Dear Arianna: Consider Older Reporters and Better Editors

September 28th, 2012

The Media WatchDog is growling!


Re: Actor Johnny Lewis’s death (Sons of Anarchy) and the simultaneous murder of his 70 year old female landlord, as reported in today’s Huffington Post:

  “Although the elderly woman’s death has been described as a homicide…”

Elderly?  Was she elderly because she was 70, or because she was, according to the Thesaurus…aged, old, advanced in years, aging, long in the tooth, past  one’s prime; gray-haired, grizzled, hoary; in one’s dotage,  decrepit, doddering, over the hill, no spring chicken.

What if the deceased 70-year-old woman was a “youthful” 70, like my cousin Judy, who works hard, wears cowboy boots, and has  pink streaks in her hair? The word elderly does not apply.

Jane Fonda is hardly “elderly,” and neither is Susan Sarandon and Goldie Hawn, who are nearing “elderly,” as is Diane Keaton, the face of  L’Oreal.

If the reporter is 25 years old, 70 might seems elderly, but if the reporter is 66—the age of the oldest baby boomer, and we’ll assume there are many working reporters, in radio/TV and print, that are 66–he’d probably not think to describe her age at all.

Just tacking  on “elderly” (unless substantiated) to a 70 year old person–alive or dead—is careless editing that reinforces outdated stereotypes of what “elderly” is and does.

Age is a moving target–we are all “older” than we were, and “younger” than we are going to be, and we are all “ageing” all the time.

Sloppy reporting is bad, but sloppy editing is inexcusable.



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