How Not to Report on a Murder Case

This story appeared on CBC today and is an excellent example of how not to report on a murder case. Starting with the title “Edmonton prostitute murder trial begins,” we are reminded that it was not a woman who was killed but rather a prostitute. First line of the story confirms that Ellie May Meyer, the woman who was brutally murdered, is a prostitute before anything else:

An Edmonton man who murdered 13-year-old Nina Courtepatte in 2005 goes to trial Monday in the killing of a prostitute just two days earlier.

Never mind that “sex worker” is the preferred term for many working in the industry. The article goes on to say, in an attempt to humanize her I suppose (a little late), that:

Meyer was working as a prostitute and struggling with drug addictions, said police.

But a life-long friend describes Meyer as a generous and caring person.

Why “but”? Why are those things thought to be incompatible? Would we ever read the line “Smith was working as a CEO and struggling with cancer. But a life-long friend describes Smith as a generous and caring person.”?

Whether Meyer was a sex worker because it was her preferred job option (let’s not forget that prostitution is not illegal – she is not a criminal for her work, just stigmatized), or because she was engaged in survival sex work because we live in a society where people are impoverished (the majority of whom are women),  neither should reduce her worth as a person.

Yet when a news article fails to see Ellie May Meyer as anything but her stigmatized job description, and spends the rest of the time discussing how that job was a’ poor choice’  as we can see in the lines from her friend they chose to publish

“All of us have made choices sometimes in life that have got us into a wrong place, wrong time or maybe something that we didn’t want to do, but it doesn’t make us bad people,” said Melanie Houley.

“And she, above all people, was the first one to be giving and had a heart of gold,” she said. “Even though maybe she didn’t walk a path lined with gold, her heart was full of gold.”

then what the news article is really doing is failing to condemn her murder in the same way the media would condemn another murder. That is not okay.

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