I’ve been framed (and hit with a stick)

When I worked as an editor in Prague, I received a phone call from a reporter at the Czech Republic’s biggest daily. She wanted to interview me — and other foreigners — about their reactions to a Czech Easter tradition.

Here’s the tradition: On Easter Monday (yes, Monday), young women throw buckets of water on the men to wake them up in their beds. This is helpful because there has often been a great deal of drinking the night before.

Then, the men go out with willow switches (branches from young willow trees) and hit the young women. Or any women. They’re not supposed to hit hard; it’s more like a firm swat. The swat is delivered to the hindquarters or the legs, and it’s supposed to guarantee the woman’s beauty and fertility for another year. In return, the woman hands the man (“oh, thank you for that, sir!”) a beautiful, painted Easter egg.

You think I’m making this up? Nope.

So this reporter calls me and wants to know what I think of this, as a foreigner.

Being a stranger to the notion of a “sound bite,” I proceed to tell her how that previous Easter Monday, I was sitting in a restaurant with my husband when a man came in, ordered me to stand and swatted me, smiling. It was so bizarre, I couldn’t stop laughing, I told the reporter. But it’s your country’s tradition, and who am I to comment on your traditions? I’m a guest here.

Mm-hmm, she said.

I saw the story a few days later. In it, the reporter quoted me as saying that I was appalled and angered by this medieval Czech tradition. And that I had been injured by the man with the stick.

What??! What just happened there? Was I a victim of inaccuracy?

Yes, but that’s not the point of this story. The point is that she needed me to fit into a pre-made story frame: Foreign (feminist) woman finds Czech tradition primitive and stupid. The trouble is, that’s not what I’d said.

Be aware of frames in your reporting. The New York Times’ public editor Arthur S. Brisbane wrote about the power of framing in this column about the Tucson shootings. In the column, he quotes the dean of another journalism school as saying:

“Journalists developed automatic framing protocols generations ago because of the need to report quickly… Today’s hyper-deadlines, requiring journalists to report all day long and all night long, made that genetic disposition even more dominant.”

Tomorrow, Scott Swafford will talk about framing. In preparation for that discussion, think about how you decide what you put in your stories and what you leave out, and then think about why.

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37 Responses to I’ve been framed (and hit with a stick)

  1. Oh my! That is dreadful!

    It’s an extreme situation, but it offers us all a good reminder not only to be careful in our quoting, but in how we use sources in our stories.

    Both the Thomas Huang piece and the Roy Peter Clark piece left me with a similar thought: no matter what, we need to make sure we present the truth in an honest manner. Regardless of which frame ends up being used, it needs to be an accurate frame. It seems to me that having an accurate frame is just as important as having accurate facts.

  2. kurtwoock says:

    It’s probably a good idea to look back at what you’ve written in the past. Too often when I write stories I am so eager to finish them, that once they’re out I forget about them completely. That’s too bad: there are definitely some mistakes — some really good mistakes — in them. Mistakes to learn from. After the rush of the deadline has passed, reviewing your own work to see how your frames could have been better might be one of the best way to get better.

  3. Dustin says:

    the disorientation frame in Huang’s post seems especially fraught with the potential for stereotyping

    his comment about breaking new voices into our stories in the mainstream frame is especially difficult but a choice that can yield some great rewards

  4. Audrey Moon says:

    Before covering an event I usually make a template or frame of how I think the event will occur and then go back later to fill in necessary information that occurred. As helpful and efficient as this is, I have found myself rewriting everything because my new information didn’t fit into my old template. As far as templates go, I think they are helpful and useful but I also think journalists need to be flexible and willing to start from scratch.

    You can’t create the news.

  5. Eva Dou says:

    I’m always grateful when the tables are turned on me and I get interviewed: It’s a good reminder of how nerve-wracking it is to have to worry about getting misframed and taken out of context.

    How easy it is as a reporter to think you know the story before you do! It’s something to always guard against.

  6. Johanna Somers says:

    I agree that journalists tend to paint/frame a story positive of negative. I remember John Schneller or Scott Swafford, during bootcamp, telling us to try to write about the “middle” not always off to the extremes. For example, in politics we should try to write about a social issue the way most Americans feel about it or deal with it, as opposed to the extreme way politicians and media normally portray a subject, for example, social security, Republicans want to get rid of it and Democrats are going to bring the nation to the poor house because of it.

    The only problem with taking away the hero or the victim is …..would the audience still be interested? I would hope so, but at the same time, people like to see the “superhuman” and the “victim.” I think those characterizations fit into novelty.

    But I agree with Thomas Huang, that a person in a wheelchair shouldn’t have to always represent the disabled or be portrayed like a hero or a victim, it would be great if he/she could just be portrayed as a person. In the cross cultural journalism class I TA in we talk about schemas and categorization. I think people can get away from categorization (the easy way of determining who someone is by putting them in a category) but its challenging because it seems to be humans natural tendency…even if its wrong.

  7. tomnagel says:

    This reminds me of Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel’s idea of character templates in “The Elements of Journalism.” They describe how journalists often imagine a story and how a character may fit into it. In other words, our sources are imagined templates before we learn about who they actually are. These notions affect what questions we ask sources, as we try to construct a source to match our notion. The goal is to examine a story without a frame or template. That allows us to understand the complete picture of what we are investigating.

  8. So far this semester, I’ve noticed that I’ve changed my framing style. I started out wanting people to say a certain thing to link my story together and have it flow better, but in reality, that’s just not the way things work.

    People are more than likely going to say things you aren’t expecting. In most of my interviews, I haven’t known my subjects all that well, so it was unfair of me to have expectations of what kind of quotes I was going to get.

    That being said, I now try and aim for a subject I want them to talk about, and see where their quotes take me. I find that being more broad allows for me to still include quotes, but it might take a little more time and effort to have it link to the rest of the story.

    Too often people get caught up in trying to steer someone to say that certain thing that fits perfectly into their puzzle of a story. But quite frankly, it doesn’t always happen. You have to be flexible and willing to put in that extra time to make things fit perfectly.

  9. harryplumer says:

    This video I came across on CNN today struck me as a perfect example of bucking a frame and actually trashing a frame that’s been around for a while. Not to mention the fact that it’s a pretty good video.

    http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/09/28/vbs.detroit.lives/index.html?hpt=C1

  10. The specific framing examples Huang gave on diversity were very helpful. It’s one thing to talk about framing and seeing all the different ways it can be done on a particular subject.

    It really irritates me when I find that I’ve been misquoted in a story, even something as small as a sports story on my high school soccer team. I think it’s a combination of lazy reporting as well as an unwillingness to let go of one’s frame.

    I think as young journalists we are overwhelmed with making deadlines, blogging, beat reporting, scheduling interviews, and just trying to figure out how to be a reporter in general.
    The most important thing I took away from lecture and these articles is that yes you should have a frame in mind, but be willing to change it if that’s where the information leads you. We must be able to adapt stories or we will miss great opportunities.

    I also loved the example given in lecture about the reporter who interviewed the man digging JFK’s grave at Arlington Cemetery. I know when I’m on breaking news shift and I get sent to an accident or a fire, I have a sheet of paper with general questions on it I need to ask the authorities. This is still new to me so I ask the questions I know I need and then I’ll rush back to write up the report. Something I need to work on is looking for a more interesting story behind the everyday mundane. Now that I’ve gotten a feel for the newsroom I need to work on more creative storytelling, or as Schneller put it “original reporting.”

    That will be my biggest challenge.

  11. Allison Seibel says:

    I think so many reporters do this, and I’m sure I’m guilty of it too. They choose a topic to write about, and assume how people feel about it. For example, in high school I was writing a paper about abortion. I really just assumed that most people were pro-choice, and since I am, I was sure I had my angle. But then I did some research and started interviewing people, and was shocked to see how many people were NOT pro-choice, in fact, a poll I found on CNN said 49% of pollers were pro-choice and 51% of pollers pro-life. I had to rearrange my entire story. I learned that you can’t just assume how people feel about one issue to the next, you really have to talk to people about the issue.

  12. Sean Leahy says:

    I’ve found it helpful to never stand in the way of where a story is going. Sure, you’re going to have an idea of where it COULD go as you start it, but it’s important to let go and let the story take its natural course.

    Framing can hurt when you get stubborn in where you want the story to go, even when it’s clearly going in a different direction.

  13. Caitlyn Crawford says:

    I do believe it’s beneficial for reporters to have a good idea of what they want from a story before they go in, but as far as preconceived notions, it’s better to check those at the door.

    I’m working on a story now regarding the potential elimination of classroom trailers throughout Columbia schools.

    After speaking with Dr. Belcher I had this idea in my head that everyone hated trailers with an undying passion.

    On the contrary, I found a plethora of teachers, principals, and staff in general who didn’t seem to mind them at all. Some of these people even enjoyed the trailers quite a bit.

    More times than not, things aren’t what they seem to be on the surface. It isn’t our job to settle for what’s easiest, or selectively seek the type of information that confirms our biases and ignore all the rest. We have to be open and dig a little deeper. Our job is to find the truth.

  14. Framing is such a complex issue. Put most simply, I wish that it could be done better. Still, as Brisbane’s article discussed, the time crunch in journalism makes it difficult to move or break out of a particular framework. I would take this a step further and say that a frame can be just as useful to the reader as it is to the reporter. If a reader is expecting a certain frame, their prior knowledge becomes activated and they can jump into a story more quickly. The real problem with framing arises when an issue is framed inaccurately.

    • Kip Hill says:

      Emilie brings up a great point about readers drawing upon prior knowledge to jump into a story. I don’t think it’s always the fault of the reporter when an issue in a story is framed inaccurately in the reader’s mind, though. We can think about what we put in and leave out of our stories until the sky falls down, but the fact of the matter is, a ton of framing is subconscious or unconscious. Even subtle changes in language can set off a completely different interpretation of your story. That’s where the importance of the editorial process comes in, I think.

      Also, in the Hornbuckle piece, I think the author astutely raises the question of causality in framing, terms of what becomes part of the public agenda as a result of media coverage. We kind of backed off Vietnam on Tuesday (for good reason), but it’s featured pretty prominently in the “how and why” framing of this particular story, and I find the connection to be compelling. What isn’t readily clear is which way the flow of causality is occurring-is there something about the media coverage of modern warfare that leads to exasperation from the public, or is there something about modern warfare that makes the old narratives employed during prior wars obsolete and off-putting to a modern audience? In other words, the new frame is unmistakably present, but it’s not readily apparent what brought it about, in my opinion.

    • Su, Haoyun says:

      Honestly, as a reader, I may enjoy “appropriately-framed stories” more than simple information cause it’s easier to go into the story or make sense of events. But with today’s news providers being more interpretive, I think even if you frame the story accurately, it will induce a very different and sophisticated response in the reader. I’m really not sure how to do with it, so my choice right now might be simply telling people what happened.

  15. Alison Matas says:

    One of the most interesting ideas about framing I’ve heard was a statement brought up in class Tuesday, which is that it’s possible to tell a story where all the facts are accurate but the spirit of the reporting is not. Obviously, that’s not what happened in the case of your Easter Monday experience, but I think that’s what the Hornbuckle story gets at. With coverage of the war being directed at remembering victims, the people who fought the battles got ignored. No one can say the stories about the injured were explicitly wrong or inaccurate, but they framed the war in a way that wasn’t authentic. It’s an interesting issue, and I think it requires journalists doing a lot of extra research and spending time with their sources if possible to figure out what the truth of a situation actually is, rather than just writing the easier story.

  16. schacht99 says:

    Did anyone notice that the Captain Hornbuckle link goes to Vox’s “Good Man Project” rather than the WSJ story?

    Here’s a blog that has all or a large chunk of the Hornbuckle story: http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2003/11/005049.php

  17. keliza13 says:

    I found the comment made by the University of Nevada’s journalism school dean very interesting; in class on Tuesday we talked about bias in the family, and this really made me think of an argument I had with my parents over the summer. In this 24-7 news world, journalists have to fight for any and all information they can get. Unfortunately, the need for speed throws us into hyperdrive and we sometimes get lost in the idea that a story should be almost entirely written before the interview happens, just to save on time and get it out before “the other guy.”
    I think going into a story with a plan is important. When I’m planning out a story and prepping to write it, I make a list of people I want to find. For STEM, I started out with a list: principal, teachers, parents. I wanted to see if I could find someone disgruntled with the program to get another voice involved; however, as I went through the story, I couldn’t find anyone, and I soon realized that angle was just not available.
    That’s the important thing I think journalists need to realize: not all angles are out there. The reporter that asked you about the Easter Monday festivities knew what angle she wanted, and she probably couldn’t find one so she tailored your quote to fit her frame. It’s pretty deplorable for a journalist to do that, but it’s not entirely out of any of our leagues, either. Paying attention now to the risks and dangers framing plays will definitely help us be more aware of it later.

  18. This is a hard problem for any reporter, but I think the best way to avoid it is simply to be aware of this.
    Ideally every story would be lead by a person and personal experiences, but sadly this isn’t possible. The nature of journalism and writing on a deadline means that there is little time to analyze everything and you must start with a plan for your story before doing anything. However, this plan may cause you to look for a certain person to fit a mold of what you already want for your story.

  19. asussell1 says:

    I think framing is a very interesting concept, especially in a deadline driven newsroom. I think reporters often are encourage to frame their stories ahead of time. I often hear editors around the newsroom tell writers to “write the story now with the information you have, then add in the quotes you get in your interview.” I think this is a great way to get a story done quickly, but a tricky situation when you consider framing. When a reporter writes a story ahead of time, they are writing what they think the story is – not what it actually is. I understand reporters are also encouraged to revise stories if the quotes tell a different story from the original draft, but not all reporters do. They have a deadline to meet (or maybe it’s just a matter of laziness?).

  20. Carlos D. Navarro says:

    I think captain Hornbuckle’s story reminds us all what a difference a change in the way we frame our stories can make. And it points to the very fact that news coverage about the war had been limited to one aspect of it – the victims.

    I guess the main lesson to be learned is that we should always keep an open mind to the way we approach a story. I agree with my classmates when they say that sometimes we already have a very concrete idea of what our idea should look like. As positive as this could be in terms of beating the deadline, it could also lead us to overlook this type of little details that could make the difference between balanced/accurate and unbalanced/inaccurate reporting. The question whether we are including the opinions of all of the stakeholders in our stories should always come up.

    Also, I think Arthur Brisbane’s column puts the whole deadline issue in perspective. I mean, although we journalism people sort of try to be superhuman sometimes, the truth is we are very human. And human beings make mistakes. We should never forget that. We need to acknowledge that even though rushing into things could be the way to go most of the time, it isn’t the way to goo all the time, since it can also lead to inaccuracy.

    As far as Professor Reed’s experience in Prague, with all due respect to Czech people and their traditions, whoa! The fact that she was kind of forced into participating – which she did with stoicism – almost becomes secondary in view of how poorly her experience was used to fit a preconceived story. I just think this is another example of how important it is to really listen to what our sources have to say and not just look for the things we want to hear.

  21. kaitlinsteinberg says:

    I think in the case of the Hornbuckle incident (that sounds a lot cooler than it is, doesn’t it?), it was the media that created the frame based upon subtle prompting from its audience. As consumers of news, we want to be left with hope, not thoughts about suffering and death. In one of my magazines class, we read excerpts from a book entitled Reading National Geographic, in which the authors examine the way this famous magazine, under the guise of an unbiased social commentary, frames its stories to leave readers with hope.

    The authors, Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins, write, “They may provide isolated images of poverty or of social unrest, but these are always embedded in larger sets of photos designed to balance their impact. ‘Life goes on’ is the larger message. ‘Families still love each other–the social fabric has not torn’…In a world where newspapers and television carry such disturbing images every day, National Geographic is saying, ‘We’re not denying that such things go on, but look at the larger context.’ The magazine thus preserves its grip on reality, while maintaining its message that everything is fundamentally right with the world.”

    It’s no doubt less frowned upon (it’s sometimes even applauded) when magazines frame stories, as opposed to newspapers, but I think it’s important to remember that often, it’s less an oversight on the part of the publication, and more a way to keep readers happy. They’re sensitive souls, those readers, and some news is just a little more than they can handle with their morning coffee and croissant.

  22. emilyg87 says:

    I agree with the need for an open mind, Carlos, and I would add the need to be ready for some actual work. Part of the allure of quick framing is that it simply makes life easier. If we can grasp a story (mentally and then physically when we write it) using pre-conceived knowledge and understanding, we don’t have to work as hard. And sometimes, it’s just a comfort, too. When the media jumped to identify the Norway shootings as a case of Muslim extremism, it was in part, I think, a way to make the horror more manageable and comprehensible as soon as possible. We’ve dealt with Islamic terrorism, we know how to react. And in the same sense, we’re comfortable with the victim role of Jessica Lynch, it’s the warrior role that makes us cringe, especially in light of the Vietnam war, as Jonathan Eig points out. So maybe it all just comes down to getting out of our comfort zone again.

  23. This happened to my dad on CNN!!!

    My family and I were in Italy when I was in like fifth grade, and there had just been a series of bombings on trains to and from Rome (where we were staying). A CNN reporter and videographer came up to my family on the street and could obviously tell we were tourists. I’m pretty sure both my parents were wearing fanny packs. Anyway, he asked my dad if we would be changing our travel plans because of the recent attacks, and my dad essentially was like, no, not really. He said he made sure our clothes didn’t blatantly display the fact we were American, but we’d still be riding the train.

    Later that night we anxiously awaited his debut on TV, and when it finally came on, it was almost laughable how much they changed his quote. They cut up the sound bite to make it sound like the exact opposite of what he’d said–that he would be avoiding trains for the safety of his family. What a rip! We were all so pissed but still a little impressed that my dad was on CNN.

    But yeah, I’ve also been a victim of framing. Not cool.

  24. Pingback: IT’S TUITION DAY PEOPLE! « Adaptation

  25. I think people feel the need to frame because they think it’s the best way to get people’s attention. Before even writing a story, you consider the various perspectives a source could have on an issue, and you might interview someone and discover they are somewhere in between those perspectives. It’s a natural thing to categorize how a person’s views might fit into a story, but it’s wrong to pick and choose their words so they sound like they have stronger (or in your case, Katherine, completely different) things to say about a subject. That’s why accuracy checks are so important. When you put a quote in a story, you should more or less summarize the question you asked around the quote. Give the same context to the reader that you offered to the source.

  26. lizlaubach says:

    Providing the reader with a reference to organize information given in a story is very useful. I have begun a story or two this semester with a preconceived frame, but I think the point is to not let that frame compromise my ability to obtain and express all aspects of the story, like the Times did after the Giffords shooting. I have been experiencing the difficulty of trying not to not get attached to conveying a story in a certain way while doing the reporting, because when I aggregate all the information it may not seem like that frame is actually the best way to pull the reader in. I get the sense that perhaps the more interestingly framed stories, and most accurate, develop a frame after the initial reporting is done.
    But still the decision of what information to include in a story to fit a certain frame shouldn’t be included for just that reason only, as it was in your Katherine’s and Bethany’s dads instance. Sometimes when information obtained doesn’t fit a preconceived frame, this could be even more interesting. The reporter thought of the issue, or instance or story a certain way sometimes for no reason other than that is how they think most people would relate. But discovering an aspect to an issue/instance/story that goes against that, such as the idea conveyed in the Wall Street Journal article, has even more powers to grab readers’ attention.

  27. I loved framing before reading these articles and hearing about this situation. Perhaps this is because so far in my writing, my sources have sort of framed the story for me. I always make sure that I am not going into an interview having already written the story or knowing exactly how I want the story to turn out.

    Just last week, I was calling around for interviews about a story I was writing on the courthouse plaza landscaping project. A source I had already interviewed suggested that I contact this other person to discuss some of his ideas on how to improve the courthouse plaza. Wouldn’t that have been nice for my story? But it turns out he was completely uncomfortable being quoted in this story and almost hung up on me. Had I had already framed the story ahead of time, I would have had to scrap this draft and start over. Instead, I like to have idea/direction notes for each piece I write. That way I can refer back to my list of directions for a particular story and progress from there.

    The most important thing to take away from these articles on framing is that a journalist’s job is to write the truth and no more. I think Brisbane is right when he says that journalists feel pressured to frame (sometimes incorrectly) because of the growing pressures of immediate journalism and deadlines, but that’s not an excuse. This is why we have the accuracy check policy, so that we are sure not to report inaccuracies.

  28. chrisroll13 says:

    The worst thing about out-of-proportion framing is how badly it can blow up in your face if your subject calls you on it later. Bethany’s example sounds like a comedy sketch I saw about play reviews, where scathing insults were re-cut and edited into glowing sound bites.

    On the one hand, I understand that journalists go into an assignment with a particular goal in mind–so do I–but sometimes the amount of bending it takes to shove a piece of information into the puzzle just isn’t worth it.

    Of course, deadlines make us do crazy things . . . (not that it’s a good excuse)

  29. Karee Hackel says:

    Reblogged this on Karee Hackel and commented:
    As a budding journalist, I have absolutely gone into a story with a preconceived frame and before reading these articles, I don’t think I was quite aware of how detrimental framing can be to a journalist’s credibility. Framing can prevent a journalist from obtaining all facets of the story, thus missing out on some very crucial, interesting and story-worthy details. When beginning the initial stages of reporting, it’s difficult to not become attached to one idea of portraying a story. By doing so, the journalist is limiting themselves as writers and also, the prospect of their story to become something more than it was originally “framed” to be.

    I agree with and understand Brisbane’s comment about the stress of reporting quickly, but like Laura stated, framing can cause inaccuracies in reports, which is not a fundamental of good journalism. Being overwhelmed by the immediacy of a deadline is no excuse to reporting things in a false light. In order to avoid framing, I believe it’s necessary for the journalist to not become attached or involved with the idea of one and only one way of covering a story. The importance of listening to your sources, hearing their stories and establishing a story from there is what promotes good and most importantly – interesting journalism.

    Like Katherine and Bethany’s story, it’s truly unfortunate how badly framing can portray the legitimacy of journalism. So many subjects are skeptical of our purpose because, they believe we are only “out to get a story”. By listening to the subject and hearing them in the entirety of their interview, it provides journalists with an outlook that can reshape an entirely different vision than what was originally framed before reporting was done.

  30. teresaroseklassen says:

    I’m inclined to look at lessons in human nature, not just lessons in journalism. My favorite part of this story was the analysis of what people really want: survivors instead of heroes. I wish we’d been able to discuss that during class. I was very much intrigued by the idea that the people receiving our content are uncomfortable with killing and heroes, and more likely to applaud someone who is lucky enough to escape a bad situation. (My point here being that if anyone didn’t make it that far, you should read the whole story).

    I think a confusing component of framing is that, when pitching or beginning reporting on a story, one of the first questions consistently asked is what the angle is. I think maybe a better question would be: What is the focus of the story? Really, what we’re trying to do is give our story a narrow focus, lest we commit the sin of information overload. Angle implies that we, as journalists, have an ulterior agenda—which is what we are trying to avoid. I wonder, at what point do we give our story direction—do we wait to decide what our story is about until after interviews? I think it depends a lot on the subject…

  31. Ben Nadler says:

    That is a really funny story and illuminates a tricky problem in doing daily journalism. It is bad and blatant to change someones words and point of view entirely, like what happened in this story.

    It is probably more often that journalists pick and choose bits of information to form a view point, rather than changing someone’s opinion entirely. We pick quotes that illustrate one point of view and don’t write down the counter point because it isn’t congruous with our story. We interview one person and not another. We cite one statistic, while leaving out another that disputes it.

    As we can’t include every single piece of information about a given topic into a 15 inch story, we must be purposeful and thoughtful about the information being presented and whether it portrays a fair and accurate picture.

    I wonder if prewriting pieces of articles makes a journalist more apt to be set in a predetermined narrative. If the woman that interviewed Katherine had written an entire story about how Western women find the Czech Easter tradition offensive before she went out and interviewed anyone, then any contrary opinion was simply changed to fit the story she had already typed up.

    I have no clue whether that is what happened but, maybe writing too much before doing the reporting can actually be a bad thing.

  32. This is really interesting. I talked about something similar with some Vox reporters just yesterday. One of them asked if I thought it was necessary to mention in a person’s obituary that the deceased was transgendered (the individual was born a woman and died a man). I had to think about it for a while but decided that, in general, if a person’s sexual identity isn’t relevant to telling his or her story, why mention it?

    If the story is ABOUT the person’s sexual identity, it makes sense to talk about it. Otherwise, that detail is trivial and even borderline offensive. Sexual identity is ONLY one part of a person, but we assign single traits to people as though it’s WHAT and WHO they are, and that’s unfair. This happens so often: people putting other people in a box. The person that died may have been transgendered, but he was also someone’s child, grandchild, and friend, perhaps enjoyed cooking, was an avid coin collector, loved traveling, cars, and Joan Rivers. I think it’s acceptable to make a quick mention of his identity—after all, how else are you supposed to explain to a reader that John Smith was born Jane Smith?—but not let it become the focus of the story.

    Sometimes, and this has indeed happened, anchors will mention a person’s race though it has absolutely no relevance to the story they’re telling. “A man opened a barbershop in Cleveland” vs. “A black man opened a barbershop in Cleveland.” If it’s a white man, his race has no bearing on the story. He’s just a man. If it’s a black man, despite the fact that his race isn’t at all pertinent to his decision to open up a barbershop, he isn’t just a man. He’s a BLACK man. Ridiculous.

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