Last week, ESPN’s Grantland published a story by Caleb Hannan called “Dr. V’s Magical Putter,” a piece that on its face looked into the ambitious claims of Essay Anne Vanderbilt (a.k.a. Dr. V), the inventor of a golf putter called Yar. The article ended up being less about a putter and more about the inventor and her secret about being a transgender woman. Dr. V had committed suicide months before the article was published and weeks after last speaking with the reporter. In the aftermath of the article, the reporter and Grantland have been widely attacked for prioritizing the story over compassion. Grantland’s editor-in-chief issued a point-by-point apology Monday in tandem with a piece titled “What Grantland Got Wrong” by an ESPN staff writer, Christina Kahrl, who is a transgender woman. This week on Mediatwits, we’re joined by special guest Poynter’s Kelly McBride to talk about the ethics of Grantland’s reporting, as well a Gawker’s features editor Tom Scocca, who wrote this piece about the controversy. We’ll also be joined by American University’s Andrew Lih, and as usual, PBS MediaShift’s Mark Glaser will host.
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Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He is a longtime freelance writer and editor, who has contributed to magazines such as Entertainment Weekly, Wired and Conde Nast Traveler, and websites such as CNET and the Yale Global Forum. He lives in San Francisco with his wife Renee and son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.
Andrew Lih is a new media journalist and associate professor of journalism at the American University School of Communication. He is the author of “The Wikipedia Revolution” (Hyperion 2009, Aurum UK 2009) and is a noted expert on online collaboration and journalism. He is a veteran of AT&T Bell Laboratories and in 1994 created the first online city guide for New York City (www.ny.com). Follow him on Twitter @fuzheado.
Kelly McBride has served as a faculty member of the Poynter Institute since 2002, acting as a teacher, writer and expert on media ethics. She is in charge of the Ethics Department and the Reporting, Writing and Editing Department at Poynter. Kelly is also the director of the Sense-Making Project under the Poynter Institute, which analyzes the transformation and values of journalism, as well as the relationship between technology and democracy. Kelly, in tandem with Tom Rosenstiel, co-edited the book The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century.
Tom Scocca is the features editor of Gawker. Previously, he was the “Off the Record” columnist and media editor for The New York Observer. Before that, he was an editor and writer for Washington City Paper and Baltimore’s City Paper. He writes the “Scocca” blog for Slate, and his byline appears regularly in The Boston Globe and The Awl.
The reporter was undoubtedly working with a tough story: a profile of an inventor who fabricated most details she shared with him. She never attended MIT or Wharton or worked on top-secret government projects. But many commentators have criticized the article for conflating her dishonesty about her professional history with her desire to keep her gender identity private. The article was also denounced for outing Dr. V, even posthumously, since she had made her desire for privacy clear. Where does fact-finding end, and cruel privacy-encroachment begin? How should a reporter gauge which details are fair game, and which aren’t?
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Claire Groden is the podcast intern for PBS Mediashift and a senior at Dartmouth College. You can follow Claire on Twitter @ClaireGroden.