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Reporting on deaths of trans people in breaking news situations

As we all know, there was a warehouse party that went ablaze in Oakland this past week. It was a party thrown by a very alternative artist’s scene, and from that, we lost a member of a small time, yet still nationally known band. I had never heard of Them Are Us Too before this, but they were popular for all people that are fans of the 80s dream pop revival genre (somehow I hadn’t gotten to them).

That member, Cash Askew, faced a lot of misgendering in the reporting of her death. Two other trans women also suffered the same fate, in the incident and in their media memorial.

GLAAD came out and published a piece warning journalists about the handling the deaths of trans people. When I first read this, I was questioning how a journalist is to know if someone they are reporting on identifies differently than how the police reports.

In these cases, all you can do retract your information and leave an apology edit note which is sad. But, for cases like these, where the information was out there that the specific victims were transgender, it’s harder.

GLAAD made a good gesture with this article in saying that if you are getting confirmation of a trans person’s death, whatever name and pronouns you are publishing should be attributed to whoever is confirming this.

It’s almost counterintuitive to have to attribute the use of a name and pronoun, but with transgender victims, it is where the information could be wrong and a source for this information would leave the families and friends knowing why things went the way they did.

With this said, it’s important to take the reporting one step further and ask. If there is a name that you will be publishing of a transgender person, it is more than likely that there will be other identifications used out there for them, so even if you do get one route and attribute it, you should always ask that source if there is anyone who would know them differently.

For one of the women, Feral Pines, she was known by a few different names which made for trouble in getting an absolutely correct account. This is the kind of situation that can be avoided by simply asking your source for the name if there is anyone who would know the victim in another way. The police may not know this, but if there is time and availability, a point should be made to contact friends and family to get that further information.

The trouble is with breaking news situations, there often isn’t that much time to do these things. At the least, an attribution to explain the possible misinformation is definitely best in my opinion. Having information like that attributed leaves the issue a step further from having it displayed as full fact. Once death is factually associated with a name in the media, that’s when it changes to sympathetic “in memoriam” type voice. Just like we try to not confirm the death of anyone who is speculated to have died in an incident, but is at the moment missing, we should avoid confirming the death of a person by an incorrect designation, if we know that this could be an issue. Of course, it’s not just trans people, there are many people who could change their names or prefer to be called something else entirely, but when you know a victim is transgender, more often than not, their given name is not the one we should be using.


How to Cover Athletes (or any public figure) that may be gay


In our Sports Journalism class, we had to dive in to different ethical situations when covering sports, and I thought I could carry that conversation into this blog.

In today’s world, the idea that a professional athlete is or might be gay is big news. I personally wish it wasn’t, I really don’t think sexual orientation matters when discussing a player and his on-field accomplishments but I understand why it is reported on in the way that it is. The lack of publicly gay players means that the media and the world are eager to report on anyone that is.

The question I want to pose to this blog, just like I did to my Sports Journalism class, is what do you do in regards to covering speculation that an athlete might be gay?

I recently heard about how Skip Bayless had wondered aloud in his book if Troy Aikman was gay, according to rumors he heard.

You just have to wonder if discussing rumors about such a sensitive topic are worth it as a journalist. Does the public really need to know this information? This surely isn’t minimizing harm to the individual very much.

I guess it could also depend on whether or not a certain issue comes to light that affects the public figures performance in his/her position.

What if it’s just a scandal, but nothing more?  In this case, a married politician is outed as gay when a sexting scandal with a 17 year old boy come to light. Is this something that really needs to be reported? It’s news, sure, but is it fair to the family and this individual for a story like this to pick up steam and continue to be reported on?

I’m interested to hear what other people think of this broad topic and the different ethical dilemmas journalists face in reporting news like this.

Savannah Guthrie talks TV news in the Trump Era

Last week, Today Show anchor Savannah Guthrie was interviewed by The Hollywood Reporter, where she discusses her frustration on how the 2016 election has put mainstream media/journalists in a difficult position. She claims that she has tried her hardest to not show bias during the election.

“There are plenty of people who think the media created Trump, and there are plenty of people who think the media never gave Trump a shot,” she notes. “The only thing that seems to be unifying everyone is their mutual hatred of the media.”

It is an accomplishment that Guthrie and the Today Show has stayed fairly neutral during the election, especially since Billy Bush, an anchor for the show, was amidst one of the biggest scandals of the election season (“grab ’em by the pussy”). When management did not immediately terminate Bush’s position as the host of the 9am hour, female staffers revolted. Ten days after the tape surfaced he was officially fired from the show. It was Guthrie’s position to inform Today viewers of his removal from the show, and she admits that it was an uncomfortable moment for her.

“I don’t think anyone who covers the news is ever happy to be in the news,” she says.

When asked by the Marisa Guthrie, the journalist who was conducting the piece, if she can keep an open mind about Trump based on his attitude towards women, she shut Guthrie down.

“That just gets into an area that I don’t feel comfortable saying much about because it veers into personal opinions I may have about a political figure,” she says.

Personally, I believe this was the perfect answer considering that she is such a public figure, who will constantly be reporting on Trump throughout the next four years, regardless of her opinions on him.

Guthrie also mentioned that she feels that comments towards newswomen are often veered towards sexism, and that she feels that women anchors have to worry about specific criticisms that male anchors do not.

“There is often a different tenor to the criticism. Everybody gets ‘You’re biased.’ But you may also get ‘Why do you roll your eyes and make that face? Why does your voice sound so shrill? Why are you such a B?’ Honestly, I’m interested in fair criticism. I’m not perfect. I try really hard to stay neutral. But often that’s not what you’re finding on social media. You’re finding people who are very opinionated and detect bias in anyone who does not share that opinion.”

Guthrie is a female journalist in a time where journalists are hated more than ever before. Many journalists have been slipping out bias comments over the course of this campaign, which to an extent I understand. It must be hard to control your feelings towards a presidential candidate if you do not agree with what they stand for. However I feel as if Guthrie has done an excellent job of disregarding hateful commentary and presenting herself in an unbiased manor.

By Megan Laffey

How Holywood depicts female Journalists

After reading an article published by Vox, titled “Hollywood won’t let female journalists be competent at their jobs” by Aja Romano, I began to think about how  female journalists are generally stereotyped in the movie industry. The article  focuses on certain characters from television shows and movie, particularly relating all examples back to Rory Gilmore.

Before even finishing the article I automatically thought of movies and shows like “How to lose a guy in 10 days” and “Sex and the City” where the female’s professional career and their entire role in the movie rely on her sex life and romantic endeavors. As I continued reading, both of these examples were used. The bottom line is that in the movie industry, women cannot seem to distinguish a line between their professional and personal life. These fictional female journalists are seen as either heartless greedy reporters or someone who sleeps with sources in order to better their career.

Reading this article was almost a wake-up call for me. How could I not realize that these (fictional) female journalists were placed in a box and could only thrive in their careers by crossing ethical lines? The article ends by saying that Hollywood is not ready to create another Rory Gilmore, a professional ethical female journalist, and I agree.

Full article here:

Being paid to write a feature on someone or something

Over Thanksgiving break, a friend and I had a debate about whether or not it is ethical for a reporter to be paid by a person or a company to do a feature on them. My friend argued that during his internship with a Costa Rican newspaper he was paid to do a feature on a yoga business.

I argued with my friend that I would never do that because of the ethical issues of being paid by a company to write a feature for them, while he argued that he was just doing his job and that is how the world works. I obviously understand that journalists must be paid but through their news organization not through a third party that is looking for a puff piece. My friend argued that it was simply advertising for the company and that by paying to have a feature written about them they were paying for advertising.

This brought up an interesting point to me because in a time where advertising dollars in newspapers has dropped significantly, what is a new way for newspapers to make ad dollars? Companies would much rather advertise on social media, where it’s cheap and reaches a large number of eyes. Should newspapers be open to new forms of advertising where they are paid to take a tour of a park, company, etc…? Or do the ethical issues such as conflict of interest stop that from happening? Is it even any different than just having a print ad on the side of the page?

The Publishing of Disturbing Videos and Images

This unit discussed the need for ‘fresh’ material and new ways of conveying meaning in photojournalism.

The Nieman Report argues that journalists have been recycling the same types of photos (ie. starving children, soldiers rescuing the wounded, etc.) in efforts to invoke the same kinds of emotional responses.

But in order to find these new ways of storytelling and forming new connections and responses with viewers, we sometimes come across difficult decisions.

This unit reminded me of the videos and photos circulated when Saddam Hussein was executed by hanging in 2006. Thought to be one of the greatest enemies to the United States, Hussein’s death was celebrated by Americans as the video of his death circulated almost instantly.

I remember that reports of his last words, and pictures of his lifeless body were of common interest by many of my classmates.

An official video was released by the Iraqi government that only showed up to the moments before his death, as well as an ‘unauthorized’ video by someone who attended the execution, showing the full event.

As a major news outlet, would you decide to show any of these videos or pictures? Many news outlets linked to photo or video of the events, most of which have been removed today.

What parts, if any, need to be shown? Why? What benefit does it have for the people? If you consider it unnecessary or too graphic, why?

A Trump presidency and a curious, hopeful journalist


Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential elections was disappointing for me, but not surprising. I credit that entirely to books I’ve read like, Iron Cages and The Half Has Never Been Told, in Professor McBride’s “Covering Race” class. The structure of our society was built for the white  man by our (racist) founding fathers and much of that foundation has remained unchanged. That’s why Trump’s slogan of “Make America Great Again” appealed to so many white people in America.

It’s not to say that I could predict a Trump presidency. I was also paying attention to my Facebook timeline and reading the left-leaning articles it suggested to me. I would sometimes avoid video clips or articles with Trump because I was sick of them. I couldn’t take him seriously.

Even during election day, I spent most of it with ease. It wasn’t until we watched Jorge Ramos’ documentary for Fusion in McBride’s class that I started to worry.

I realized that I don’t know the midwest and the south at all. I don’t know the fear little children with undocumented parents from Central America live within Texas or Arizona. Even though my sister is undocumented, we live in Massachusetts and our family is from the Caucuses. We’re privileged not to have to worry about Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) knocking on our door.

I went to bed early feeling defeated after watching the polls on the television screen. There was no point in crossing my fingers and hoping for a swing state to vote Hillary. It was over.

I woke up in tears at 5 am after scrolling through my Facebook feed via my phone to see the results.  “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is probably done for,” I thought. My sister’s own application for DACA had been tied up in courts since 2014. But there are students at universities and colleges nationwide who rely on it for their education now.

I felt scared for myself and everyone Trump and his supporters stand against. Was it safe to be visible anymore?

But in some way, I felt excited to prove my ability to write even more. This time, it felt urgent.

The tension between the polarized left and right has been brewing for a while. And in McBride’s words, we’ve opened the pandora’s box.

Now that the hate crimes have surged, people are paying attention.

I had classmates and professors apologize to me about my sister’s immigration situation throughout the day . I couldn’t help but feel strange about that because it wasn’t about me. But also, for the first time, my peers were actively talking about immigration.

Nine days later, over 600 students, faculty and staff gathered outside of the Student Union in demand of transforming UMass Amherst into a sanctuary campus, meaning police wouldn’t be able to demand a student’s citizenship status unless compelled to do so.

UMass was one of the 150 colleges nationwide that staged walkouts that called for safety for undocumented, refugee and international students. It came in response to President-elect Trump’s 100 day action plan.

Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy responded the next day via email with, “We have no plans whatsoever to discontinue in-state resident tuition for DACA students,” and that UMass police does not gather citizenship or immigration status on any student.

We, journalists and activists, are living through one of the most active times in political history. I believe we have the power to educate and rewrite history.