The “CBS Evening News” ended a recent broadcast with a story about a 14-year-old high school freshman whose dream is to be an NFL quarterback.
Calder Hodge is a double amputee who plays for his school’s JV football team. His story may be an interesting one, but the CBS coverage was problematic for a number of reasons, offering a lesson on how to cover people with disabilities without being patronizing or offensive.
Laura Misener, who conducts research on disability and para-sports at the University of Western Ontario, has been quoted as saying that, too often, reporters ask questions only about an athlete’s disability or impairment without considering the sport in which they compete.
That’s certainly true for the CBS Evening News piece, which offered no interviews with coaches or teammates. Instead, the reporter’s focus was on Hodge’s prostheses and his “spirit,” with quotes like “you never hear him complain” and “every practice, every game he’s doing what he’s been told he can’t.” Hodge is described as a “special child” who is “chasing his dreams.’
During the holidays, many media outlets look for feel-good, inspirational stories like this one, but before making someone with a disability the subject of your piece, consider these questions:
- If disability were omitted would there be any news value to the piece?
- If the story is meant only to inspire or make the reader/viewer feel good, is it really a story?
If the answer is “yes” to either or both of these questions, the story may only reinforce negative stereotypes. If you do move forward, be careful of your tone and tell more than a one-dimensional story.
For more information:
NCDJ Style Guide: https://ncdj.org/style-guide/
By Susan LoTempio, board member, National Center on Disability and Journalism
Contact Susan on Twitter @slotempio or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.