What everyone can learn from the Grantland “Dr. V” controversy

Just wanted to share this thoughtful (in my opinion) apology and explanation from Bill Simmons of Grantland, responding to the backlash against “Dr. V’s Magical Putter.”When I first read the story, I definitely cringed, both as a journalist and as a person who has recently become more educated about what it means for someone to be transgender, and the best way to talk and write about it. I tend to agree with Simmons and many of my colleagues that Dr. V’s history as a man was relevant to the story, to a point; it was the reason Hannan couldn’t find any information about her prior to 2001, and the point of the story, ostensibly, was that this was a very mysterious person.

But the reporting and writing was flawed. Hannan outed Dr. V to one of her investors, perhaps not even realizing the significance of what he was doing. And the prose felt cold, lacking empathy and almost feeling vindictive at times. Not to mention the misuse of personal pronouns.

But Simmons’s apology and explanation addressed all of this, and with a depth that I hope becomes the norm in web journalism. Instead of shrinking away from the comments and Tweets and blog posts, Grantland considered it all, reflected,and issued a thoughtful, sincere response.

I think it’s an important read for everyone; not just editors and journalists. It carries a vital message not just for journalism ethics, but for empathy in general, something that feels lacking in so much online discussion.

This one phrase really stuck out to me:

“I read Caleb’s piece a certain way because of my own experiences in life. That’s not an acceptable excuse; it’s just what happened.”

Our experiences naturally color our actions. Acknowledging that can have a profound impact on future understanding. That’s why I think it’s so important that Grantland shared this entire experience with its readers, and essentially with everyone else in the media. We could all learn a lot from it.