No cisrespect, but…: CBS Local

or How to sexualize a serious problem in a marginalized community.

You know how it is. You’re a small-time, local media company operating on a tiny budget. You come across a news item that reveals a pretty shocking and soul-crushingly depressing statistic. But you need a photo to accompany the story. So you dig through your content management system, searching for “transgender”. Maybe all you can find is this one file photo of a transgender person; after all, you’re a small-time operation.

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Anyway, the article is about transgender people; your content management system tells you this is a file photo of a transgender person. Seems legit. Also, hey, this file photo of a transgender person is a flattering one. Maybe you figure that a good photo will make people less depressed about reading the facts of the article. Maybe some media marketing and SEO expert figured a file photo of a transgender person featuring a good-looking woman would pull in “eyeballs”, subject matter be damned. Maybe you honestly do not know what a transgender person could possibly look like and your CMS almost crashed trying to find transgender in some (ab)errant metadata field somewhere-it is true that our images are notoriously difficult to capture photographically since we reflect light that camera sensors cannot detect.

I honestly don’t know what’s going through your mind but I can see that professional discretion is one thing that’s not happening. This profound level of glaring cluelessness points me to the suspicion that somebody over at CBS Local did this on purpose, on a lark, to see just how far they could push tastelessness in a major media outlet. Maybe next week we can expect you running a photo of the Top Gun volleyball scene to accompany some story about suicide attempts by veterans experiencing PTSD.

That would get a lot of people upset, I imagine. However, since there are only 34 transgender people in the world, you won’t get too much push-back about this. It is December 8, after all, and your story stands. But in case you do, you might have to write an apology or something. Here, let me do the work for you:

Last week, we published a story about the high rate of suicide attempts among transgender individuals. The story was accompanied by a stock photo that some readers found insensitive, given the story’s subject. We apologize if some readers were offended. It was certainly not our intent to offend anyone. We regret the error.

The bold parts are important; they absolve you of any carelessness and deflect the ethical burden onto those who were hurt by your oversight. It was an honest mistake, after all. Or perhaps, CBS Local, you ought to invest in a few more–meaning more varied and more appropriate for stories like these–file photos of transgender people.

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