Open Letter to NJ Newspaper Editors & NJ Journalism Classes

This has nothing to do with New Jersey, except that what happened in Ohio today could happen here any day. And when it happens, how do we tell it? This is for the editors, reporters, and online content directors of Star-Ledger, The Record, APP and all the Gannetts, and all the dailies and weeklies in NJ. And for every college journalism program:

Editors: You should have on speed dial the contact info of a variety of people of different backgrounds and experience. And you should take those calls when they come to your desk. This isn’t about “political correctness”. It’s about basic respect. It’s about treating people – even in death – as people, and not as weirdos.

Today’s headline in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Oddly dressed body found in Olmsted Township pond identified

Here is how a young trans woman I know took note of the article on Facebook (edit of the curse word, mine):

And yet again, the media f***s up reporting a trans murder victim. Rest in Peace, Ms. Acoff (I don’t know what your preferred name is).

“Rest in Peace, Ms.Acoff (I don’t know what your preferred name is).” I wouldn’t expect most of us to show the class, and the sensitivity, of the remark above. Editors, included. And I’m aware that journalism requires its practitioners to be careful drawing conclusions. But the body found submerged in that Ohio pond was not “oddly dressed” if you have some understanding of the lives of trans women and trans men – and what apparel and outward appearance can mean in their lives. This is very likely a trans woman who was stabbed, tied to a concrete sinker and dumped into the water. The newspaper is clearly aware of this; it notes she ID’d herself to officials as a woman, and there’s a photo of her in a long, pink wig. I believe – maybe you don’t – that identifying the victim both as a self-identified woman and also as “Carl” is in-bounds, and fair. But the full impact of this post in Cleveland’s paper of record is dehumanizing and contributes to the climate of misunderstanding, fear and hatred that may have put Acoff at risk in the first place, may even have contributed to her murder. The Cleveland Plain Dealer should apologize. And the rest of us should learn from it.

Here is how the film Transamerica is dedicated:

For all people of trans experience. For all people of any experience.

Get it?  

Comment (1)

  1. Babs NJSD

    The original article was even worse before they edited it for pronouns … they had referred to her as “it” in one sentence!

    This is why every year around November 20, I participate in a now international observance of Transgender Day of Remembrance … to honor those trans women and men murdered for being different. Last year, I was at the White House where they had observed it for the first time.

    This year our state wide observance will be in the Princeton University Chapel and I was post an invite for all, when the date is set.


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