Why asking & answering readers’ tough questions is helpful when covering rape

The Register Citizen

The Register Citizen took a smart approach when reporting on the Torrington, Conn., rape and cyberbullying case this past weekend; it published a Q&A that asks questions such as: “What happened?”, “How does Torrington compare to Steubenville?” “Why did the Register Citizen identify underage bullies?” and “What don’t we know?”

Rape and bullying stories are complicated, so taking the time to ask and answer questions about them is important. So is explaining editorial decisions — especially if they’re decisions that people have criticized or questioned. Last week, the Register Citizen responded to criticism by explaining its decision to publish student tweets about the Torrington case.

Matt DeRienzo, Connecticut Group Editor of the Journal Register Company, explained via email why the Register Citizen published the Q&A.

“We did it because it is a complex story that is easy to develop misunderstandings about if you don’t see the whole picture. And the story got a lot more complex and easier to misunderstand when it exploded across national media,” DeRienzo said, noting that the paper will continue to update the Q&A as news develops. “We are linking to the FAQ from all of the (many) stories and editorials we are writing about this case, so that readers can quickly get an overview of everything we know about the case so far.” 

A question about the language the paper has used to report on rape cases could be a good addition to the Q&A. On Sunday, DeRienzo responded to a Twitter exchange between Lauren Wolfe and Republican American reporter Bruno Matarazzo Jr. about the use of the word “scandal” in the Torrington case.



“The problem with using the word ‘scandal’ to describe a sexual assault is that the word connotes something titillating, and [is] ambiguous,” Wolfe, director of the Women’s Media Center’s Women Under Siege project, said via email. “We’re not talking about sex, we’re talking about violence. A crime.”

After responding to Wolfe’s tweet, DeRienzo acknowledged via email that the Register Citizen used the word in a headline on Saturday.

“I think [we were] attempting to reference the way the school district was handling the case (allowing one of these students to play football despite felony robbery charges, for example, and refusing to comment on the bullying of rape victims) more than a reference to an alleged rape itself being a ‘scandal,’” he said. “In a case like this, the words we use are incredibly important.”

If readers raise questions about the words we use, or the reporting we do, we owe it to them to answer their questions on Twitter, in comments sections — or in Q&As.

Previously: CNN Steubenville coverage called too sympathetic to teens found guilty | The grammar of assault: Salisbury paper learns why “performing a sex act” misrepresents the crime | Why journalists have trouble reporting on bullying

Correction: The original version of this post misspelled Bruno Matarazzo Jr.’s first name.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.knilands Robert Knilands

    I’m sure your generalizations will solve the problem quickly. Let me know when all is OK.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=48809025 John Chuckles

    I am having trouble with your premise.

    1. Is there an actual correlation between people being shown inappropriate images of women and how often they rape people?
    2. Why do you assume men run newsrooms? Women hold positions of power in many media outlets, including executive producers at CBS and NBC news, executive editors (New York Times), writers and anchors. Unless you did all of your research in old school superman and spiderman comic books, I am not sure where you get this assumption.
    3. Why do you assume women would be less likely to promote images of women as sex objects? Ratings run the game, and one of the best ways to get ratings is to show these types of images. All people love money, men and women alike.
    4. Images of men with their junk hanging out is not exactly the logical analog of women showing cleavage, Men are constantly shown topless or running around doing things half-dressed for the same reason women are, it gets people’s attention. The point is that men and women ARE sex objects. We as a species are hardwired to acknowledge the qualities of our counterparts that promote healthy offspring. It’s our responsibility as good humans to file these acknowledgements away for appropriate times and company, not the responsibility of the media to brainwash us with ultra-conservative potrayals of the human body.

    Let me know what you think.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=749911534 facebook-749911534

    A bit offmessasge but also on message, I recently wrote and published an oped titled “How the Male Newsroom Culture of American Media Promote Rape, Violence Towards Women.’ GOOGLE it. My main theme is that when newsrooms of many print and online media greenlight the publication of seemingly innocent and innoculous images of women showing cleavage in sports shots or cheerleader shots or models promoting fruit at exhibition shows or any other kind of photo that portrays women in sexual objects for male ogling, whereas newsrooms never show male genitalia hanging out of their shorts or print captions of the size of their schlongs, this puts women in the wrong light. Read my piece first, then react. Men control the newsroons and men must stop controlling the newsrooms, OR, they must grow up first. — dan bloom via danbloom AT gmail

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=48809025 John Chuckles

    And who goes out of their way to force the implication of titillation into a discussion involving rape? ‘Scandal’ does not specifically suggest sexuality or perverted gratification. I think it’s scandalous that someone started this argument.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=48809025 John Chuckles

    Some people use their emotions as a method of analysis, which is kind of like a gorilla using his strength to formulate advances in nanotechnology.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.knilands Robert Knilands

    While we’re busy parsing words here, I think it needs to be pointed out that Poynter, once again, refers to rape as if someone has been convicted of a crime. Hasn’t happened.