Search Results for: strive to use words and phrases
“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)
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)
Words such as “we,” “our” and “us” are sometimes being used in ways that they shouldn’t.
It isn’t appropriate, for example, to be discussing U.S. policy about a particular conflict and say “we” support one side over another. We — that is, NPR — report about such policies. We don’t make them or endorse them.
A news report isn’t the right place to say that “our” civil rights have been violated by the government. That’s language for an op-ed.
“Strive to use words and phrases that accurately deliver information without taking sides on emotional or political issues.”
“We,” “our” and “us” can create the impression that a reporter has taken sides.
In some cases, the right substitute is as simple as “Americans” or “taxpayers.” Other times, it might be a couple words, such as “U.S. forces” or “the administration.”
Remember, “there’s no cheering in the press box.”
(Memmos; May 27, 2015)
Strive to use words and phrases that accurately deliver information without taking sides on emotional or political issues. Politically loaded language not only violates our commitment to be fair, but also gets in the way of telling good stories. It makes readers and listeners stop to consider whether we’re biased in favor of one side or the other.
So, for example, we report about efforts to “overhaul” health care or tax policy, not the “reform” that advocates on all sides say they are pursuing. “Reform” is in the eye of the beholder. “Overhaul” is a better, less-charged word.
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, as Joanne Silberner did in a November 1995 piece for All Things Considered. Reporting on the debate over certain abortions performed late in pregnancy, she noted that:
This time, the debate even extends to what the procedure is called. Opponents call it a ‘partial birth abortion,’ while supporters of abortion rights prefer the medical term ‘intact dilation and evacuation.’ Abortion opponents say the procedure is brutal and inhumane to the fetus, but abortion rights supporters say it can save the life of the mother and allow her to become pregnant again.
For guidance, NPR policy on many terms and phrases is collected on NPR’s internal wiki (under Grammar & Usage Guide). If you’re unsure and the subject isn’t covered there, ask the librarians and consult with our in-house experts — the correspondents and editors who cover controversial topics such as abortion, tax policy, climate change and others. They have likely already worked through the issues. Also feel free to talk it over with the Standards and Practices Editor (email Ethics).