First, a little backstory.

Many months ago, I was interviewed by Aja Romano for what ultimately became this article. I really should have known better. Aja’s name has shown up on the various wank sites more often than I have. I should have known it wasn’t the best idea, but I didn’t research her history. I thought, given her previous tumblr post warning people about Andy and her previous article about the cult I was in, that she would write an article that would…well, that wouldn’t glorify Andy’s cult-building.

Clearly, I was very mistaken.

Aja blamed her editors at the daily dot and immediately sent me a copy of the draft article that was supposedly very different from the published piece (spoiler alert – it wasn’t)

After the fact, she said she was going to release the various interviews she did with former cult members. I made it clear that I would release the draft she sent me (without any specifications that it be kept private, despite the disclaimers both on this blog and my tumblr) if she failed to release them by the date she chose – March 31.

Below is my correspondence with the Daily Dot editor.

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“I am the Managing Editor at The Daily Dot, which owns and operates the Kernel. I am writing to you about the recent article about Andrew Blake written by one of our staff writers, Aja Romano.

Thank you for corresponding so extensively with Ms. Romano in connection with the story. I know that opening up about your personal experiences was emotional and time consuming, and we sincerely appreciate your time and candor.

I understand that you are dissatisfied with the version of the story that we ultimately published and feel that the published version did not reflect what you thought it would (or should). I wanted to explain our editorial decisions and address some important issues surrounding the story.

As you know, the Daily Dot and the Kernel are leading online newspapers. As news organizations, we take pride in — and hold ourselves to — strict journalistic standards of honesty, integrity, objectivity, and transparency. As with most first drafts of our stories, the original version of this story did not meet our rigorous standards and needed a significant amount of editing. The piece was too long, too one-sided, and not sourced well enough to be published. Accordingly, our editors, as they do with all our stories, reviewed, fact-checked, and revised the piece.

The published version of the story was the product of our standard operating procedures and reflected our journalistic standards. We are proud of the story.

We are unhappy, however, with some of Ms. Romano’s interactions with you, including certain promises she made. Specifically, Ms. Romano, as an employee of the Daily Dot, is not — and was never — authorized to share earlier drafts of the story with you or any other source. Though her intentions may have been good, Ms. Romano’s decision to provide you with an unfinished draft of the story was a lapse in her professional judgement. Doing so violated not only our internal procedures, but also our copyright in the story, which is owned and controlled solely by the Daily Dot. Furthermore, Ms. Romano has no authority — and therefore should not have promised — to post, publish, or provide you or any other source with the transcripts of her interviews. Again, the transcripts are owned by the Daily Dot, and only the Daily Dot has the right to control their dissemination.

We understand from your March 10, 2015 Tumblr post that you intend to release the unedited version of the story at the end of this month if Ms. Romano does not post all of the interview transcripts associated with this story. As noted above, the decision of whether to post the transcripts is not Ms. Romano’s to make, so please direct any further coorespondence regarding this story to me.

We are planning to publish the interviews, but it will be done to our standards and on our own timetable. First, as you can certainly appreciate, we need to honor any requests made by our interviewees at the time Ms. Romano conducted the interview. For example, if something was disclosed under conditions of confidentiality or off the record, we need to respect those conditions and either not publish that particular transcript or redact certain portions of it, as applicable. Second, if there are any statements of fact that could be regarded as defamatory and could expose the Daily Dot to legal liability, we will need to redact those portions. Given the two foregoing requirements and the sheer breadth of the interview material that will need to be reviewed by us and our legal counsel, this process will take time. We estimate it will require around four weeks.

I trust that this satisfies your concerns. Please understand that we are not offering to publish the transcripts in response to any threats, but in the interest of transparency and closure.

In light of my assurances to you to publish the interview transcripts as set forth above, please confirm to me that you will honor you promise to Ms. Romano and not publish or distribute the pre-publication draft of the article. In addition, I request that you delete any copies you may have of the original article, as it is the copyrighted property of the Daily Dot, and Ms. Romano had no right to share it with you. Please understand that the draft of the story you have contained a host of potentially problematic issues, and any publication could expose anyone publishing it — including you — to legal liability from third parties.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Very truly yours,

Austin Powell
Managing Editor”

Everybody got that?

I was displeased, to say the least, at this development. Furthermore, I was down with a nasty cold most of last week, so I let my rage (and virus) simmer until I finally sent my reply on March 29. Here it is:

Dear Mr. Powell,

It is certainly your right to be proud of the article you have published. I would expect any legitimate publication to stand by their own stories.

However, you are failing to note that in taking on a subject like Andrew Blake, you were knowingly taking on a risk.  When you publish an article about a known abuser and cult leader, the risk that some statements may appear “defamatory” must surely be accepted.  A failure to accept this risk results only in the sidelining and silencing of victims, as is evident from your final published article.  This is what you must redress with the publication of interviews, and this is where your priority must lie if you are to be taken seriously as a “leading online newspaper”.

It is of course understandable that you seek to protect yourselves from litigation, but you also have an ethical responsibility to Andy’s past and potential victims, a responsibility that in my opinion you failed to meet.  You published an article that portrayed an abuser and cult leader as a fascinating person, one who might be “worth the risk” of involvement.  It was your choice to end it on that note.  You also allowed Aja Romano, your reporter, to utterly fail to interrogate Andy on his many excuses and claims, claims that the article could have at least questioned without fear of legal reprisal.  (For example, in the interview, Andrew Blake admits to sexual abuse of victims, offering spurious defense, and yet Ms. Romano had no further questions on that topic, apparently.  This is an astonishing oversight for someone who represents herself as a professional journalist and an appalling opportunity offered to an admitted sexual abuser to excuse his own behavior.)

You must also accept responsibility for the unethical treatment of Andy Blake’s past victims.  I am extremely unhappy with Ms. Romano and her interactions with both me and my fellow victims. She has been rude, dismissive and extremely sloppy in her “research” and her treatment of all of us. Many of us have openly stated that we feel dirty and used in the wake of her interactions and the article that she produced.  Again, though you are not legally responsible for such treatment, you are ethically responsible.

Further ethical responsibility must be accepted by you regarding your use of Brittany Quinn’s tragic death and your total misrepresentation of the blogs known as “Andy Awareness” blogs.  I can only hope that the publication of interviews by you will go some way towards redressing the several wrongs committed by you in the publication of this irresponsible article.

As regards the draft shared by Ms. Romano, if she had no authorization to share it, or to make any promises regarding the release of information and interview transcripts, perhaps this is something you should take up with her. Particularly , particularly since she has publicly and consistently blamed her editors as being at fault. Her continued unprofessional behavior reflects very badly on The Daily Dot, and I know that I am not alone in my opinion.

Ms. Romano sent me the draft article with no statements indicating that it was to be kept in confidence. I quote from her original email here:

“This is the version I filed before any edits at all, including self-editing. The final version had been hacked down by me (I cut 4,000 words in a shorter version but filed this version too), and then it was gone over again by three different supervising editors and a copy editor.

Any mistakes and factual errors in this version are all mine. I will say that the last section, the mention about AB “forgetting to give me an answer,” was written before his last-minute email, which my editor insisted on quoting a huge chunk of. i just hate how much AB got direct-quoted in that article. ugh, i hate it.

anyway.”

I have clearly stated on my blog and my tumblr, “Any correspondence may be published in whole or in part at my sole discretion unless specified as private.” As you can see from the email excerpt above, Ms. Romano made no such indication that this was private. As such, although I had yet to publish any version of the draft article, I have already shared it with a number of my fellow victims/interviewees. I will be forwarding your notice to them so that they may protect themselves, but I will not be held responsible for your reporter’s actions and negligence both in sending it to me to begin with and in failing to specify that it was to be kept in confidence. Your attempt to place the responsibility on me for limiting the distribution of this article is highly inappropriate, as are your vague threats of legal reprisal.

Nevertheless, I can assure you that I won’t be publishing the draft on my blog. I’m a wife, mother and very small time blogger and have no interest in the vendetta of a publication that employs journalists such as Aja Romano. I haven’t the resources to fight a copyright claim, and I would like very much to have no further dealings with Ms. Romano.  I have deleted my own copy of the draft, but I cannot and will not be held responsible for other copies that already exist and have been shared, nor will I refrain from commentary regarding this article, Ms. Romano’s behavior, or this entire situation.

I have worked very hard to regain my own reputation as an honest person, both personally and online. I am extremely incensed that your employee has caused this situation, and put me in this position. I had no notable contact with Ms. Romano prior to her contacting me about this article, and it was I who put her in contact with many of Andy Blake’s victims. I don’t take well to being used as Ms. Romano has used me, and I deeply resent that she was able to hurt people through my vouching for her.

I look forward to reading the released copies of the interviews. I also hold myself accountable in terms of honesty, integrity, objectivity and transparency. It is in that spirit that I will be publishing our correspondence, both to my tumblr and to my blog.

Sincerely,
Abbey Willson
KumquatWriter

So what happens now?

I have not yet heard a reply from The Daily Dot. However, I am well aware that more than one interviewee intend to self-publish their interviews, or have sent them to me with requests and permission to publish them. That means that it won’t be that long before at least some of the material Aja and The Daily Dot are withholding will be available. Also, as I stated in the letter above, I had already shared copies of the draft article (which had no specification that I was not to when it was sent). That means that, although I have contacted all of those parties and told them not to publish it, there will undoubtedly be commentary forthcoming.

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