December 1, 2017

How to correctly write about religious, national and gender topics?

Delicate questions of journalism, it seems, do not rise anywhere except boring lectures on ethics, where future wordsmiths usually prefer to slumber. Due to the lack of formal orientation of the mentions religious, national or gender identity in the press can sometimes be found such that the eyes bugging out of their sockets with indignation.

Yesterday, November 16 in the world celebrated the international day of tolerance, after which we decided to translate for you column Thomas Kent — CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, former editor of the Associated Press and co-authored the ethical code of the Online News Association.

Some editors prefer not to mention racial, ethnic, gender, or religious affiliation in those materials where this does not apply to the case. Others believe that these facts also apply to history as the name of the person, which writes the edition, and therefore, these characteristics need to mention. The publication, which protects or promotes the interests of certain groups is likely to include data that will not occur in the materials on abstract topics.

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Often when a person becomes the first representative of his race, nationality, sex or religion, who have achieved some recognition or made a major breakthrough, the mention of his personal characteristics is important. For example, most journalists agreed that when Barack Obama became US President, it was perfectly normal to call him the first black American PresidentHowever, this issue has some fine moments.

The achievement of man must be where his race, gender or nationality really matter. For example, if a woman became the first latina to lead the school swim team, her race is worthy of mention, if only Latinos had not been discriminated against in this sport.

You need to think several times before mentioning about the identification of the person in the article. When Michael Bloomberg became mayor of new York, no one wrote in the headlines that Bloomberg is a Jew, because for most readers it didn’t matter as much. His religious affiliation is quietly mentioned in the curriculum vitae. For readers from other countries the fact that the mayor was a Jew, had a very large value: one news Agency even called Bloomberg crib “Jewish billionaire”.

References to racial, national or religious affiliation in some of the stories are more organically. For example, when members of a particular group say about the values of their culture, mentioning their membership is an integral part of the material. But on the other hand, if your edition does not emphasize the gender of the Director General-men, you should not emphasize the gender of female Directors.

When the police sends a verbal portrait of a suspect or fugitive, in the description there’s usually a mention of the race, and news organizations have every right to quote it. In this case, it is important that the description was the most detailed — “black male t-shirt” is unlikely to help citizens to recognize the criminal. However, in such situations, news organizations should be more attentive to the language and headings — these should reflect the facts and not pander to certain stereotypes.

What to do if, for example, a national group committed a series of crimes or went on strike, but the situation had nothing to do with the protection of the rights of this national group? Is it worth it in this case to specify the nationality of the heroes of the material or is it enough to refer to them as “young people” or “residents of neighborhoods”?

There are two approaches to answering this question:

If the event about which you write, has nothing to do with racial or national issues (as if, for example, demonstrators shouted slogans in protection of national minorities and blame another group for infringement of their rights), journalists do not specify their nationality in the material. People can go on strike because they were poor or oppressed that can happen to national minorities. And if journalists will be giving this as a racial conflict, it can distract people from the economic nature of the problem.

Everyone who observed the event firsthand, it was obvious that the strikers belong to a particular race or nationality, and readers should not receive information of lower quality than those who were able to watch the event itself. Trying to hide the fact of belonging of the characters to a certain nationality or race, the journalist may introduce the reader astray, that will not allow him to draw conclusions about the real reasons for the strike. Perhaps the fundamental reason is poverty and oppression, but the fact that certain national minorities were the victims of unfair treatment, must be announced.

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In matters of sex too, there are a lot of questions. For example, how to address a man who looks like a woman and calls itself woman, but not yet had the surgery and he is still physically male? Most editors prefer to use the identity of the person, that is, if he thinks he’s a woman, and talking about it will be as a woman. Another option is to completely avoid in the history of words, speaking about a specific field.

In the latest manuals of journalistic style also contains a recommendation to avoid references to the floor in the passages, where we are talking about a group of men and women. For example, the phrase “the Student knows what he needs to work hard for the diploma” easily replace the wording in the plural: “Students know what they need to work hard for the diploma”.

English-language style guides are encouraged to avoid the word “homosexual”, if we are not talking about the medical literature. More preferably, the use of the word “gay” for men and “lesbian” for women. Sexual orientation should not be mentioned in the material, if it is not directly related to the case or the described event. For officially registered homosexual couples, the words “husband” and “wife” can be used only with the consent of heroes.

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