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Public editor: Wording about adoptive children was insensitive

Ronald Lee Haskell, 33, is accused of killing his ex-wife’s sister, Katie Stay, her husband and four children, ranging in age from 4 to 14.

Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle/Associated Press

An article about the Houston-area shooting that left two adults and four children dead this week prompted a reader to wonder why the story drew a distinction between biological and adopted children.

The article said, "All of the children were theirs, while two were adopted."

As an adoptive parent, the reader said, "I shuddered when I read this, in particular the 'while two were adopted.' "

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The reader said this implies that the couple's adoptive children are not theirs. "Both my biological child and my adoptive child are my children – in fact, I call them my children without having to label how they joined my family (they know, of course). If it is really necessary to point out that two of the children are adopted, why not write, 'All of the children were theirs, two were biological while two were adopted'?"

The reader noted that this was an Associated Press article written from Texas and the same wording appeared on other websites. However, the reader asked if The Globe and Mail could not have changed that wording. (Please note: This story has been updated since the original wording.)

The reader is correct that the wording was awkward and insensitive. Of course the children were theirs. But I understand why the reporter wanted to include the information at the time that two of the children were believed to be adopted. Readers were trying to understand why a man, described as a relative, would kill so many people. Some stories referred to the incident as a domestic dispute.

So many questions are still unanswered. Earlier this week, there were conflicting reports about the relationship between the shooter and the couple and their children. Today, reports are that the shooter's ex-wife is the sister of the woman killed.

The family relationship is also important to note in the abduction case of Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents, Alvin and Kathryn Liknes. This story and others refer to Nathan as the biological son of Jennifer and Rod O'Brien. It is relevant here as well because it is an abduction case and it is important information for both the police and readers to know in trying to understand what might have happened.

The question to ask is always, Is this information in any way relevant to the story?

If you have questions on this or any other issue in The Globe and Mail's journalism, please e-mail me at publiceditor@globeandmail.com

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More

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