Creating Journalists at Emmanuel College

A guide for ENGL 2501 and ENGL 3801

People-first reporting — writing about disability, gender, age and race

Peter Dinklage in "Game of Thrones." Photo via HBO

Peter Dinklage in “Game of Thrones.” Photo via HBO

I assigned the infamous “Dr. V’s Magical Putter” longform story from Grantland to my journalism students over the weekend. I was hoping most of them didn’t quit midway, wondering why their professor assigned a long-winded story about golf.

There are many problems with the “Dr. V” story that my students talked about today — its length, the story structure, the reporter’s choice to stick himself in the story — but the big issue is gender. In reporting “Dr. V,” the writer uncovered the fact that Dr. V was not the Department of Defense scientist she claimed to be, the major selling point of her revolutionary putter. He also discovered that she had transitioned from male to female, outed her status to several people during his reporting and he treated her subsequent suicide as almost an afterthought in his article.

Whew. That’s a lot to dump on students.

Today’s lesson, any case, was on people-first reporting. My students are each profiling a Boston Marathon runner, many of whom are running for a charity. It occurred to me, having read “Dr. V” in January and in watching sportswriters stumble over themselves reporting on Michael Sam’s coming-out as a gay football player, that we should really talk about the dangers of “othering” a story subject.

  • Is a person heroic just because they’re battling cancer?
  • Are you talking about appearance just because the subject is female?
  • Is the person’s race or religion crucial to the story?
  • When you are referring to a disability or a medical condition, are you using the proper terminology?

Some references for student reporters:

By the way, I have a photo of Peter Dinklage at the top of the post for a reason: at this point in Dinklage’s career, does every article about him have to mention he has a form of dwarfism, or can his acting stand on its own?


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This entry was posted on February 19, 2014 by in Journalism and tagged , .

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