Becoming Trans News – Final Report

Becoming Trans News is a study focused on ordinary trans and gender nonconforming individuals’ experiences being featured in the news. The term ordinary meaning those who are non-prominent, rather than the usual news subjects such as politicians, celebrities, government officials, etc. This project builds upon research done by Columbia graduate Ruth Palmer, who wrote a book on how ordinary people in the news.

The goal of this research was to find any commonalities among the interviewees regarding their experiences in the news. Those commonalities helped us come to conclusions on what most ordinary trans and gender nonconforming people feel about their interaction/s with journalists. In 12 interviews conducted, we discovered plenty of interesting factors that went into an individual agreeing to be featured in the news media, if they would do it again, and what impact being featured in the news had on their lives.

We used a qualitative research method, with the form being applied research, and a case study being the research design. Commonalities were discovered through me color coding the transcribed interviews for reactions to the article, interactions with reporters, why they chose to be interviewed, and willingness to talk to a reporter again.

We found that all respondents agreed to being featured in the news because they felt it was right to give back to the community in a sense by educating the audience on an overlooked—but important—topic, or give a perspective that is rarely seen in the media. One respondent told us, “I feel a sense a responsibility to speak out, not an obligation.” That feeling of responsibility to speak out in the news media may be unique to the trans and gender nonconforming demographic, as it is unlikely other groups (outside of activists and not-for-profit workers) agree to be featured in the news to promote awareness about issues in their community.

We also found that though reactions to the article from strangers/friends and family varied from donation offers to death threats, all 12 respondents said they would agree to be interviewed again. The interviewees’ reactions to the article they were featured in varied, as some were upset about inaccuracies, usage of wrong terminology, etc. Others expressed happiness with the care the journalists approached the article, and giving them a voice in their outlet.

We also found that the few respondents interviewed by more niche publications, rather than major or local publications that usually do not cover transgender issues, said the interview was smoother to go through. With outlets or journalists that usually do not cover trans people, many of our respondents explained how they had to educate the interviewers on topics pertaining to trans issues. One respondent said: “I was kind of surprised how little that [the journalist] had prepared, or at least sought about or read into the subject.”

In terms of successes of this research, one thing sticks out to me: the diversity of the respondents. I am happy we had such a diverse group of trans and gender nonconforming individuals for this research. Generations varied from folks just entering college to individuals who have been in the workforce for decades. We also interviewed different ethnicities for this project, which makes the conclusion we came to representative of most of the community, not just a subgroup within it.

I’ve learned a plethora of things through this research. Before this summer, I did not know anything about color coding or how a lot of the research we cite in English essays come about. Another lesson learned that will stick with me for the rest of my career in journalism is questions that particularly trans and gender nonconforming people find offensive or invasive to ask. Interviewees made clear that questions about their dead name, sexuality, and genitals should never be asked. This research also gives me and other journalists insight on what the interviewees are thinking from the time we contact them for an interview to the time they read the story. Respondents described a mix of nervousness, anxiety and excitement they felt throughout the entire process, which is something journalists may not always take into account because we do interviews so frequently.

This experience was phenomenal, and that is due to both the subject and my mentor. Dr. Fink chose a great topic to cover.  We had weekly meetings where she would relay what new things we needed to do for the research. She kept me on track throughout the entire process. One example that I recall was at the very beginning when I was searching for subjects to interview. I expected we were going to look for people who have featured in the news the past five years or so. However, she made it a point that it should be 2018 news subjects because the interview would be so in-depth that they would not remember an interaction from years back. She was correct because the individuals who were interviewed more recently were able to give us clearer and quicker answers without taking time to think or having to search through emails.

I believe when Dr. Fink is finally publishes this, it will potentially be groundbreaking research that will help journalists for years to come. The media has been rightfully criticized for the way it covers marginalized groups, and hopefully this research will help journalists avoid that criticism.

‘Becoming Trans News’: A Month Later

Becoming Trans News is headed towards its end and thus far, the results of Dr. Fink and I’s study has been intriguing. We initially set out to conduct interviews with 10 non-prominent trans and gender nonconforming individuals who have been featured in the news thus far in 2018. However, we had enough potential interviewees get back to us that we’ve actually conducted 12 interviews for the research.

I am still completing the color coding of two remaining interviews to find consistencies and common themes from them. However, many commonalities have already been discovered. For example, we found that all 12 of our respondents agreed to speak to journalists because they felt it was right to give back to the community in a sense by educating the audience on an important topic, or give a perspective that is rarely seen in the media. As one respondent put it, “I feel a sense a responsibility to speak out, not an obligation.” That feeling of responsibility to speak out in the news media may be unique to the trans and gender nonconforming demographic, as I highly doubt other groups (outside of activists and not-for-profit workers) agree to be featured in the news almost entirely to promote awareness about issues in their community such as health insurance, conflicts with authority figures, self-care, employment and other topics.

Despite some qualms that many of the respondents expressed they had about becoming a public person–including one who said the article he was featured in could have potentially been seen by his transphobic father–they all agreed to do so, which was an interesting find. Also, a decent number of the respondents faced some repercussions from the article they were in–ranging from rude comments to death threats– but all 12 stated they would be open to being interviewed by a journalist again.

On a positive note, there were plenty of respondents who also received positive reaction from friends, family and even strangers. One respondent even said they were contacted by a reader who wanted to donate money to his top surgery fund because they were so touched by the story he was featured in.

We also found that respondents interviewed by more niche publications, rather than major or local publications that usually do not cover transgender issues, expressed the interview was easier to go through. With outlets or journalists that were not used to covering trans people, many of our respondents explained how they had to educate the interviewers on topics pertaining to non-cisgender people. One respondent said: “I was kind of surprised how little that [the journalist] had prepared, or at least sought about or read into the subject.”

Reactions to the articles seriously varied. Some interviewees were upset on inaccuracies in stories they were featured in, the length of the article, their role in the article, the intricacies of how the story was written, journalists putting their words of context, using the wrong terminology and much more. Others expressed happiness with the care the journalists took into the article and giving them a voice in their outlet. Some of these issues, of course, are not exclusive to trans and gender nonconforming individuals, but it is still significant to see how ordinary individuals in general react to being featured in the news, considering there are very few studies regarding this.

Luckily, there has not been any challenges or roadblocks facing us during this research. Respondents got back to us in a very timely fashion, and each person interviewed was very open about their experience being featured in the news and the affect it had on them and their loved ones.

A success that sticks out to me was getting such a diverse group of individuals to speak with us. We had individuals who just completed their first year of college and other who have been working professionals for decades. There was also ethnic diversity among respondents, along with different gender identities. So this research displays the reality for a majority of ordinary trans and gender nonconforming people featured in the media, not just a specific group within the community.

There are a plethora of lessons I learned thanks to this research. For starters, I have a better overall understanding of how academic research works and the necessary time dedicated to make it all run smoothly without any setbacks. Through this project, I’ve learned about questions that particularly trans and gender nonconforming people find offensive or invasive to ask. This research also gives me and other journalists insight on what the interviewees are thinking from the time we contact them for an interview to the time they read the story. Respondents described a mix of nervousness, anxiety and excitement they felt throughout the entire process, which is something journalists may not always take into account since we do interviews so often.

This research has helped me immensely with my future in journalism. The issues the interviewees expressed about certain things journalists did helps me know what I should/should not do in the long run as I aspire to have a career in covering topics that affect the LGBTQIA community. For example, I now know that asking someone about their birth name–also known as their “dead name”– is a question that should never be asked.

Overall, we’ve made plenty of progress since last month and we are preparing to complete it in time to present it at the Undergraduate Research Day and hopefully present it at media conventions. I am so grateful for the opportunity we’ve had thus far to do this potentially groundbreaking research.

Becoming Trans News

Becoming Trans News investigates the experiences of trans and gender nonconforming people who have appeared in news stories in 2018. What makes this research unique is we’re focusing on and interviewing “ordinary” trans people, meaning individuals who aren’t the usual people who appear in the news such as celebrities, politicians, prominent activists, etc. Thus far, there has been few studies conducted in which ordinary people shed a light on their experience in the news, let alone a group as underrepresented and so marginalized like the trans/gender nonconforming community.

The purpose of this research is to explore the experiences of trans and gender nonconforming people who appear in the news stories, and possibly the unique obstacles that the community may face being featured/mentioned in the news. Questions that we look to answer is why individuals agreed to be interviewed, how they felt their interaction with the reporter/s went, if they feel the story they were featured in were accurate, if there were any repercussions from being featured in the story, etc.

The goal of this research is for the greater good in the context of reporter-citizen relationships. This research aims to help journalists better their interaction when interviewing  and writing stories about trans people/issues by addressing the issues of language usage, questions that may be inappropriate, etc.  Another goal is to give a better understanding to the public about the interview process for a news story and the possible implications of being featured in the news, which is especially important for those who are trans/gender noncomforming or comes from a marginalized community.

Through ten interviews, six of which have already been completed, we expect to fill in any holes we can within the academic research community. Dr. Fink and I hope to learn possible unique positives or negatives trans and gender nonconforming people have from being interviewed and featured in the news. Six interviews in (which I’m transcribing), I can say that thus far, we have seen a common trend in which the people we’ve interviewed have expressed some displeasure with cisgender reporters asking questions or writing something in the article that they deem too personal or misinformed. And that truly speaks to what we look to achieve: to document an issue that if addressed, can better the media’s relationship with trans people and other minorities.

We’re using qualitative research method that includes 10 approximately one-hour interviews that will shed light on how it is to be an ordinary trans or gender nonconforming person making the news. The research form is applied research, with a case study being the research design.