When the story of Maurice “Reese” Willoughby’s apparent death by suicide broke, all outlets pushed forward the same narrative: his death came as the result of bullying received for his relationship with a trans woman.
Details were updated, noting his experiences with addiction and domestic abuse reported by his partner, Faith Palmer, but not before Palmer’s identity was misused.
Her identity as a trans woman was used to propel a story that didn’t adequately dive into nuance.
PGN waited to cover the news, as we grappled with how to accurately write a story that centered a trans woman’s identity as part of the explanation for another person’s death. Though we tried to tell a fuller story on press day, we knew we didn’t have the opportunity to tell it as well as we would have liked.
This week, we continued our efforts to secure a time to speak with Palmer, and her story is complex and thoughtful. While the truth, in this instance, is difficult to ascertain, it is important that news outlets do their due diligence in providing the most accurate, in-depth coverage possible. Palmer has received death threats over the last week as people blame her for Willoughby’s death. While those threats are only to blame on the people deploying them, this situation could have been handled with more care from national outlets.
While breaking news is important, complex narratives are far more integral to reporting, and giving voice to those affected by our coverage is essential. As news outlets, we need the freedom to speak freely, but also the sense to comprehend that our words carry weight and our coverage affects lives.
As a community news outlet, we understand it’s sometimes difficult to reach sources, especially in times of crisis. But we urge journalists to continue to follow up and want to reassure readers of our commitment to do so. Together we can encourage each other to report deeply, contact unfamiliar sources or give those affected by coverage a voice.