I always say that if I could re-do my graduate career, I would have at least also pursued a master’s in journalism in addition to my social work degree. Unfortunately, I’m not prepared to accrue more excruciating student loan debt, so I have not pursued this. But every time I read a horrible news story — and by horrible, I mean horribly written — I cringe and regret not getting a journalism education so I could actually write professionally and responsibly about the topics I care so passionately about.
Take, for example, a story two days ago published in the… no, not the Huffington Post… The New York Times! The gist: a transgender woman (born male) was killed in a suspicious fire early Saturday morning in Brooklyn, NY.
Let’s talk about it.
First, the article opens with
She was 25 and curvaceous, and she often drew admiring glances in the gritty Brooklyn neighborhood where she was known to invite men for visits to her apartment, her neighbors and the authorities said.
My first thought: Why are you telling me that this poor victim of a fire was “curvaceous” and attractive? Why do I need to know she was known to have men over her apartment (like it’s a bad thing)? Oh… it’s because she is a transgender woman born male. I don’t learn that until the 6th paragraph. But it sure does put the first paragraph in context for me. The authors of the article — two males — are victim blaming RIGHT off the bat. FANTASTIC. The article goes on to explain the suspicious nature of the fire so it MUST be because she was attractive — despite being born male, right? — and invited men over .. which for people who are ignorant to transgender issues, would think that Lorena is gay — INSERT SHOCKED FACE.I hope you’re picking up on my sarcasm here.
The authors then found it necessary to find witnesses, neighbors, and friends of Lorena who would further describe her attractiveness, tell me how she allegedly had a rib removed to make her so “curvaceous” as we learned initially, and to inform me of her participation as an escort.
A neighbor said,
She was always on her laptop posting ads about herself. Still, she was a nice person.
Because women in escort services are not nice people? Oh, thanks for that lesson NY Times. And again, why does it matter that she was or was not in an escort service? Oh right, the authors are victim blaming. Duh.
Then I get to learn about what was found in the debris:
Among them were wigs, women’s shoes, coins from around the world, makeup, hair spray, handbags, a shopping bag from Spandex House, a red feather boa and a pamphlet on how to quit smoking.
Again, why do we care? We don’t… but the victim-blaming authors who are ignorant to gender issues and diversity care. It baffles me that this is what journalists think the public wants to read. Further, it terrifies me if this is what the public wants to know when a woman dies in a fire. But wait… this isn’t the norm of facts to report? You mean the New York Times doesn’t always tell us about the victims looks, companions and visitors to his/her home, or the sexual behaviors he/she may or may not have exhibited? Well no, they don’t.
I did a search on the NY Times to see how other journalists have written on fires that took people’s lives. Consider this story: “Woman’s Daughters and Parents Killed in Connecticut Fire.” This story paints a very said picture of a woman who lost her young daughters and parents who were about to celebrate their 49th anniversary in a fire that destroyed her house. The authors chose to quote the deputy fire chief:
We have not had a loss of life like this since back in the ’80s, where there was also the loss of five people. I can’t remember anything like this.
Yes, the authors of the Connecticut Fire are different than those of the Brooklyn fire, but the principle remains: Al Baker & Nate Schweber (authors of Brooklyn fire article) chose not to write an article depicting the sadness of this fire and loss of life because they clearly do not see a value to Lorena’s life. They told society that transgender people are not valuable and that their life choices can lead to travesties, such as an apartment fire taking their life and endangering others.
Needless to say, I am extremely disappointed in this sad excuse for journalism.