourworkdayswiththepiece
priortoscheduledpublication.

InhisemailtoFloydthedayafterBergeronsconcernswereraised,Stoutcomplainedabout
Bergeronslatebreakingcriticism,writing,Ifpeoplehadconcernsaboutthisstory,whywasthat
notcommunicatedtomedaysago?That'sthewholepointofgettingstoriesinearly.Inour
estimation,filingastoryofthislengthonthissubjectmattersixdaysbeforepublication
(fourworkdays,excludingtheweekend)doesnotreasonablyconstituteearly.

Recommendation:
IfSBNation.comchoosestocontinuetohaveadedicatedlongformfeatureprogram,
makesurethepostingscheduleandbudgetofferenoughtime,resources,andflexibility
foreditorstocarefullyedit,vetwriters,andholdstoriesifnecessary.

UNILATERALEDITORIALDECISIONMAKING
Throughoutourinterviews,severalSBNation.comeditorsreferredtoLongformasStouts
personalfiefdom,meaningheranLongformasalargelyindependentdepartmentwithinSB
Nation.(TheLongformprogramwasGlennStoutsblog,saysBankoff.)O
nlyaverysmall
groupofpeoplesometimesjustStoutandHallknewwhatstorieswereintheLongform
pipeline.
9


WhileStoutandHallhadtoagreeonapitchforStouttomakeanassignment,oncethe
assignmentwasunderway,HallallowedStouttoeditashesawfitandpublishashewanted
(and,Stoutsays,LocklandtoldhimhecouldoverruleHallifhewantedto).Thatsahighly
unusualamountofautonomywhentheproductisalong,reported,andpotentiallycontroversial
feature,whichatmostotherpublicationswouldbereadbyatleastoneothereditor,oftenmany
more.NoonequestionedStoutscalls,includinghisbosses.

InthecaseoftheHoltzclawstory,FloydonlyreadthepiececloselybecauseBergeronflaggedit
asproblematic.TypicallyhewouldntreadLongformstoriesbeforetheywentonline.Floydsays
theonlyeditorwhocouldbecountedontoreadaLongformfeaturebeforepublication,aside
fromStout,wasMensching,whocopyeditedalloftheLongformstories.

Recommendations:
Requireallsignificantstoriestobereadbymorethanoneperson.Requiremultiple
editorstoreadlongerstories,evenifthereisoneprimaryeditor.
Clearlycommunicatethatalleditorsinvolvedwithastory(includingcopyeditorsand
factcheckers)areempoweredtoquestionreporting,includingtone,andraise
objections.

INDIVIDUALISOLATION
Stoutwasallowedbyhismanagerstobeunusuallyisolatedfromhiscolleagues.While
SBNation.comsteamofbloggersandeditorsaregeographicallyscattered,theycometogether
inSlack,thecompanysprimarymodeofinternalcommunication,whichservesasadefacto
virtualoffice.Stout,wholivesinVermont,rarelyparticipatedinSlack(andwasnotcompelledto
byHallorLockland),andveryrarelysaworspoketocoworkersbesidesHall.Heinteracted
withbothMenschingandMacAree,butbotheditorscharacterizetheirrelationshipswithStout
asimpersonalandtransactional.

AstowhyhedidnotuseSlackregularly,Stoutsays:WhenIfirststartedhearingaboutSlack,I
hadnoideaevenwhatitwas.AndthentheedictcamedownthatwehavetogoonSlack.AndI
hadtofindoutwhatitwas.AndIwoulduseitoccasionally,butI'mjustmuchmorecomfortable
withemails.

StoutsautonomyandisolationcontributedtootherSBNation.comeditorsfeelingasenseof
distancefromStoutpersonallyandfromtherulesandexpectationsthatgovernedhis
department.InthefouryearsthatSBNationpublishedLongform,morethan100featureswere
assigned,butonlyone,Hallsays,waseverkilled.(InStoutsrecollection,severalpieceswere.)

ToFloydandBergeron,theeditorsinchargeinHallsabsence,evendelayingpublicationofthe
Holtzclawstoryseemedlikeadrasticmeasure,andmaybenotanoption.Whiletherehadbeen
noexplicitdiktatfromLocklandandHallaboutthis,itwaswidelyfeltbythestaffthatStouts
workwasnottobetouched.
10


Recommendations:
Managementshouldrequireremoteemployeestointegrateintoofficeculture.Donot
cultivateoraideditorialisolation.
Everyoneontheteamshouldbeusingthesameplatformsifthewholeteam
communicatesprimarilyviaSlack,thewholeteamshouldbeonSlackforwork
purposes.

2.Editorialstructureandstaffing
SBNationbeganasaseriesofblogs.Asithasexpandeditsscope,launchingSBNation.com
andgrowingtoamassiveoverallaudiencesizeofmorethan80millionpeopleamonth,editorial
leadershipatbothSBNationandVoxMediahasnotfullyscaleditseditorialstructure.
Thishasledtoorganizationalchartandhierarchyconfusion,aswellasastaffwellversedin
bloggingbutnotasexperiencedoverallinotherformsofjournalism.Itsourbeliefthatifeditorial
roleshadbeenmoreclearlyexpressedtotheteammembersinvolvedinthisstory,thestory
mightnothavebeenpublished.

CHAINOFCOMMAND
TheSBNation.comorgchartisseldomcommunicatedtostaffmembersourinterviewsrevealed
conflictingaccountsofrolesandreportingstructure.

ThisconfusionincreasedwithHalloutoftheoffice.AlthoughHalldescribesFloydandBergeron
ashiskeydeputiesinthenewsroom,whatexactlythatmeansorifeveryoneonstaff
understandstheirrolesinthesamewayremainsunclear.Itisalsounclearwho,inHalls
absence,hasauthoritytomake,andoverrule,importanteditorialcalls.AccordingtoSBNations
orgchart,Floyd,Bergeron,andStoutareallequallysenior.WithHallonvacation,Floyd
assumedadefactoleadrole,butinpracticethatoversightdidnotextendtoLongform.

AskedwhyhethoughtseniorstaffersfelttheycouldntoverruleStout,Halltoldus,Ithink
peopledidntknowhow.Wehaveaverytight,personalitybasedworkplace.AndIthink
sometimesifyoudontknowthatpersonpeopledidntfeelliketherewasaformalwaytodo
it.

Asaresult,althoughhedidhavetheauthoritytovetoStoutinHallsabsence,Floydsayshedid
notfeelempoweredtodealwiththeobjectionsthatBergeronraisedonceshegotthepiecefrom
him.(OverallchainofcommandissuesatSBNation.comarenotlimitedtoLongform,and
structuralissuessuchastheseleadtocommunicationissuesaswell.Wheneditorssee
problemswithstories,theyoftendontknowwhomtoescalatethemtoinawaythatwillbe
effective.)

11

Recommendations:
Outlineclearchainsofcommandtostaff,makesureeveryoneknowswhohisorher
manageris,andensurethatmanagersinchargeofeditorialdecisionshavetheright
toolsandskillsforthejob.
Regularlycommunicatetostaffanychangestotheorgchart.
Whenseniorstaffareunavailable,makesurethepersonwhoisleftinchargeand
everyoneelseunderstandsthescopeofhisorherauthority.

EDITORIALPLANNING
VeryfewpeopleknewwhatLongformstorieswereassignedandwhentheywerescheduledto
bepublished.ItspossiblethatifmorepeoplehadreadtheHoltzclawstorybeforeitwentonline
orevenhadknowninadvancethatStoutwasplanningtopublishastoryaboutthefootball
careerofaserialrapisttherecouldhavebeenearlieropportunitiesforeditorstoweighinwith
questionsandconcerns.

ThislackoftransparenteditorialplanningisnotjustaStoutoraLongformissue.Infact
despitesporadicuseoforganizationalsoftwaresuchasTrelloamongindividualteammembers
mosteditorsacrossthesitedontknowwhatlongleadstoriesareintheworks.

Thisdoesntjustposeaproblemfromabasicorganizationperspective,italsoallowsnotimefor
editorstoraiseconcernsaboutquestionablestoriesortogetmorepairsofeyesontheir
sensitivepieces.Alackofcalendarclarityisfrequentlyabyproductofanorganizationthathas
evolvedorganically.Itsuptomanagement(inthiscase,LocklandandHall)totakeastepback
andimposegreaterorderandtransparency.

Recommendations:
Developasystem/procedureforSBNation.comseditorialcalendar(particularlyof
longerleadstories)tobeavailabletoeditors.

PRESSURETOPUBLISH
TheshortleadbloggingphilosophyexpressedacrossVoxMediaasputitonthesitetranslates
poorlytolong,reportedfeaturesorstoriesoncontroversialsubjects.Accordingtoseveralteam
members,SBNation.comeditorshavebeenworkingonslowingdowntheeditorialprocessfor
longerleadstories,buttheimportanceofqualityoverspeedwhenitcomestothesepieces
doesnotappeartohavefullyregisteredwiththeeditorsoverseeingthepublicationofthe
Holtzclawstory.

ThepressuretopublishwasapparentinFloydandBergeronsbeliefthatnothingcouldbedone
tokillorholdtheHoltzclawstory.Atnopointinanyofourconversationsdidanyeditorrecall
suggestingorevenconsideringthatpublicationbehaltedwhilethepiecesevidentissues
wereresolved.Someeditorsevenmentionedbeingworriedthattheirconcernsmightstandin
thewayofthestorygoingoutontime.

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Infact,aneditorflagginganissueshouldneverbeconcernedaboutdelayingpublication
anyonecatchingaproblemshouldbeheardoutandcommendedforspeakingup.While
deadlinescertainlyoughttobeadheredtoingeneral,itsrarethatalongleadstorylikethis
demandspublicationataspecifictime.Unlikebreakingnewsorstoriespeggedtospecific
events,featurestoriescanoftenweatheradelayofanhour(oraday,aweek,orevenamonth
ormore)withoutmuchofaneffectonhowtheyfindtheirreadership.Nomatterhowstrictthe
calendar,editorialcautionisalwaysanappropriatereasontodelayastoryortootherwise
deviatefromtheoriginalplan.

Recommendations:
Makeitclearthateditorscanholdpublicationoncontroversialorsensitivepieceswithout
retributionforbeingcautious.
Promoteacultureofspeakingupabouteditorialconcerns.
Establishprotocolfordealingswiftlyandrespectfullywitheditorialconcernsabouta
story.

JOURNALISTICEXPERIENCE
SomeeditorsatSBNation.combegantheirjournalismcareersatSBNation,ascontributorsto
oneofthepublicationsmanyteamorleagueblogs,eventuallybeingpromotedbyleague
managersandeditorsupthroughtherankstohigherprofilepositionswitheditorialoversight
andmanagementduties.Thesepromotionsrarely,ifever,includedspecifictraininginthe
journalisticresponsibilitiesandconsiderationsoftheirnewroles.Asaresult,manyeditorsat
SBNation.comareexperiencedatbloggingbutlessconfidentintheeditorialprocessesofother
formsofjournalism.

Tobeclear,formaltrainingacademictraining,oronthejobtraininginaprofessional
reportingandeditingenvironmentisntarequirementtobeagoodjournalist.Buttrainingand
experiencedotendtocoincidewithbeingwellversedinstandardnewsroompracticesthat
couldhavehelpedpreventtheHoltzclawstoryfromhappening,includinghowtodealwith
sensitiveorcontroversialmaterialandwhentodelayorspikestories.AsSBNationbloggers
moveuptobecomeeditors,theydontseemtoreceiveenoughjournalismtrainingand
mentorshiptomeetthedemandsoftheirnewroles.

Recommendations:
Establishatrainingcomponentaddressingjournalisticallyresponsibleapproachesto
sensitivetopics,inhouseeditorialprotocol,andavailableresources.
Incorporategeneraljournalistictraining/mentorshipintotheflowofthenewsroom,
particularlyinthecaseofinternalpromotions.

3.DiversityandSensitivity
Adiversestaffisessentialinaresponsiblenewsroom,andhavingmorewomenandpeopleof
colorinseniorrolesatSBNationmayhavepreventedastorylikethisfrombeingpublished.
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Still,evenatahomogeneouslystaffedpublication,theresnoexcuseforsomethinglikethe
Holtzclawstorytoeverseethelightofday.

BEINGARESPONSIBLEEDITOR
Oneofaneditorsrolesistoanticipatehowanaudiencewillreadastory.Goodjournalism
demandsclearwordsbutalsocleareyes:Aneditorshouldnotonlyknowpreciselywhatawriter
istryingtosaybutshouldanticipatethewayhisorherwordswillberead,anditistheeditors
jobtominimizeanydifferencebetweenthetwo.Theseprincipleshavealwaysappliedin
journalism,buttheyareofparticularimmediacyinthedigitalworld.Thetidesofviralityand
socialmediaareunpredictable,andcancarryastorywellbeyondtheboundariesofits
publicationoritsanticipatedreadership.

Itisafundamentalprofessionalrequirementthatanyeditorbeabletoidentifypointsinastory
thatareadermightfindinsulting,misguided,orotherwisegenerallyoutofsyncwiththewriters
orpublicationsintent.InthecaseoftheHoltzclawstory,anunacceptablylownumberofthe
editorswhoreaditpriortoitspublicationappearedtounderstandthetrueseverityofits
problems.Editorswhofailtounderstandattheoutsetwhyastorylikethisoneoughttobe
consideredsensitiveorcontroversialarefailingatacorejobskill.

Recommendations:
Emphasizeaudienceawarenessandeditorialempathyasanessentialskillrequiredof
allstaff,particularlyseniorstaff.Pieceswilloftenreachalargeandeclecticaudience,
andeditorsneedtoconsiderhowdifferentpeoplemayinterpretthem.

DEFERRINGSENSITIVITY
SBNation.comhaddevelopedanadhocprocedurefordealingwithstoriesonsensitivetopics:
Inadditiontothestandardeditorialprocess,editorsorwriterswouldinformallyforwardstoriesto
BergeronortoSBNation.comseniorcontentproducerSarahKogod,whowouldreadwitha
closeeyeforlanguageandangle.Inoneinterview,aneditortoldusthatthiswasbecause
BergeronandKogodcaremore,andweknowthattheycaremore.Thisdistressinglyimplies
thatotherseniorstaffwereokaywithcaringless.

Thatitislefttothenewsroomstwoseniormostwomen,oneofwhomisofcolor,tobethe
peopleaskedtoidentifyissuerelatededitorialmisstepsinstoriesaboutsexualassaultorrace
orLGBTQissuesisinexplicableandunacceptable.Theyshouldnotbeseenasthe
gatekeepersofsensitivity.

Inevitably,someeditorswillbemoretunedinthanotherstotheconstantlyevolvinglanguages
andlandscapesofconscientiousjournalism,butitispartofaneditorsjobtobesensitivetothe
wordsandimplicationsofastory.Itsflatlyunacceptableforanyeditortoassumethatitsnothis
orherjobtocaretothefullestextentaboutmattersofethics,integrity,andaccuracy,whichis
essentiallywhatcaringabouttheconstructionandphrasingofsensitivestoriesboilsdownto.

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Recommendations:
Establishofficialresources(bothpeopleanddocumentation)foreditorsandwriters
workingwithsensitiveissues.
Requireclearlycontroversialpiecestobereadbymultipleeditorsoutsidethenormal
workflowforthestorytype,whoareempoweredtovoiceconcernsinacollegial
environment.

OVERALLNEWSROOMDIVERSITY
AccordingtoVoxMediasupplieddiversitydata,asofMarch31,2016,89percentofSBNation
editorialstaffselfidentifyasmale,and87percentselfidentifyaswhite,thehighestnumbersin
bothcategoriesacrossallVoxMediabrands.Despitetakingsomestepstowardamorediverse
newsroomincludingthecreationin2015ofanSBNationspecificdiversitycommittee,and
hostingasummitinWashington,DCforwomenwritersandeditorsinAugust2015(witha
secondeditionscheduledforAugust2016)editorsatSBNationatalllevels,includingHall
andLockland,agreethatnotenoughishappeningtodiversifytheteam.

AsubstantialportionofoverallSBNationeditorialismadeupofparttimecontributorsfor
SBNation.comspartinthat,recruitmenthasbeenadmirablyinclusiveofindividualsfromall
backgrounds.ButSBNationistheoldestofVoxMediasbrands,andconsequentlyisgrowing
thesizeofitsstaffataslowerratethanotherVoxMediabrands.Newpositions,particularlyat
theseniorlevel,arerarelycreated,andstaffturnoverisminimal.Thosefactorscombinedmean
thatSBNationhashadfewopportunitiestointroducediversenewperspectivesintoits
newsroom.

Recommendations:
WorkingwithSBNation.comleadershiptodetermineorganizationalneeds,VoxMedia
shouldfundadditionalheadcountforSBNation.com.

Conclusion

Inconclusion,thePeerReviewGroupwouldliketothankeveryonewhospoketousfortheir
candorandcooperation.WeadmirethatSBNationleadershipiscommittedtotakingthis
incidentasanopportunityforreflectionandimprovement.Therecommendationsandanalysisin
thisreportareourgroupsattempttohelpthemand,intheprocess,allVoxMediabrands
developbetterstructuresandprocesses.

AlthoughthisincidenthasbeenpainfulforthewritersandeditorsofSBNation,neitherthe
publicationoftheHoltzclawstorynoritsaftermathdefinestheyearsofsuccessSBNationhas
hadsinceitsinceptionorthegreatworkitwillcontinuetodoasitgrowsintoanevenstronger
networkservingitstensofmillionsofavidfans.

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