As a reporter or editor, you might find yourself in unfamiliar territory like Caleb Hannan did when he wrote “Dr. V’s Magical Putter,” the article from Grantland.com that prompted a wave of criticism over the weekend.
In reporting about inconsistencies in claims about a celebrity-endorsed golf putter, Hannan learned the inventor of the putter, Essay Anne Vanderbilt, was a transgender woman. Vanderbilt committed suicide last year after Hannan discussed what he learned about Vanderbilt’s gender identity with another interview subject. In writing about his reporting process Wednesday, Hannan outed Vanderbilt publicly.
The criticism resulted in a public apology from the site’s editor-in-chief, Bill Simmons. As Simmons noted, no one on his staff is transgender and one of the key problems he identified was that the story was not vetted by anyone who had knowledge of transgender community issues and outing.
How can you avoid making similar mistakes? Make sure you take time to identify what you don’t know, but are assuming. Reach out for help.
In large part, that is why NLGJA exists as an organization. Covering issues of gender identity and sexual orientation can be complex and nuanced and especially challenging for those who don’t frequently write about those subjects. We offer a variety of tools for our fellow journalists, including topical tip sheets, a Stylebook Supplement on LGBT Issues and a toolbox for journalists working on LGBT-related news stories. We are also happy to help talk through stories as they are being written. We have offered workshops where members from our organization can come to your newsroom and help your staff better understand these complicated issues. We can put you in touch with journalists from the transgender community who could help answer questions and help you weigh issues you might face in reporting about the transgender community.
There isn’t always unanimity on how a story should be handled and ultimately news organizations have to make their own call.
The issues people who are transgender may be dealing with and the level of support they have is generally different than those for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. Weighing whether to disclose a person’s gender identity and expression involves different considerations than does weighing whether to disclose whether someone is gay, lesbian or bisexual.
Please, consider that words matter.
NLGJA isn’t just for LGBT people. As your colleagues, we are here for all journalists. Please feel free to reach out to our leaders and members for guidance and assistance.