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SPJ's Diversity Blog » Rebecca Aguilar | A Society of Professional Journalists Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Rebecca Aguilar’

SPJ Diversity pleased with AP decision on “illegal immigrant” term usage

The SPJ Diversity Committee is pleased with The Associated Press’ decision to change the use of the term “illegal immigrant.”

However, the Diversity Committee has been behind the issue of dropping the term “illegal” for the past few years, spearheaded by former committee member Leo Laurence. And it was in New Orleans at the Excellence in Journalism Conference 2011 when I witnessed former Diversity Fellow and Vice Chairwoman Rebecca Aguilar address the SPJ board about her mother, who came to the United States from Mexico, and the pain it caused when she saw the term “illegal alien” used in the newspaper.

Rebecca Aguilar addresses SPJ Board about using term "illegal alien". Photo by Sandra Gonzalez

Rebecca Aguilar addresses SPJ Board about using term “illegal alien”.
Photo by Sandra Gonzalez

After hearing Aguilar’s impassioned speech, the voting convention delegates passed this resolution on voice vote:

WHEREAS, the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics urges all journalists to be “honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information” and;

WHEREAS, mainstream news reports are increasingly using the politically charged phrase “illegal immigrant” and the more offensive and bureaucratic “illegal alien” to describe undocumented immigrants, particularly Latinos and;

WHEREAS, a fundamental principle embedded in our U.S. Constitution is that everyone (including non-citizens) is considered innocent of any crime until proven guilty in a court of law and;

WHEREAS, this constitutional doctrine, often described as “innocent-until-proven-guilty,” applies not just to U.S. Citizens but to everyone in the United States and;

WHEREAS, only the court system, not reporters and editors, can decide when a person has committed an “illegal” act and;

WHEREAS, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists is also concerned with the increasing use of pejorative and potentially inaccurate terms to describe the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the United States;

THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Society of Professional Journalists convention of delegates: urges journalists and style guide editors to stop the use of illegal alien and encourage continuous discussion and re-evaluation of the use of illegal immigrant in news stories.

Prior to this, it had been rejected by the Resolutions Committee.

The AP is now changing how it will describe people as journalists report stories involving the current immigration issue. According to Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll, here is what is behind the decision:

The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term “illegal immigrant” or the use of “illegal” to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that “illegal” should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.

“Journalists and others can argue that the new style recommendation is less precise than ‘illegal alien’ or ‘illegal immigrant,’ but it’s important to note that a significant portion of country’s population regards those terms as offensive.  It wasn’t that long ago that keepers of journalism style, including The AP, fought dropping ‘Negro’ as a term for black or African-American people,” says SPJ President Sonny Albarado.

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists also says these terms can be dehumanizing  and demeaning.

“AP is right to note that the English language evolves and that our everyday usage contributes to that evolution. I hope journalists and others continue this conversation about immigration and people who come here legally or illegally until we arrive at terminology most of us can agree on,” Albarado says.

We on the SPJ Diversity Committee agree and hope journalists will eliminate these types of terms from their copy as immigration is a huge issue we will be reporting on this year.

Sandra Gonzalez
SPJ Diversity Committee Chairman
KSNV Reporter
Las Vegas

NYU story about NBA Player, Jeremy Lin gets hit with racist comments

I was going through my Facebook messages the other day when a comment posted by Yvonne Latty, a journalism professor at New York University caught my attention.  She wrote:

“A fun post by my student on Jeremy Lin has led to a bunch of racist comments on our website that I won’t publish…one person signed as Adolph Hitler…people are sick.”

Latty’s student, Louie Lazar had produced a video and written a story about New York Knicks basketball player, Jeremy Lin for their online news site “Pavement Pieces.”   Lin is one of the hottest players in the NBA right now.  The point guard is the first Asian-American in the NBA.

Lazar story “Jeremy Lin craze fuels Asian-American pride” focused on how young Asian-American’s are proud to finally have a role model like Lin representing their community.  In my opinion it was a “feel good” piece;but according to Latty, a handful of readers got angry over the story.

In the world of the web, anyone can write racist comments and not sign their name.  Three of those types of comments were posted after Lazar’s story was published.   Professor Latty says “I was disgusted and disappointed.  Why do people have to do that?”  Latty decided it was best not to approve the comments, because they did not add to the conversation.


Asian-Americans find a new hero from Pavement Pieces on Vimeo.


Lazar was doing his job, reporting the news.  We’re always going to get readers, viewers, or listeners who don’t like our work or the topic.  It’s part of the job.

It gets more intense when you report on a minority community.  The reality is there are many haters out there even in 2012.  As journalists we have to remember that covering all communities is important, because each has its own contributions to society. What we have understand as journalists is that we are here to inform and that means at times dealing with those who try to get in our way with ugly, hateful comments.

I know this is a learning experience for Louie Lazar.   It’s also a good reminder that there are more good people out there willing to learn from the information that we provide than hate on it.  Keep up the good work Louie!

Rebecca Aguilar is an Emmy Award winning reporter with 30 years in the business. She’s a member of the SPJ Diversity Committee and a board member with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the SPJ Fort Worth Chapter.




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