A H.A.C.K. for monitoring the media


I was interested to read this week that the Bechdel test for movies is now being added as a rating in some Swedish cinemas. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Wikipedia explains the test here.

As you will know if you read this blog, I like to pick up on positive stories from the media on LGBT issues, and to call out bad and damaging journalism wherever possible. The Bechdel test got me thinking about whether there was a similarly simple set of rules that could be applied to any story in the media that contains LGBT issues.

This is what I came up with using the acronym, H.A.C.K.

H – Helpful. Does making public the subject’s LGBT status help anyone to understand the story better? Or is it a prurient piece of information intended to “spice up” the story?

A – Acceptable. Has the journalist got their language right when talking about LGBT issues? Do they use respectful terminology that is acceptable to the LGBT community?

C – Culpable. Are the correct parties identified as culpable for their actions within the story? Or, where the facts of the story do not support it, is it wrongly implied that the LGBT subject is culpable?

K – Knowledgeable. Is the journalist writing from a place of knowledge about LGBT issues? Do they have personal experience? If not, have they interviewed respected authorities?

To see how this works, here is the same story from two different outlets:

Story #1 from the Washington Times

Story #2 from the Advocate

As you would might have guessed, the story from the Washington Times fails, whereas the piece from the Advocate shows how the news should have been reported.

H The point of the story is Chelsea Manning’s letter, which is not about her transition from male-to-female, but about those who seek the truth and who dare to ask the questions to get it. It is therefore about her decision to leak classified security documents. The Washington Times fails – half the article is about Chelsea’s transition. The Advocate does not mention her transition in the article, but puts it once in the story’s subheading.

A Not surprisingly, the Advocate‘s story gets an A for acceptability. They respect Chelsea’s transition and use female pronouns throughout, never mentioning her former name. The Washington Times‘ reportage is disrespectful and phobic. The contrast couldn’t be clearer on this point.

C There is no doubt that Chelsea is culpable of the crime of leaking security documents. Both articles make it clear that she is serving a 35 year jail sentence. However, the Washington Times‘ piece suggests that Chelsea is deluded: insisting he is now a woman, despite biology indicating otherwise, and announcing that media outlets should refer to him as Chelsea. Chelsea is not culpable of delusion. Gender dysphoria is real. The Washington Times fails.

K Finally, it is clear that the Washington Times’ article has been written by someone with no knowledge of transgender issues, but who thinks ignorance gives her the right to express an opinion. The language used by this journalist to describe Chelsea’s transition is archaic and like reading something from the 1950s. Even a tiny amount of research would have helped educate this journalist. In contrast, the Advocate journalist has done her homework and knows how you report on the issue – by not making it an issue.

Just like the Bechdel test, a story would not pass the H.A.C.K. test for failing on just one of the four letters of the acronym. The Washington Times fails on all four and won’t be a newspaper I’ll be reading again any time soon! However, I am giving the Advocate my seal of approval for its reporting of the story.


I’m going to see how my new acronym does over the next few weeks by looking at a range of LGBT stories and I will post any that I consider worthy of being awarded a H.A.C.K. If you like the idea, let me know how you get on with it as you surf the latest LGBT news.

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