Search Results for: labels

Notes

No One Label Fits The ‘Alt-Right,’ So Use Their Words And Actions To Show Who They Are #

The coverage from and about this weekend’s attack and violence in Charlottesville has been impressive, starting with the breaking news coverage on digital and on-the-air Saturday, right through Sunday’s reports and this morning’s step-backs.

Many thanks to all those involved.

A couple things to note:

We’ve done well on this point, but it’s worth a reminder that (as we said last November) it’s not enough to simply refer to the “alt-right” and then move on. First, that label feels like a euphemism. Second, there’s much more that has to be said about the people who say they’re part of that movement.

Within the ranks of those who call themselves the alt-right there are:

- White supremacists.
- White nationalists.
- Neo-Nazis.
- Anti-Semites.
- Racists.

There are also those who say they are none of those things, but contend that whites are suffering economically because “others” are being given unfair advantages.

Here’s the thing: The positions people hold, the things they do and the politicians they choose to support say a lot — more than labels, it can be argued.

What do we do? As much as possible, we should “show, don’t tell.” For instance, we described what the people at the “unite the right” rally were doing, saying, carrying, throwing, etc. Their words and actions spoke loudly. The descriptions then allowed for later references to “white supremacists,” “white nationalists,” “neo-Nazis” and others as being among those there. “White supremacists and others” is an appropriate catch-all.

The second thing worth noting is that when someone says something that’s clearly not true, we should point that out as soon as possible. Check how it was done, twice, in Brian Mann’s report this morning about a man who supports the way President Trump addressed the violence.

When the man claimed that Black Lives Matter was “another hate group,” Brian came right in to note that “in fact, Black Lives Matter has no history of violence or racial bigotry comparable to America’s far-right militias, neo-Nazis or Klan groups.”

When the man said he never heard President Obama call for unit, Brian immediately pointed out that “in fact, Barack Obama did call for national unity numerous times during his presidency, especially during times of racial conflict and violence.”

Again, good work all around. Thanks.

(“Memmos;” Aug. 14, 2017)

Notes

Reminder On The Word ‘Teenager’ #

Wednesday marks three years since the shooting death of Michael Brown. In stories about that, he should not be referred to as a “teenager.” Brown was 18 — an adult.

Our guidance from 2014 still applies:

- Cite his age.

- Avoid labels. If you have to use one, “young man” is OK.

Weekend All Things Considered applied the guidance correctly here.

(“Memmos;” Aug. 7, 2017)

Notes

Update: Guidance On Immigration #

It’s been three years since we issued guidance on the language to use and avoid when reporting about illegal immigration.

Since then, a couple references have worked their way into common usage and no longer seem to fall into the category of loaded language.

Here, then, is updated guidance:

- The debate is still about “illegal immigration” and what to do about it. “Illegal immigration” remains an acceptable term when we’re reporting about the issue.

- When we’re reporting about the people at the center of this story, it’s still best practice to begin with action words, rather than labels. Two examples: They are “in the country illegally” or have “entered the country illegally.”

- In subsequent references, we now think it’s OK to mix in the phrases “undocumented immigrants” and “unauthorized immigrants.” They are now in common usage. And, unlike the label “illegal immigrants,” they are not phrases sometimes used to hurt others. (Our approach on this language is similar to what we’ve said about the debate over health care – it is best practice to first refer to the law Republicans want to replace as the “Affordable Care Act”. Then it’s OK to say “Obamacare.”)

- “Undocumented” is also OK in headlines.

For an example of how to handle immigration language, see John Burnett’s report on “Riding With ICE: ‘We’re Trying To Do The Right Thing.’

(“Memmos;” July 25, 2017)

 

Notes

They’re ‘Developing’ Or ‘Low Income;’ Not ‘Third World’ Nations #

There have been a few times recently when we’ve referred to “third world” nations. As Goats & Soda has previously explained, that’s an out-of-date expression.

We basically agree with The Associated Press:

Third World

“Avoid use of this term. Developing nations is more appropriate when referring to the economically developing nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America.”

“Developing” has its critics, as Goats & Soda noted. But the word does describe a nation’s situation, without as openly assigning a lesser (“third” vs. “first”) status.

As always, of course, action words can work better than labels. Rather than simply saying a nation is developing, facts about its status can help tell the story.

In summary:

- “Third world” is out.

- “Developing” is OK.

- Action words may be better alternatives.

(“Memmos;” June 1, 2017)

Notes

Here’s A Dictate: Don’t Use These Words Interchangeably #

A “dictator” has “absolute power and authority” (Webster’s). That power and authority may have been acquired through a military coup, family succession or over time. Dictators do not hold on to power through free elections.

An “authoritarian” enforces “unquestioning obedience to authority” (Webster’s), but doesn’t have the personal, absolute power of the dictator and might be just the latest leader of an authoritarian regime. Authoritarians may enjoy majority support, though any elections that keep them in office are not likely to be truly free.

“Strongman” is a word that foreign policy wonks and journalists love, probably so that they don’t have to say authoritarian or dictator. Here’s something to remember: A male dictator is a strongman, but a strongman might not be a dictator. That’s because he (they’re almost always men, right?) may not have absolute power.

A “totalitarian” government reaches down into, and attempts to control, all aspects of life. It goes deeper into society than an authoritarian regime. There’s usually a dictator at the top.

As always, action words are better than labels. For example, describing Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte’s violent crackdown on drug dealers and users, and the resulting deaths of 7,000 Filipinos, says more than only referring to him as a strongman.

Contributing: Will Dobson

(“Memmos;” May 8, 2017)

Notes

Action Words Are Better Than Labels Such As ‘Skeptic’ And ‘Denier’ #

Instead of declaring that someone is a “climate change skeptic” or taking it a step further and using the word “denier,” use action words to explain what that person has said and done.

Basically, tell the audience what that person has said about climate change and humans’ contributions to it, and/or what that person has suggested should or shouldn’t be done. That information is much more helpful than any labels. “Says he doesn’t believe the science” says a lot more than “is a skeptic.” “Has called climate change a hoax” is better than “is a climate change denier.”

One reason action words are better is that the labels aren’t always easy to apply. Here’s what the words mean (from Webster’s):

-   A “skeptic” is “a person who habitually doubts, questions, or suspends judgment upon matters generally accepted.”

-   A “denier” refuses to accept something “as true or right.”

You have to determine what it is a person is skeptical about or denies is happening. At one end of the spectrum, someone may refuse to accept that climate change is happening. That’s complete denial. Another person might agree that climate change is happening, but doesn’t accept that humans are contributing to the change. That’s denial about one point, but not another. A third person might have doubts about climate change or questions about its severity and causes. That’s skepticism.

There are many other possible combinations.

Please note that we’re not saying you can’t use the words or must use one and not the other. The message here is that, as we’ve said before, action words are almost always better than labels. And if you do use a label somewhere in a story or piece, you have to be sure it fits and be as precise as possible.

(“Memmos;” Dec. 14, 2016)

Notes

We’ll Be Reporting A Lot About Immigration, So Here’s A Reminder: Don’t Label People #

“When language is politicized, seek neutral words that foster understanding.”

That’s been our guidance since the Ethics Handbook was published in 2012 and it remains in effect. We “strive to use words and phrases that accurately deliver information without taking sides on emotional or political issues.”

The language used in the debate over immigration policy is particularly partisan and politicized. Advocates try to stick labels on people to “otherize” them.

That’s why we’ve issued guidance that stresses the importance of “action words” rather than labels.

For those who’ve joined NPR since that guidance was issued, here’s the key point: We don’t label people by referring to them as “illegals,” “illegal immigrants,” or “undocumented immigrants.” We say they are “in the country illegally” or use other action words to describe their situations. Also, we don’t label those who want to tighten immigration laws. We use action words to describe what those advocates want to do.

Even labels that until recent years were OK aren’t necessarily acceptable. As Adrian Florido reported last year, words can turn into slurs over time.

Finally, there are words and phrases that are clearly divisive, dismissive or derogatory and should not be used. “Anchor babies,” for example. The American Heritage Dictionary calls that a “disparaging term.”

When an issue is as charged as this, advocates are constantly using loaded language. Our job is to cut through that. Action words help enormously.

(“Memmos;” Nov. 15, 2016)

Notes

A Reminder About A Word We Shouldn’t Use And Some More Thoughts On Avoiding Labels #

We said this week that a man was “mentally retarded.”

“Retarded” is not a word we use to describe anyone. It’s among the “words that hurt.”

Joe Shapiro, who has done a lot of reporting and thinking about this, suggests phrases such as “intellectual disability” or “developmentally disabled” and that they be used with a “people first” approach. That is, put the person before the condition. Say “a man with an intellectual disability” rather than “a mentally retarded man.”

If you can’t seem to avoid a label, the AP recommends “mentally disabled,” “intellectually disabled” or “developmentally disabled.” But those aren’t great alternatives, as is often the case with labels.

As for labels, reminders are in order:

No. 1: “It is generally best to avoid labeling people, especially with terms that partisans have chosen.” Use “action words” to describe people rather than pinning them with labels.

No. 2: It’s certainly almost always best “to avoid labeling people who have medical conditions.” As we’ve written before, “it’s better to say someone ‘has been diagnosed with schizophrenia’ rather than ‘is a schizophrenic.’ Or, ‘she is being treated for anorexia’ rather than ‘she is an anorexic.’ Or, ‘he is diabetic,’ instead of ‘he is a diabetic.’ ”

No. 3: Pay particularly close attention to the way you refer to people who have gone through traumatic experiences. We’ve previously discussed the language regarding survivors of sexual assault.

This isn’t about political correctness. It’s about respect for those we report about (and “Respect” is one of our core principles) and it’s about accuracy (another core principle).

(“Memmos;” April 22, 2016)

Notes

Reminder: ‘When Language Is Politicized, Seek Neutral Words That Foster Understanding’ #

The news from North Carolina about its gender identity law and from several states about laws allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBT customers make this a good time to reread our guidance on avoiding politicized, or loaded, language. It’s here.

Some key points:

– “Strive to use words and phrases that accurately deliver information without taking sides on emotional or political issues.”

– “In such cases we go with what’s accurate. And err on the side of neutrality.”

– “We also take the time to explain to our audience how certain words or phrases have taken on politically loaded meanings.”

– “Politically loaded language not only violates our commitment to be fair, but also gets in the way of telling good stories.”

Basically, beware the language and labels that any side wants us to use. We figure out for ourselves what’s the clearest thing to say.

(“Memmos;” April 15, 2016)

Notes

Language To Use And Not Use When Reporting About The Occupation In Oregon #

As of Monday, Jan. 4 a.m. 10 a.m. ET:

– We are not using the words “militia” or “militiamen” on their own. A “militia” is organized to “resemble an army” (Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fifth Edition). At most, this group may be called a “self-described” or “self-styled” militia. It doesn’t “resemble an army.” Note: Reporting indicates there may only be a dozen or so men doing the occupying.

– We are not calling this a “standoff.” A standoff requires two sides. Right now, one group is occupying some lands and buildings while the other (the government) is considering what to do. There’s an “occupation” and it may become a “standoff,” but it’s not there yet.

– We have been using the words “protesters” and “armed protesters.” But the word “protesters” is not entirely adequate. These are armed individuals who have occupied government property. They are not simply citizens peacefully expressing their opinions, which is how the word “protesters” is more often used. This is an “armed occupation.” They are “armed occupiers.” They are “armed men” or “armed individuals.”

“Militants” is a better word than “protesters.” A militant is “ready and willing to fight,” according to Webster’s. These men say they are. The dictionary also says a militant is “vigorous or aggressive in supporting or promoting a cause.”

– As we’ve previously discussed, it’s best to avoid labels if possible. Use action words to describe who these people are and what they want. They are an armed group. They want an end to federal management of public land in the west. They are armed anti-federalists who want the states to control public lands in the west (referring to them simply as “anti-government” is not quite right).

Addition at 1:30 p.m. ET: 

When referring to the dispute that Cliven Bundy and others have with the federal government, don’t say it’s over “grazing rights.” Instead, say “grazing fees,” “grazing privileges,” “grazing permits” or some combination of those words — such as “grazing permits and fees.”

 (“Memmos;” Jan. 4, 2016)

Notes

It’s ‘Boy With Autism,’ Not ‘Autistic Boy’ #

Jeremy Mardis, the boy killed in Louisiana, had autism.

We should say and write that he was “a boy with autism,” not an “autistic boy.”

As we’ve said before about individuals with medical conditions, please avoid labels and use action words. We hear from many who say, “I’m not just a [insert condition]. I am a son/daughter/father/mother with [insert medical condition].”

(“Memmos;” Nov. 9, 2015)

Notes

Guidance On The Words ‘Protests’ And ‘Protesters’ #

Please avoid referring to the people in Baltimore who have injured police officers, started fires, looted stores and vandalized properties as simply “protesters.”

Reports from Baltimore indicate that some people are taking advantage of the situation to lash out at authorities or to grab what they can from businesses. Those are not just protesters in the sense of the word that normally comes to mind.

Likewise, it is too simple to say that “protests turned violent.” That paints a picture of a peaceful gathering that changed into a rock-throwing, tear-gas flying confrontation between citizens and police. Reports from Baltimore indicate that’s not been the case in many instances.

As in other cases we’ve discussed, it’s wise to avoid labels. In this case, “protesters” is a label that’s too broad. The better approach is to focus on action words and describe what’s been happening.

On a Newscast this morning, Dave Mattingly said that “rioting [in Baltimore] yesterday injured 15 police officers. More than a dozen buildings and nearly 150 vehicles were set on fire.” He noted that the violence followed “the funeral for 25-year-old Freddie Gray.”

Korva Coleman used similar language, saying that Gov. Larry Hogan “has declared a state of emergency in Baltimore, after rioting broke out yesterday. … Some residents started fires and clashed with police.”

Morning Edition introduced a report from Jennifer Ludden with this language:

“Let’s go directly to Baltimore, this morning. That’s where people threw cinder blocks at police and set stores on fire. They did all that after the funeral for a black man who died in police custody. NPR’s Jennifer Ludden is tracking the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray. Jennifer, what’s it like in Baltimore?”

LABELS AND WHY IT’S WISE TO AVOID THEM

– Immigrants.

– Medical conditions.

– Teenager.

– “Victims” vs. “survivors.” (Particularly in cases of sexual assault.)

Update at 9:55 a.m. ET: 

We should also avoid saying that Freddie Gray died while “in police custody.” He had been arrested, so he had been taken into custody.  But it was a week after his arrest, and he was in a hospital, when he died. The phrase “in police custody” calls to mind someone who is in a jail cell, or who is in handcuffs in the back of a police cruiser.

(Memmos; April 28, 2015)

Notes

On The Word ‘Suicide’ #

We are being careful about the word “suicide” when reporting about the actions of the Germanwings co-pilot. There are at least two reasons not to use it at this time:

– His motivation and state of mind aren’t known (and may never be).

– The investigation into what happened is still in the early stages.

There’s also a case to be made that the word isn’t adequate. As Lufthansa’s chief said, if the co-pilot’s actions were deliberate, “it is more than suicide.”

Regarding what to say instead, previous guidance about avoiding labels makes sense in this case as well.

On Morning Edition, Eleanor Beardsley simply used other action words:

– “Investigators are looking at … clues as to why [Andreas Lubitz] would take 149 people on board to their deaths with him.”

– Investigators told the co-pilot’s family “that their son had deliberately steered his passengers and crew to their deaths.”

In a Newscast, Dave Mattingly put it this way:

– “Investigators say [Andreas] Lubitz deliberately crashed a Germanwings Airbus into the French Alps. … They don’t know why.”

Related notes:

– “Suicide bomber” is a phrase that’s become common usage. But keep in mind that the person with the bomb may have been forced or tricked into carrying out the act. If that appears to have been the case, “suicide bomber” is not accurate. Again, the better course is to simply describe what happened.

– “Committed suicide” is a sensitive phrase that some believe stigmatizes people. They make the case that you “commit” a crime or may be “committed” to an institution, but you do not commit suicide. “Killed himself” and “took her life” are among the alternatives.

(Memmos; March 27, 2015)

Notes

In The ‘Vast Majority’ Of Cases, Are We Sure We Should Use Those Words? #

What do you think when you hear the phrase “vast majority?”

Here are some of the answers I got today from 15 correspondents, hosts and editors on the third and fourth floors:

– “More than two-thirds.”

– “At least three-quarters.”

– “Above 90 percent.”

– “Nearly all.”

– “A lot.”

– “A @#$%load.”

– “A boatload.”

– “A phrase that shouldn’t be heard.”

– “An amorphous phrase that means ‘we don’t know how many for sure, but we think it’s a lot.’ ”

The Urban Dictionary, meanwhile, offers a definition that begins with this: “Possibly the most over-used, tired and tautological phrase ever to have survived in the English language.”

Thankfully, a search indicates that the phrase “vast majority” doesn’t make it into our stories every day.

But it was still heard 202 times in the past year. The odds are a bit better than 50-50 that it will be said in the next 24 hours.

That’s a problem.

After all, since we can’t seem to agree on what the words mean or when they should be put together, it seems reasonable to conclude that listeners aren’t sure either. What’s more, attaching the word “vast” to “majority” is a judgment call. Who’s saying it’s a “vast majority?” What’s the proof? Maybe it’s just a “significant” majority. Or a “sizeable” one. Or just a majority.

When possible, the best course is to use facts rather than just the “vast majority” label. Establish, for example, that
“92 percent of those surveyed agreed” and then, perhaps, talk about what such a “vast majority” means.

This brings to mind other guidance about:

Avoiding clichés.

Labels.

Killing adjectives.

Precision writing and editing.

Words that get abused.

Note: My thanks to listener/reader Anne Sovik for suggesting we look into “vast majority.”

(Memmos; March 18, 2015)

Notes

What Did We Say About That? A Guide To The 2014 ‘Memmos’ #

What did Mark annoy us about in 2014? Here are the year’s “Memmos” divided into categories:

ATTENDING RALLIES AND POLITICKING

“Don’t sign, don’t advocate, don’t donate.”

“We don’t participate.”

CORRECTIONS

How we make them and display them, Part I.

How we make them and display them, Part II.

Poynter’s “most notable errors.”

They’re at the bottom of our pages.

“Why do we get some things wrong?” Our most common errors.

GOOD WORK

A well-done poll.

John Burnett’s completeness.

David Folkenflik’s transparency.

Panda triplets!

The Bill Cosby interview.

The Eric Holder scoop.

The 16-year-old in a diaper and why the photo of him was so important.

LABELS AND WHY IT’S WISE TO AVOID THEM

Immigrants.

Medical conditions.

Teenager.

– “Victims” vs. “survivors.” (Particularly in cases of sexual assault.)

LANGUAGE TO USE AND LANGUAGE NOT TO USE

Adjectives and why we kill them.

“Alleged,” “accused” and “suspected.”

“Ambush” and “assassinate.”

“Begs the question.”

Being conversational.

Cliches in general.

“Crash.”

Ebola; infectious or contagious?

“Execute.”

“Farther” and “further.” There’s a difference.

“Garnish” vs. “garnishee.”

Holiday cliches.

“Imagined Elegance.”

– “Immigration” (and related terms).

“Islamic State,” then ISIS.

ISIS and al-Qaida; how to refer to their links.

“Kurdistan.”

“Lay” vs. “lie.”

“Persian Gulf.”

“Reticent,” “reluctant” and other words we abuse.

“So.”

“Taps” and why not to talk over it.

Teenager, I.

Teenager II.

Torture I.

Torture II.

Torture III.

“The” vs. “thee.”

The word “war.”

“Victims” vs. “survivors.” (Particularly in cases of sexual assault.)

Washington’s football team.

OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE

It’s not an English-only thing.

Latest “NPR policy on use of potentially offensive language.”

SOCIAL MEDIA

AP goes short.

AP’s unfortunate “crash lands” tweet.

Guidance for Election Day.

There is no privacy on the Web and retweets may be endorsements.

When you can and can’t tweet about customer service.

STYLE & STANDARDS

Anonymity and why “first-name-only” must be discussed and explained.

First names on second reference.

More on first names on second reference.

Why we didn’t name the Ebola patient.

Pronunciations.

Elvis.

‘TAKING DOWN’ STORIES

Advice on how to fully inform people before we interview them.

How to explain why we don’t do that.

THINGS THAT SHOULD NOT BE FORGOTTEN

Attribution I.

Attribution II.

An “abundance of caution” can save us sometimes.

Call “the other side” of the story.

Check things out, even our own reporting.

#Ethicsschmetics.

“For Peat’s sake,” check back with key characters before broadcast.

Get names (why we don’t put random voices on the air).

Good grammar.

It’s “Daylight Saving,” Not “Daylight Savings.”

Minor consent (and the form that needs to be signed).

Naming minors.

Never assume.

Never show stories to sources.

Online credits.

Objectivity.

Plagiarism is “the offense that keeps on repeating.”

Precision writing and editing.

You can’t always believe what you remember.

We work in plain sight.

We’re cynical, not skeptical.

WHERE TO FIND GUIDANCE

We’ve got your guidance right here.

(Memmos; Dec. 29, 2014)

Notes

We Wave A Lot; Perhaps We Should Stem The Tide #

Do a search and you’ll see that we’ve recently talked or written about:

– “A wave of” foreigners joining the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

– “A wave of” new voter ID laws.

– “A wave of” protests across the nation following the death of Michael Brown.

Those examples are from the last few weeks. In the past year, according to the Library, we’ve ridden the “wave” phrase at least 71 times on the air. To be sure, there have been many times we’ve talked about “a wave of” your smartphone or “a wave of” water. But there have also been waves of attacks, of violence and of refugees, to cite a few. A search of the phrase “a wave of” on NPR.org, which brings in blog posts , other Web text and guests’ language, produces 154 results from the past year.

A crusty editor who hates clichés once told me that they do occasionally have their place if there’s just no better word or phrase to use. But as Oxford Dictionaries warns, clichés “tend to annoy people, especially if they’re overused.”

Chip Scanlan, then with Poynter, is among many who have wryly observed it’s wise to “avoid clichés like the plague.”

Former Detroit Free Press development editor Joe Grimm has suggested they be used sparingly and only “when they fit the story precisely.”

What should you do if you feel a wave (or some other cliché) coming on? First, stop and ask if it’s really a phrase that applies to the situation. Then, as with our guidance about avoiding labels, consider substituting a fact. How many foreigners have joined ISIS? How many refugees have crossed the border? How many bombings have there been?

Now that I’ve opened this can of worms, I’ll stop fanning the flames, give it a rest and call it a day.

(Memmos; Oct. 22, 2014)

Notes

Reminder: It’s Best To Avoid Labeling People Who Have Medical Conditions #

I’ll say it before others do: Sometimes, in the tight confines of a headline or in a Newscast spot, it’s almost impossible to fit in any extra words and not rely on “labels.”

But as we’ve discussed before, it is best to avoid them — especially when dealing with medical conditions.

For example, it’s better to say someone “has been diagnosed with schizophrenia” rather than “is a schizophrenic.” Or, “she is being treated for anorexia” rather than “she is an anorexic.” Or, “he is diabetic,” instead of “he is a diabetic.”

Why do such small differences in wording matter? The Science Desk has been careful about such usages for years. But as we hear from listeners and readers each week about stories from other desks, people feel as if we’re reducing someone to a word when we label him or her. Since one of our core values is respect, we should be sensitive to those concerns.

We’re also committed to accuracy, of course. We don’t want to unintentionally give the impression that someone is “only” defined by a medical condition.

Related notes: As The Associated Press says, it’s a good idea to “avoid using mental health terms to describe non-health issues.” For one thing, those terms can be clichés: To say one thing is “a cancer on” something else, for example, is a rather tired expression. The AP also reminds us that it’s best to “avoid descriptions that connote pity, such as ‘afflicted with, suffers from or victim of.’ ”

As always, it’s best just to say what someone has.

(Memmos; Oct. 16, 2014)

Notes

Something To Think About: Was Michael Brown A ‘Teenager?’ Yes, But … #

Webster’s New World College Dictionary is clear: “teenager … a person in his or her teens.”

But check out this headline: “AP Decides Not to Refer to Brown, 18, as ‘Teenager.’ ” (Richard Prince’s Journal-isms)

“Many outlets continue to refer to [Michael Brown] as a teen or teenager. Now that we know his age, let’s be specific without using a term that can be left up to interpretation.” (AP Managing Editor Lou Ferrara)

Basically, the wire service says that once you’ve reached 18, you’re an adult and that to most people a “teenager” implies someone younger than 18.

We’ve used the words “teen” and “teenager” often when referring to Brown.

Should we?

After conversations with a dozen or so editors on various parts of the 3rd floor, it’s clear there are two basic views. There’s a slight majority in favor of No. 2:

1. By definition, Brown was a teenager. So the word applies. He was 18 at the time of his death and it’s just a fact that he was a teen. We can use the words “teen” and “teenager.”

2. But words come with connotations. For many listeners and readers, a “teen” is a youngster or a kid. We could be influencing the way they view the story by introducing that word. We should avoid it.

By now, you may be asking: “What’s the alternative?”

The most common suggestion is “young man.” That also comes with connotations — though they seem to be more appropriate ones in this case. Brown was old enough to vote. He had graduated from high school. He could have gone into the military. As AP might say, he had entered adulthood.

Would we refer to an 18-year-old soldier killed in Afghanistan as a “teen” or “teenager?” Probably not unless we were doing a profile and it felt right to say he was “still in his teens.” But I suspect we’d be more likely to use the phrase “young man.”

The best guidance in this case and others like it that may come along seems to (as it has in other situations) come back to avoiding labels.

So, perhaps we should say and write that Brown was “the 18-year-old shot and killed by a police officer.” Or, that protests continued over the “shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.”

Are we banning the words “teen” and “teenager” for 18- and 19-year-olds? No.

Might we decide sometime that a 17-year-old should be described as a “young woman” or “young man?” Yes.

But is it best to avoid labels and to consider them carefully before using them? Yes.

(H/T to Hansi Lo Wang.)

(Memmos; Aug. 21, 2014)

Notes

Guidance On A Sensitive Subject: Victims/Survivors Of Sexual Assault #

We’re going to be doing more reporting in coming weeks and months about sexual assaults on campuses, the way the cases are handled by universities and legislation that’s working its way through Congress.

There will probably be several words or phrases that we have to consider carefully as the stories develop.

This came up this morning: “Rape victim” or “rape survivor?”

Here’s how we approached the question. The process may provide guidance not only on this particular issue, but on how to think about others that come up.

– First, we have to be careful about referring to someone as a victim or survivor before there’s evidence (police reports, medical reports, etc.) about what happened. Bear in mind that if there’s a victim/survivor, that means we’re telling our audience that there’s an attacker or attackers. We don’t want to be prejudging. When such stories begin, we’re typically dealing with allegations, not verdicts.

– Second, as we’ve said in other cases (immigration, for example), it’s best not to put labels on people. It is better to focus on acts. So, rather than declare that someone is a survivor or a victim, we should describe what happened or what has been alleged. That simplifies the issue. She’s not a “rape survivor” or “rape victim.” She is a young woman “who was raped” or whom “police say was sexually assaulted in her dorm room.” Again, though, be careful not to prejudge.

– But, if there’s a need to choose, we look at the definitions of the words. According to our go-to dictionary, (Webster’s New World College Dictionary), in this case both words apply:

Survivor: “person or thing that survives; specif., a person who has survived an ordeal or great misfortune.”

Victim: “someone or something killed, destroyed, injured, or otherwise harmed by, or suffering from, some act, condition, or circumstance.”

– We could stop there and use either. However, one of our core values involves “respect in sensitive circumstances”:

“NPR journalists show sensitivity when seeking or using interviews of those affected by tragedy or grief.”

That doesn’t mean we automatically refer to people by the terms or words that they want to be called. On matters that are politically charged, we do not adopt the language of one side over the other’s. But we are sensitive to those who have been seriously injured. And if either word is correct, the sensitive choice is the one that respects their feelings. Many of those who have been sexually assaulted make a forceful case that they are not just victims, they are survivors.

So, on this issue, the guidance would be: a) try not to “label; b) either word is correct; but c) “survivor” is more sensitive to those we are reporting about.

(Memmos; July 31, 2014)

Notes

New Guidance On Immigration #

(Update on July 25, 2017: Please see this post for additional guidance.)

Our original post:

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat in Tuesday’s primary has brought the immigration issue into the news again because of the role it played in the outcome of that race. His opponent accused Cantor of supporting “amnesty” (which Cantor denied). Pundits say Cantor’s defeat means there’s no chance Congress will take up immigration legislation this year.

As we discussed the news today, it became apparent that our guidance on the use of terms such as “illegal immigration,” “illegal immigrants” and “undocumented immigrants” has not been consistent.

Here’s some new guidance for both on-air and online references.

Like The Associated Press and The New York Times, we believe “illegal immigration” is an acceptable term when we’re reporting about the issue.

In other words, if we’re referring to a general class of actions that include entering the  country without going through Customs or staying in the country past a visa’s expiration — the types of things at the core of the debate over immigration policies — “illegal immigration” can be used when discussing the issue.

But we avoid phrases such as “illegal immigrant[s]” and “undocumented immigrant[s].”

How come?

First, we can’t always determine if a specific person or even a group is or is not in the country legally or without documents. So the first words in those phrases — “illegal” and “undocumented” — are assumptions that may not be accurate when used that way.

Second, the words “illegal” and “undocumented” are labels that are being applied by those on both sides of the debate. It is generally best to avoid labeling people, especially with terms that partisans have chosen. We determine what words we use, not those who have agendas.

The better approach takes a few more words. Instead of simply saying these are illegal immigrants, we should describe the kinds of things they’ve done — “overstayed visas,” “scaled fences  at the border to get into the U.S.,” “paid a smuggler to be driven here in the back of a produce truck,” or perhaps simply “people who are believed to have entered the country illegally.”

What about “undocumented?” It’s the word that some advocates favor. But as the AP notes, “it has a flavor of euphemism.” It’s not always accurate either. Many of those who are in the country illegally have some sort of documentation — passports, expired visas, drivers’ licenses, Social Security cards, school IDs, etc.

Another word to avoid: “aliens.” The Times calls it “sinister-sounding.” Websters suggests that in this context an alien is someone who “bears political allegiance” to another country — which in many cases would just be wrong when describing this group of people.

Finally, we do not refer to the group of people as “illegals.” Again, that’s labeling without giving context.

To summarize:

– “Illegal immigration” is acceptable when discussing the issue.

– “Illegal immigrant” and “illegal immigrants” are to be avoided.

– “Undocumented immigrants” is to be avoided.

– “Illegals” is not acceptable.

– “Aliens” is not acceptable.

How this guidance could be applied:

On the air today we said: Immigration “was a big issue in the race. Conservatives simply didn’t believe Cantor’s claims that he opposed amnesty for illegal immigrants.”

Another way of saying that: Immigration “was a big issue in the race. Conservatives simply didn’t believe Cantor’s claims that he opposed amnesty for anyone who may be here illegally.”

Yes, we are making things a bit more difficult and it might seem like we’re parsing words too carefully. Suggestions of better alternatives are always welcome.

Related note: We realize our headline writers face a particularly tough challenge when dealing with stories about this issue. The key may be to focus on the issue, not the individuals, when crafting headlines.

———-

ADDENDUM

Newscast asked for “wrong way, right way” scripts. Here we go:

Wrong way.

Immigration policy is on center stage again after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat Tuesday in his Republican primary. NPR’s Mark Memmott explains why the Virginia congressman’s surprising loss has put the issue back in the political spotlight:

3-2-1

College professor Dave Brat accused Cantor of favoring amnesty for most illegal immigrants. Cantor said he DOESN’T support forgiveness for illegals. But Brat’s charge stuck — he beat Cantor by more than 20 percentage points. Analysts say it was the illegal aliens issue that sank Cantor.

Now, House Republicans are expected to put legislation aimed at overhauling immigration policy on the backburner, says Republican pollster Frank Luntz:

“The GOP is going to hit ‘pause.’ ”

But Democrats may seize on any GOP reluctance to take up the issue, says Democratic pollster Mark Mehlman:

“Any delay is not going to please Hispanic voters.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security, there are about 11 million illegal immigrants in the nation.

Mark Memmott, NPR News

—-

Right way.

Immigration policy is on center stage again after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat Tuesday in his Republican primary. NPR’s Korva Coleman explains why the Virginia congressman’s surprising loss has put the issue back in the political spotlight:

3-2-1

College professor Dave Brat accused Cantor of favoring amnesty for some who are in the U.S. illegally. Cantor said he DOESN’T support that. But Brat’s charge stuck — he beat Cantor by more than 20 percentage points. Analysts say it was the amnesty accusation that sank Cantor.

Now, House Republicans are expected to put legislation aimed at overhauling immigration policy on the backburner, says Republican pollster Frank Luntz:

“The GOP is going to hit ‘pause.’ ”

But Democrats may seize on any GOP reluctance to take up the issue, says Democratic pollster Mark Mehlman:

“Any delay is not going to please Hispanic voters.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security, about 11 million people are in the U.S. illegally.

Korva Coleman, NPR News

(Memmos, June 12, 2014)

Case studies

Essays to aspire to. #

Essays such as these exemplify all that essays are supposed to do, revealing valuable personal insights and reflections without offering opinions on issues we cover:

Key questions

“Who is speaking?” #

In a 1999 message to the staff, Jonathan Kern discussed the use of “labels” to describe groups and organizations — and how they can help listeners or readers put what they’re hearing in the proper context and judge whether they’re being given a fair story. NPR seeks to describe groups accurately. If the terms “liberal” or “conservative” are oversimplifications, we take the extra time and space to add a longer phrase or sentence that more accurately describes the organization.

As Jonathan wrote, our goal is to answer for listeners and readers the question “who is speaking?” And not just by giving a name and a title, but by adding the context that describes where that person is coming from.

Overview

Overview: Accuracy in visual journalism #

The images and graphics we use to help tell our stories assist us in our pursuit of the truth. Some guidelines are simple: Captions and labels must accurately describe the events in the images they accompany. The same is true of the information we present online in graphics. Some things are more subjective and require more judgement: Be fair to the people in photos and honest with our viewers. Flattering photos can be as deceiving as unflattering images. Use images to convey information and tell stories, not to make the subjects look better or worse than the facts warrant. Likewise, our graphics present information in ways that educate and illuminate. We do not skew data to mislead viewers about an issue or event.