Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend reported that the Human Rights Campaign's Executive Director, Joe Solmonese, would be leaving the organization late on Friday night and Washington insiders and HRC staffers are understandably upset at the timing of the report.
Solmonese's decision to step down as the head of the nation's largest LGBT advocacy organization at the end of his contract has been a "known secret" to many pundits and journalists for months who were waiting for the official announcement. After Don't Ask Don't Tell was repealed, speculation on whether or not he would remain on the job was rife, but high level sources inside the organization said he would serve out his contract. After seven years on the job, an incredibly long time for the leader of an LGBT organization, Solmonese had recently started telling close friends and colleagues of his imminent departure.
Solmonese planned to tell board members during a conference call on Monday evening, but the call was rescheduled to earlier this weekend after Spaulding published her scoop. Spaulding's report inaccurately suggested that Solmonese's departure was part of a staff shake-up; while the organization's restructuring will take place, the two are unrelated.
Employees of the not-for-profit, many of whom were in the process of preparing for Hurricane Irene's arrival and had already been rattled by the 5.8 earthquake earlier in the week, were informed of Solmonese's decision and other upcoming staff changes during a mandatory organization-wide conference call on Saturday. Senior staff had planned to announce the changes after the area was no longer in a state of emergency and next week's scheduled board call had taken place.
Some staffers were understandably upset at the timing of Spaulding's post. While they were preparing for Irene's pummeling, they feel they had to take punches professionally as well. Many employees found out Solmonese would be leaving and they may not have a job in the near future while they were sandbagging their homes or evacuating low-lying areas.
"That's the last thing they needed," said one person close to the controversy who asked not to be named since they're not authorized to speak on behalf of the organization. "She has no idea how many people she hurt by doing this like she did."
While reporters for many national LGBT news organizations were gathered in Philadelphia for the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association conference, several picked up on Spaulding's story. Philadelphia, also in the path of Hurricane Irene, was in a state of emergency starting early this weekend. Attendees reported flickering power and leaking ceilings by early evening on Saturday and parts of the city was flooded as high as street-sign levels by Sunday morning.
Spaulding, however, took exception to The Washington Blade's article by veteran reporter Lou Chibarro which failed to mention her as the original report of Solmonese's departure and instead cited "a number of bloggers." In a stinging rebuke, Spaulding chastised the newspaper in a post Saturday afternoon.
Pam's House Blend broke the story last night, August 26, about Joe Solmonese's departure from HRC. It was the only blog or news outlet to bring you this news first.
The Washington Blade either 1) doesn't know how to count; or 2) doesn't know how to fact check; or 3) doesn't think a blog deserves credit for committing the sin of "journalism." And I'm not just referring to PHB; it also applies to my colleagues in the LGBT blogosphere who step beyond commentary and do first-hand reporting.
This sounds like a topic for discussion at the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists' Association conference that is currently going on (hashtag #NLGJA2011).
Several conference attendees expressed shock at Spaulding's insensitivity over the story's sourcing. While acknowledging that mainstream news publications often write bloggers out of the stories they report, they also insist that their outlets are getting better at recognizing bloggers for their work and pointed to the weekend's unusual weather events as a reason for the oversight.
They defended Chibarro by pointing out that he credited the blogosphere but was also working in the path of a storm deemed, "a historic hurricane" by President Obama. Washington Blade editor Kevin Naff lives on the Maryland coast in the Baltimore area and several outlet staffers were stuck in Philadelphia.
Spaulding reported that Naff rectified the mistake in an updated version of the web report.
Thank you, Kevin Naff, for promptly addressing this matter. I encourage a clear and open discussion about how blogs and traditional media can have a two-way street of professional respect.
In an update to Spaulding's original post, PHB blogger Autumn Sandeen acknowledged Spaulding's mistake that a new executive director had not already been selected, saying, "What MetroWeekly is also reporting is that the consultant that we at PHB reported that the HRC is going to tap as the new executive director is going to instead be an interim director. "
Sandeen later seemed to walk back from the statement saying in a later update to her post:
Clarification/Correction: Chris Geidner wrote "Although the sources say that no permanent replacement has been selected, none of the four sources were willing to say what, if any, role Woolard would play in the transition efforts at HRC."
Beyond connecting a name to the unidentified paid consultant from the initial PHB piece, Chris Geidner indicated no conclusions as to what her role in the transition would be, assuming that Woolard would even have a role.
HRC, however, said in a press release yesterday that no interim director will be named. Solmonese will remain in charge until the end of his contract in late March. The organization announced that a search committee has been formed to find Solmonese's replacement. It will be co-chaired by board members Joni Madison and Dana Perlman.
"From the beginning, we asked Joe to give us six months of transition when he decided to leave and he's done that," said HRC Board of Directors co-chair Rebecca Tillet. "We have every confidence that we will find and engage a new leader within that timeframe."
While Solmonese's tenure has been marked by many high moments in the LGBT movement - the passage of hate crimes legislation, the repeal of DADT, achieving marriage equality in six states, and many governmental administrative changes to better accommodate the LGBT community - he has also been a frequent target of criticism by trans activists over HRC's controversial decision to support a bill providing employment protections for gay, lesbian and bisexual people that specifically excluded transgender people. The organization has since returned to supporting a version of the bill that is inclusive of the entire LGBT community.
"HRC has never been stronger and after nearly seven years, this is the right moment for me to move on," said Solmonese. "As I explore new professional possibilities, I plan on continuing to pour my heart and soul into improving the lives of members of our community - from battling proposed marriage amendments to creating more equitable workplaces to ensuring the President Obama is reelected for a second term."
When Bilerico Project launched in July of 2007, Solmonese was a contributor until after the ENDA debacle. Spaulding is also a contributor; her last post was in April 2010.
(Photo credit: Karen Ocamb)