Media use of the term “transient” — when and why
By Anna Daniels
The local news recently carried two short articles about stabbings that had taken place. The headline of one article identified a woman as the victim while the other identified the victim as a transient.
Why did 10News choose to use gender in one description and the victim’s lack of housing in the other, instead of using a gender description in both? Does this journalistic decision matter?
Man or Transient?
Here’s a short exercise. What are your immediate thoughts when you read the following:
- Woman stabbed
- Man stabbed
- Point Loma resident stabbed
- Child stabbed
- Transient stabbed
- Gang member stabbed
- City Heights resident stabbed
- Tourist stabbed
Which of these descriptors engender feelings of concern and empathy for an individual who is a victim?
Which corroborate negative feelings about a whole group of people?
And in a world in which media live and die by page hits, which one of these descriptions motivates you to click on the headline and read the whole article?
The use of the term “transient” strips the individual of his and her basic humanity and too easily validates perceptions of homeless people as sub-human, depraved criminals even when they are the victim of a crime. If you doubt that, here are a few of the choice comments left on the article.
Other states buy one-way bus tickets for them to come here. We are chumps.
Not to mention all the garbage and filth they leave and the brush fires they start
Some housed people use the term “transient” to ridicule homeless people. They use that term to mean a person who is an untouchable, an undesirable, often a lazy, possibly a bad person who is not a member of their community, but only staying in their community to utilize the available services and then the homeless person will be on their way.
However, the majority of homeless people in a certain place may not have come from somewhere else, nor do they intend to go anywhere else — so they can hardly be called, “transients” under any definition.
Why aren’t tourists called transients?
She goes on to raise the issue of the term “transient” in the context of Transient Occupancy Taxes (TOT).
A question comes to mind: if there is a “transient” occupancy tax upon persons, unless exempt, who rent hotel/motel rooms, does this, by definition, make these people, “transients?”
San Diego Free Press is made up of citizen journalists, although a few of us have a professional background in journalism. As editors we take the time to research the norms and standards of journalism and learn a great deal from that.
As editors of a progressive site we are also tasked with bringing critiques of the media forward. Two people were stabbed in two separate incidents in Mission Valley. One of the victims was a man, the other a woman. One stabbing took place in an encampment of homeless individuals, the other on a street.
Descriptors should be used thoughtfully and provide pertinent context. Otherwise they subtly and dangerously project judgments that slant our perceptions of whose lives matter.