The controversial 2014 Grantland story by Caleb Hannan on Dr. V. shows just how much a news piece can be life or death. The article discussed how the inventor of arguably the most voluntary golf putter ever was in fact a con who had lied about her credentials, and was transgender. Dr. V., knowing of the paper’s imminent release, ended up committing suicide, a common tragedy among the trans community. Despite her death, Grantland’s chief editor Bill Simmons still decided to run a revised story, one complete with Dr. V’s death.
I felt I could really relate to the piece, concerning how being a journalists can easily lead to one being tangled in a mess of advisories and tragedy. It also connects to how a writer always has to think about the potential thoughts of it audience. I have now been in situations where something I’ve written has been denied publication because it has been seen as not been worth the potential backlash. While I’m personally against the decision, I understand where the editor is coming from.
A news organization always has to think of its audience, even if it causes a writer to rewrite their thoughts. For example, while Hannan did not want to portray people in the trans community in an adversarial manner, his wording of “a chill went down my spine”, was seriously seen as such offensive to many. However, a newspaper also have to accept backlash if the issue is important enough, as with the Boston Globe uncovering the church sex scandal. Even though the majority of Globe readers were Catholic, the editors decided that the need for people to know what was going on overrode the potential anger reader would have over their religious leaders being characterized as criminals. Also, as with the McDonald’s coffee story, what a journalist reports can have dire consequences. Stella Lieback endured years of torment and ridicule due to journalists giving an unfair account of how she burned herself with coffee.
We live in an age when anyone, thanks to the internet, can assess articles that aren’t targeted to them. While in the past, almost all the readers of the “Dr.V” would be older white men, many female and younger readers could also access it online and tell their own opinions. The Grantland editors and writers did not contact any trans gender expert probably do to how rarely they felt they would deal with that issue. The sports world always deals with social issues, but not much has been written about the LGBT issues until recently. The backlash was a wake-up call to news organizations everywhere they they need to be more in touch with marginalized groups.