Sara Beth Kiesler '05 Reflects on 'Adopted: When It Fits, When It Doesn't, and Why'
April 12, 2006
April 12, 2006, Greencastle, Ind. - "Across the nation on the morning of Jan. 26, we learned of 'Seven adopted kids in one family killed in [a] fiery Florida crash,'" begins a column by Sara Beth Kiesler at the Web site of the Poynter Institute. Kiesler, a 2005 graduate of DePauw University, spent six weeks last summer in an intensive writing and reporting seminar for college graduates as a Poynter Young Journalism Fellow. She is now a staff writer for the Daytona Beach News-Journal in Florida.
Kiesler writes of the tragic accident involving a semi-truck trailer, car and bus and, specifically, how the news was reported in media outlets across America. She asks, "why did newsrooms refer to the children in the car as adopted on first reference? Is adoption the most important descriptor of who they are? Is the grief of Barbara Mann, mother to most of the children in the car, different from that of a biological mother? Would we have written 'seven biological children' or 'seven African-American children'? How did adoption fit into the circumstances of their deaths? It didn't."
Kiesler, an English major who wrote for The DePauw while in college, adds, "An editor told me he read the story and thought 'Wow, what a great woman for taking care of all those kids.' I read it and felt bad that, in addition to burying seven children, this mother was being portrayed as different than other mothers. Some might say saintly. Some might say strange. The word adopted becomes a footnote to her sorrow."
The writer notes that she was adopted. "I've spent a lot of time and energy trying to understand how that defines who I am, how it's shaped my goals and ambitions and my role as a daughter of two mothers. Granted, being an adoptee is a unique and important description of who I am, but it is far from the deciding factor. It fits somewhere below journalist and Midwesterner, but above environmentalist and music lover. It isn't important on a résumé, though it makes a difference on a medical-history form."
The column proceeds to offer fellow journalists some food for thought to ponder as they write stories that involve adoption. It includes advice culled from The Institute for Adoption Information's A Journalist's Guide to Adoption, which Sara Kiesler recommends as a resource. In closing, Kiesler writes, "Family is family, no matter how non-traditional. The only thing the Mann mother knows is that she lost all that mattered most, regardless of how they came into her life."
Bob Steele (seen at left), Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values and Senior Faculty at Poynter and a 1969 graduate of DePauw says, "It was a pleasure to have a bright, talented DePauw graduate in Poynter’s program. I hope we gave Sara a strong jump start for her career in journalism. Her piece on adoption reflects her courage and ability to explore important issues."Back