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)

November 15, 2016

Comments are closed.