Judging from social media, dominant media has done nothing right in its handling of the case of Jennifer Laude, a transgender woman found dead in a lodge in Olongapo City over the weekend.
There is little to say in our defense considering a bikini pic of the victim on the front page of a major daily and our seemingly stubborn insistence on referring to her as Jeffrey Laude, the name that she was given at birth and the one that she legally had at the time of her death.
How the story should be handled has been the subject of long e-mail discussions and of huddles at desks since the story broke and if dominant media has been ham-handed, I hope that it is obvious that we are still learning and improving by the day.
What rankles, though, is a statement made on Twitter by one of the generation’s thought leaders earlier tonight that the use of “transgender” in the story (as in transgender woman, transgender murder) was meant to drive traffic because the death of a Filipina is “not tragic enough.”
The choice of using transgender was not a choice at all. We use it for accuracy and not to make the story bigger — in that it is apparently a hate crime, and because it allegedly involves an American soldier on shore leave — than it already is.
Even the use of Jeffrey, something that some netizens have criticized the dominant media for even mentioning, is not as cut and dried as it looks from the outside.
We have been using female pronouns to refer to Laude from Day One. But here is the problem: She identified as Jennifer but her family (as of this post) has not dropped Jeffrey. On official documents, she will still be referred to as Jeffrey Laude.
Although I have no power over policy, I expect that we will eventually prefer Jennifer over Jeffrey as the story develops and it becomes better established that the two names refer to the same person.
In the meantime, we will report the story as fairly and as soberly as we can, not because we want the online traffic but because that is what we signed on to do.
Hits are important, sure. But no journalist is kept awake at night by the thought of how many shares their story got and how much online traction it earned. Or at least, not more often and for longer than by the question of whether they told the story the best that they could.