WCPO staff took role to confirm facts in Leelah Alcorn story seriously

Posted at 3:11 PM, Dec 30, 2014

When someone dies, we take extreme care to be sensitive, accurate, fair and compassionate. Even more so when a young person dies.

Add in the potential that a death was suicide and the news becomes a seeming tightrope to walk for professional journalists like our team here at WCPO. In general, we don't report suicides unless they are highly public (as in this case) or involve other extenuating circumstances.

We take our role in informing the community extremely seriously. Just as we take our roles as compassionate human beings seriously.

Over the last 24 hours, our team has worked diligently to confirm information about a 17-year-old teen who died on Interstate 71 early Sunday morning. Shortly after noon today, Carla Alcorn acknowledged to reporter Jason Law that her son was transgender. The teen wrote on a blog that she preferred the name Leelah, and she left an apparent suicide note.

Before that story published at 1:05 p.m. transgender advocates inundated our staff with requests to change the pronouns (from he to she) and name (from Joshua to Leelah) in our previous web story.

Some accused us of being bigoted or small-minded. I can assure you that couldn't be further from the truth.

Our staff understood the requests. Still, we had a responsibility to the community, the Alcorn family, our readers and viewers and to ourselves as journalists to make sure we confirmed that the blog entry actually came from the victim. Not everything on the Internet is true.

The last thing any of us here at WCPO want to do is cause additional emotional stress for anyone. 

I can't imagine the pain the Alcorn family is going through right now. And can you imagine if the blog entry was some sort of incredibly cruel hoax? The pain that would cause would be unfathomable. 

So we took time to make sure we got the story right.

It might not have been the most popular decision, but I firmly believe it was the right decision.

Even now, after we have published an update detailing Leelah's apparent suicide note, we are having internal discussions to make sure we handle this story as sensitively as possible. 

It's not easy. And it's not a task we take lightly.

Please let me know how we are doing and always feel free to contact me with questions or concerns.

Mike Canan is editor of Contact him at Follow him on Twitter or Instagram at @Mike_Canan.