Adoption Beat

May 26, 2008

Why blog about reporting adoption

Filed under: Improving media coverage of adoption — adoptionbeat @ 7:41 pm

How the media reports on adoption issues is something that I have thought about for a long time but not had time to address. Now I am ready to begin investigating with specific criteria in mind. I want to identify instances in which the media fails to meet its own standards for well. I’m sticking to legitimate news standards for this exercise. Bias is another investigation.


 Last year, I did several email interviews with triad members regarding their impressions of news coverage of adoption and got interesting feedback. The same impressions I have formed are widespread and not specific to one corner of the triad. But to explain what I know to the media with my findings, I need proof (examples).  


As you read adoption articles in the newspaper and online sources, I know you already evaluate what you read informally. I’d like you to take time to more formally evaluate what you read by comparing it to the criteria journalists use to define good reporting. And send me what you find that really misses the mark by journalism’s own definitions.  


Reporting isn’t considered “good reporting” unless it meets certain standards:

* Accurate 

* Properly attributed

* Complete

* Balanced and fair

* Objective

* Brief and focused

* Well written


I have refocused my investigation on four of the standards above where I think that ignorance or bias is most likely to surface. My major areas of concern are these:



An example of inaccuracy that has serious implications for the triad community is when either mother of an adoptee is labeled the “real” mother since both women perform actions that make them a mother. Using the term “birth” mother is “subtly pejorative” although if that describes you, you may not think it subtle. We may have to live with this term for a while because it has traction, however, it remains an area that offers us an opportunity to educate reporters, editors and the public as long as we do it in a calm and rational manner. If you find an example of inaccuracy, I’d like to know about it. In fact, I’d like to have a copy and a bibliographic citation of the offending article. (By that I mean only name and date of publication — if I actually get to the point of needing a footnote, I’ll call the newspaper.)



Completeness is a double-edged sword because reporters are loathe to leave out any fact the discover but sometimes the issue of adoption, while not relavant to the story, is included anyway. The typical example is when an adoptee kills his parents. His adoption may or may not have been at the heart of what happened. Early reporting can’t tell so if a neighbor happens to mention that the kid being arrested was adopted then it gets into the story. On the other hand, a story about a woman who surrendered a child to adoption and then changed her mind cannot be told without explaining who the child is to her.


Unbalanced or unfair

Balanced and fair is where you will probably find the most problematic reporting. General assignment reporters are usually newbies in the newsroom. They have no specialty so they are sent ont to cover any story that the editor considers not requiring a reporter with specialized skills. At small newspapers, that can be most stories. So in doing his homework — we are giving this rookie the benefit of the doubt — he Googles the National Council for Adoption. He doesn’t know and NCFA will not point out that they are a lobbyist group rather than a professional association of adoption workers. So, he will get their spin and not realize that he should be getting another side from Child Welfare League of America. Until and unless triad members are listed in the phone book as such — look in the yellow pages under adoption and you will find agencies, not individuals who’ve been subjected to the process — reporters will only think to get our perspective if they know our connection to adoption.


To that end, I suggest that every support group out there buy a bunch of Rolodex cards and type them up with the heading “adoption” and list the names of several members from all corners of the triad who are willing and able to speak articulately to adoption issues and send these to local media people. In fact, it would be a great idea for your group to walk into the newsroom — not as easy as it used to be — and pass your cards around to everyone in the newsroom during Adoption Awareness Month in November.



Although objective reporting is the goal, news reporting is rarely completely objective — it’s a human failing. So we try to be sure a story is fair and balanced. News reporting is unfair if the reporter:

* Omits facts of major significance

* Includes essentially irrelevant information

* Consciously or unconsciously misleads or deceives

* Hides reporter biases or emotions behind subtly pejorative words

* If innocent people are hurt  

If you find a news item that falls into the above category, send it to me. You can always email it to me via Be sure that you look at media coverage objectively. It’s not easy when the issue is adoption!



  1. The news media has failed in being fair about reporting adoption news and concerns. Blogs like you have written might be the solution to get the attention that it needs.

    Comment by Mary Lynn Fuller — June 8, 2008 @ 4:23 pm | Reply

  2. I can tell that this is not the first time at all that you write about this topic. Why have you chosen it again?

    Comment by Jane Goody — April 22, 2009 @ 6:42 am | Reply

    • Jane: I thought the blog entry explained that adoption is a topic that reporters/editors who have no personal experience of this social phenomena frequently misunderstand and misreport. That’s why I think it’s important to provide news analysis.

      All: I have been remiss of late due to a number of personal issues related to being spread too thin. My intention is to do better! Folks in Eastern Maryland, join my search and support group at the Salisbury Festival tomorrow. Our booth will be near the court house.

      Comment by adoptionbeat — April 24, 2009 @ 10:26 pm | Reply

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