Op-Ed: The Death Knock – ethics in reporting

The more that numbers are used to represent people, the less human those numbers become.

That is fact.

The media, especially non-indigenous media, has created a surplus of dehumanization time and time again through the overuse of numbers in statistics while seeming to disallow media coverage of the actual people affected by those numbers.

In other words, you are more likely to read a story telling you that there are over 2000 murdered and missing indigenous women, than you are to read the story of how important indigenous women are to their families.

On another note, more dehumanization can be seen in the portrayal of suspects in news stories. If you take a look at recent head lines in the media regarding an African American male and compare them to the headlines for a male of European descent, there is a huge and stark contrast in the way that they are portrayed. One is often portrayed as already guilty and the other tends to be portrayed as mentally ill.

The same for indigenous people as oftentimes their voices are skewed or their words are taken out of context.

So tell me why a grieving indigenous family would want to speak to the media. You can’t.

Not only are our communities incredibly interwoven, with families knowing and visiting their first to seventh cousins on a normal basis, they are protective of their grief. Their grief is theirs, their mourning is theirs and to display that on a grand scale is something that is generally out of the question. This is because our people don’t turn to outlets or strangers with notebooks and recorders to grieve, they turn to each other.

It’s simple to understand that people are people and that they aren’t the word count at the bottom of Microsoft Word — which are, again, more numbers to dehumanize. So when reporters have to make what is called the “death knock,” I’m sure it is emotionally taxing. But, as a journalist is it really that all-consuming to act like a vulture and look into the eyes of someone that is grieving and ask them to lay out their grievances to later be written down and pinned up, just for a news story?

I’d say nay.

Journalists have the right to refuse to cover stories like that. I mean, from a strict reporters point of view, perhaps it is important to give grieving families a voice. But your best intentions can cause what is called re-traumatization.

So, in my opinion, if an indigenous family isn’t already vocal about their grief, don’t bother trying to get them to open up. Let them heal.

Related Posts