Donald J. Carpenter, the independent journalist who revealed key facts in the Steubenville High School rape case, died Friday in Pittsburgh, PA. He was 44.

Carpenter originally gained a national platform by breaking and releasing news in the Steubenville High School rape case, where the sexual assault of a young girl from Weirton, WV, was covered up in 2012. Carpenter was the first to live-stream and report material obtained by the hacker collective Anonymous. His independent reporting elevated the case to national attention and led to the convictions of the rapists involved.

CBS called the victory “The Case Social Media Won.

Most knew Don Carpenter from his concert photography. He was a resident photographer at The Rex Theatre in South Side until its closure in 2020 and his iconic laugh was a mainstay on E. Carson Street most nights. His jovial attitude opened up green rooms. Artists shared stories and smoke breaks with him. After the pandemic, he photographed concerts around Pittsburgh and music festivals across America. However, his journalism defined him.

Prior to Steubenville, Carpenter trained and volunteered as a reporter for Pittsburgh Indymedia. He contributed to Rustbelt Radio, which aired weekly in the early 2010s. He discovered a love for documenting the world in front of him with the evolving distribution of the internet. During the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests, he joined Occupy Pittsburgh, coordinating social media from the Mellon Green encampment.

After the protesters peacefully dispersed the encampment in early 2012, the movement and Carpenter found success repurposing the Occupy Pittsburgh Facebook page as a media outlet similar to Occupy Democrats. In the following years, the accounts would become one of the largest left-wing news aggregators in Pennsylvania.

In 2015, Carpenter stole the Occupy Pittsburgh social media handles to promote his own career. He locked out administrators and renamed the pages to “Don Carpenter Media.” The large audience was repulsed by his actions. The betrayal led to Carpenter becoming an outcast in the activist world. He failed to find a place in mainstream media, partly due to his damaged reputation resulting from the theft.

Shunned from newsrooms, Don Carpenter went under the alias Rogue Journalist for the last decade of his life. His work focused on exposing scammers in the music industry, fraudulent influencers, and reporting on the dark web.

Carpenter battled with addiction. Just before his untimely death, Carpenter was seeking support and making amends. Carpenter disavowed the last decade as Rogue Journalist a month before his death, claiming he had fabricated some sources and stories. He took his archive offline. He stated, “I lied to all of my readers…” He continued, “My written works have caused damage to reputations, relationships, and cost my victims opportunities or careers.”

According to his apology letter, some of his later stories were made up to discredit competitors. Others, he had hoped, would bring his career back into the public spotlight. “I can’t take back what has already happened as a result of my actions. For that, I feel terrible.”

Carpenter said in regret, “To all of my victims, I apologize profusely.”

In his early career, Don Carpenter showed us the best of what a citizen journalist could be. He was in the community telling stories that sought, and often achieved, social justice. Late in his career, he showed us the worst ways a journalist can abuse power. He fabricated facts and misrepresented sources for personal gain, ultimately tainting his larger body of work.

But by friends, he will be remembered as the smile on the other side of a camera.

Foo, editor of The Pittsburgh Reporter, guides our newsrooms and meets neighbors. He shares heartfelt stories often overlooked.