The unspeakable tragedy of another woman killed by her partner was widely reported in the mainstream press last week.
Ora Holt was shot and killed by her partner after she and her children fled to a neighbour’s house. The neighbours, their children, and the four children of the murdered woman and the man who killed her, escaped.
Greg Floyd, 43, chased Ora Holt to the neighbour’s house and shot her, then himself.
Media reporting of this horrific murder included prominent quotes from friends and neighbours about the couple and their relationship.
The ABC: John Suta said like the rest of Wangaratta, he was shocked by the tragedy. "He seemed to me to be a decent young fellow, who worked hard in order to protect and feed his family," he said.
The Herald Sun: (quoting Floyd’s sister) “Everyone will tell you he was an excellent person, there wasn’t a bad bone in his body.”
News.com.au: A former neighbour said there had never been signs of trouble at the property. “They’re pretty good people,” he said.
Kids Spot: “The family have bene described as loving and normal. Neighbours say they had never even heard Floyd yell at his kids.”
The Age: "They were very nice people."
Killing a woman is not the act of a “good” or “nice” guy.
Of course, faced with the job of gathering the facts, reporters are going to do these kinds of interviews. But when it comes to choosing what to include and how to include it in the finished report, we should exercise some judgement.
The nature of domestic violence is that it takes place behind closed doors. At the same time, the research tells us that a murder is usually the final awful act in a long history of abuse.
The neighbours and the friends don’t usually know anything is amiss. They are not particularly authoritative sources.
Before we quote them uncritically, we should think about all the people currently suffering domestic violence who will be in the audience for our articles. We should think about the community attitudes we are influencing.
Do we want our readers and viewers to gain the impression we think a murderer is a “nice guy”?
Our job as journalists is not to diminish the crimes we report, or soften public perception of the men who kill their partners. It is to report the facts and circumstances. The facts are that Greg Floyd killed Ora Holt, his partner and the mother of his children. The circumstances are yet to be established, but the fact that some of his neighbours liked him is not relevant to the crime he committed.
As reported elsewhere on Uncovered, it is also important that readers are directed to the right services if they need help.