Fifth article for WIRED

I published 3 articles within 8 days! But there are two extra weeks you should count at the beginning when I was working on them and didn’t publish anything.

One was about air pollution in a mostly Black neighborhood in Maryland. Oh yeah, I mentioned that here before. It’s the one I did the GIS analysis for.

Click here to read it. I was super excited to write this story because I felt I was being very noble in helping people who very rarely get their voices heard in the national media. It is not lying to say that in America, we don’t care if Black kids get asthma, and we don’t care if we place all the polluting factories in places where those kids will get sick.

wired article 5 image

For this article, I also got credit for the artwork. I made the smoke coming out of the smokestacks in Blender. I think I will always be a little pleased on the inside that I got to make some real actual published and credited 3D art. It took me hours of plodding through the “quick smoke” tutorial, and 16 rounds of edits and modifications to the smoke before I was done with it. But the art department was very happy.

After the article got published, two of the people I interviewed emailed back to say they liked it a lot; the third did not. S/he pointed out something I wrote at the very beginning as being very offensive, and declared that s/he didn’t read past that point, and s/he’s always disappointed by journalists!

Years ago, an email like that would have sent me into a tailspin. I would have at  been incredibly angry at the person; and also beating myself up for having done something that could cause such offense. And probably would have angrily deposed of any intention of doing more noble deed to “help the less fortunate” ever again. Except I would have followed that thought by a grim determination to do something so good, that the offended party would hear of it and realize they had totally misunderstood!

But this go-around, I was just bemused. I reflected rather mildly on the aphorism, “no good deed goes unpunished.” I was more annoyed like at a mosquito bite. And I checked back through my notes, and decided I hadn’t done anything wrong, I had written the truth.

But it could have also very well been worded in a way that would have satisfied the truth to the other person. That I neglected to do so was of course not maliciously done or anything. But that neglect came at the cost of something incredibly important to that person. If I had finer emotions, then I think I’d be shocked that I could be so far removed from the atmosphere and life of this group of people so as to not notice or take care of something important to them. I’d be shocked that I could dismiss their angers with a roll of my eyes, and cheapen their offense by likening it to a mosquito bite.

I didn’t ever end up answering that angry email, out of a suspicion that if this thing was fixed, and the person continues reading the rest of the article, I’m probably going to get more emails offended  at other paragraphs. If I really was all noble like I had made out to be, I should have answered and tried to be polite.

I am also vaguely bothered by the power imbalance here: I’m the one with the power to reach out and address their concerns, and I just don’t care enough. While it’s something they care strongly about.

So despite the noble smirks I was giving myself, and the GIS fact-checking, and my Blender3D artwork, I feel pretty flat about this article.

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