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SPJ's Diversity Blog » SPJ Ethics Code | A Society of Professional Journalists Blog

Posts Tagged ‘SPJ Ethics Code’


Language matters: Think before you write

DictionaryWhat does “elderly” mean to you? Is 60 “elderly?” Cyndi Lauper and Tony Blair, both 60, probably would not agree. Is 80 “elderly?” Perhaps, but why use the word at all? Simply state a person’s age.

What does “inner city” or “urban” signify to you? Probably not a Manhattan high rise along Central Park, although that location is urban and in the inner city.

Words can convey subtle and not-so-subtle meanings, depending on their context. “Inner city” often is a code word for a neighborhood of poor people of color. But using it to mean only that is inaccurate and unfair.

In news reports, we read and hear these types of descriptors all the time. I would argue that their use constitutes lazy journalism.

What about people who are in the U.S. without official documents? In 2011, SPJ approved a resolution that urged journalists to stop using the terms “illegal alien” and “illegal immigrant.”

After the resolution passed, some accused the organization of having a political agenda. But, as SPJ has pointed out, this is a matter of accuracy. People without the proper paperwork have not been convicted of any crime. Because our constitution guarantees innocence until guilt is proven in court, these people may not be ruled “illegal” by journalists or anyone else except a judge or jury. In addition, a person cannot be “illegal.”

As journalists, we should use the words we actually mean rather than writing in code. On the word “elderly,” the Associated Press Stylebook has this to say: “Use this word carefully and sparingly. Do not refer to a person as elderly unless it is clearly relevant to the story.” List people’s ages, not judgmental descriptors.

Avoid using code words such as “inner city” or even “upscale.” When describing a neighborhood, research facts about that neighborhood rather than giving generalizations. Stereotypes are hard to break, but we can start working to fight them today.

Our own SPJ Code of Ethics states: “Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.”

It’s an easy rule to follow if we think before we write.

Photo by Greeblie, courtesy Creative Commons License. Image by Denelson83, courtesy Creative Commons GFDL.

Four ways to build a diverse panel, and why it matters

If you’ve ever walked into a room and been “the only one,” whether it involved race, gender or another factor, you know the feeling of exclusion that lack of representation creates.

The recent Online News Association conference in Atlanta featured a panel on “Disrupt Diversity,” which focused on journalism strategies to find sources outside comfort zones.

The panelists included one white male, Steve Buttry of Digital First Media, one black woman, Dori Maynard, president of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, and one white woman, Jessica Valenti, columnist for The Nation. This is an example of a diverse panel whose speakers can offer a variety of perspectives. In fact, ONA made a particular effort this year to recruit a mix of panelists, with half of them women and 30 percent people of color.

Too many times panels and presentations feature people who come from similar backgrounds and have similar points of view. In fact, Rebecca Rosen wrote about this earlier this year in The Atlantic, calling on men who find themselves on all-male panels to refuse to serve. She was writing about technology and science, but journalism also is applicable.

Newsrooms continue to lack diversity, as shown by the American Society of News Editors’ annual census. Only 12.37 percent of newsroom staffs are non-white and only one-third of employees are female.

Finding people who represent a range of viewpoints is a helpful rule not only for journalism practice, but also for presentations. Whether we consider race, gender, disability, or any other difference, we must think about who is representing our organizations. Excluding part of the audience not only defies ethical principles, but it also is not good for business.

The excuses “we can’t find qualified minorities” and “we can’t find qualified women” often mean that people are not searching outside their own social and work circles.

Here are some ways to find a variety of speakers and sources:

  1. SPJ’s own Rainbow Diversity Sourcebook: http://www.spj.org/divsourcebook.asp
  2. The Women’s Media Center’s She Source: http://www.shesource.org/
  3. The CIIJ at San Francisco State University features links to several diverse journalism organizations: http://www.ciij.org/resources
  4. Many universities, including journalism schools, list professors and their areas of expertise on their websites, such as this one from Columbia Journalism School: http://www.journalism.columbia.edu/page/532-faculty-experts/

Please add your own links to diverse sources of information as comments to this post.

 

Tips to Expand Your Source Network and Develop Great Story Ideas

I’ve lived in Knoxville, Tenn., essentially since 1968 and know a lot of people through my work at the News Sentinel. But earlier this month there was a story on four people recognized in the inaugural Latino Awards by Centro Hispano de East Tennessee, and I had only heard of one of them.

Lourdes 001

Lourdes Garza
(Photo:Diocese of Knoxville)

I was introduced to both Hispanic/Latino and border issues when I lived in El Paso, Texas, from 1996 to 1997 and served as editor of the El Paso Herald-Post. El Paso is predominantly Hispanic and Catholic.

In addition, I take to heart the SPJ Code of Ethics, which addresses the need for journalists to report on all aspects of the community and particularly to “tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.” I review the code once in awhile and always introduce it to students when teaching journalism at the University of Tennessee.

It turns out some of the Knoxville honorees are involved in multiple issues affecting the Hispanic community here, offering a route to interesting stories and contacts. I suspect this would be the case for similar award-winners in any community.

One of the Knoxville recipients was attached to the Catholic Diocese. Lourdes Garza, director of Hispanic Ministries of the Diocese of Knoxville, received the Spirit of Inspiration award for helping Hispanic community members integrate into parish life activities.

I had heard Garza’s name, but I didn’t know the other winners: Jose Luis Santiago, De Ann Pendry, and Santiago Cuccarese.

Jose Luis Santiago

Jose Luis Santiago
(Photo: Knoxville News Sentinel)

Santiago received the Spirit of Transformation award for his work with Holy Ghost Church in Knoxville in helping others solve problems in various aspects of their lives. It turns out he also has become active in opposing Knox County’s possible adoption of the controversial 287(h) federal immigration program, in which local and state law enforcement agencies collaborate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Pendry, the only non-Latino to receive an award, received the Espiritu Latino award for working with the Hispanic immigration-rights movement. She teaches courses in Latino studies, migration and trans-nationalism and similar areas at UT.

Cuccarese received the Spirit of Innovation award for his work with MiBanco and with the Bank of Camden, where he serves as vice president. MiBanco is a Latino-centered bank and actively supports the Hispanic community and its businesses. Cucarese is also active with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of East Tennessee.

Santiago Cuccarese

Santiago Cuccarese
(Photo: Knoxville News Sentinel)

Here are some tips to finding similar people in your own communities:

  • The Catholic Church. It’s heavily involved in Hispanic/Latino issues. A starting point for gathering information might be the U.S. Conferences of Catholic Bishops. The organization has a wide network.
  • The Chamber of Commerce. Most communities have a chamber and in all likelihood someone there is familiar with Hispanic businesses or if a Hispanic Chamber has been formed. There’s a U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Look over its list of corporate sponsors, including banks. Chances are your local contacts at banks can put you in touch with other individuals and businesses.
  • Universities. There are oodles of resources at institutions of higher learning. In one of my public affairs classes, I needed to know for editing purposes the possession of Muñoz. The AP stylebook didn’t address it. I called a friend who teaches Spanish at UT and she gave me the answer: Muñoz’s. Professors of political science, sociology, religion, business – the gamut – can be resources.

With a little bit of exploration, expanding your sources is easy.

Georgiana Vines is retired associate editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel and an active member of the SPJ Diversity Committee. 

Jeremy Lin Story, ESPN Snafu Expose Latest Diversity Challenge for Journalists

UPDATE: ESPN issued a statement Sunday announcing that the ESPN employee responsible for the offensive headline involving Jeremy Lin has  been dismissed and the ESPNEWS anchor who used the “Chink in the Armor” reference last week is now on a 30-day suspension.

The New York Knicks’ winning streak ended Friday night with its 89-85 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but just beginning is an investigation into a headline that ended up on ESPN.com’s  mobile Website about 2:30 a.m.  Saturday.

Depending on how you read four words— “Chink in the Armor,” you might have thought it was a reference to Jeremy Lin, the 23-year-old Asian American Knicks point guard, who has become one of the biggest sports stories of the year so far.

At least one Yahoo blogger, Kelly Dwyer has already outlined some of the issues at play.

This screen capture COURTESY OF Gothamist.com, a New York City web log, shows the headline that was posted and then quickly removed by ESPN early Saturday morning.

“Chink in the Armor” is an old saying referring to a weakness in a structure, but the word “chink” has been used as slang in referring in a derogatory to those of Asian descent.

Not the First Time for ESPN

Sadly, this isn’t the first time the “Chink the Armor” reference has been made on an outlet that’s part of the “Worldwide Leader in Sports.”

Someone posted on YouTube an eight-second clip from an ESPN analyst last month who used the same reference in a question during a broadcast earlier this week.

Are the eight seconds on the air more forgivable than the 30 minutes that the headline was up on ESPN.com’s Web site?

ESPN Apologizes, Investigates

ESPN officials have posted an apology for BOTH incidents, noting that with regards to the latest incident on the mobile site they were determining “appropriate disciplinary action to ensure this does not happen again.”

You would expect that.

We don’t know what will come from their internal investigation. But, regardless of what happens to the ESPN.com staffer who posted the headline, there are lessons to be learned here.

A Teachable Moment

The circumstances remind us of the importance of ensuring all of our employees are thinking clearly and are cognizant of the meaning and impact of our words.

Yes, it was 2:30 in the morning when the headline went up.  But, as one who for many years worked the overnight shift, I know how important it is even in the wee hours of the morning for employees to be on their game in reflecting the high standards of journalism no when it it is practiced in this age of the 24-hour news cycle.

With diversity as one of our core missions and sensitivity as a component of our ethics code,  the Society of Professional Journalists is always on the lookout for teachable moments from which all journalists can learn.

Beyond the lessons that we have to be careful about headlines that can have a double meaning or racial slurs like “chink,” which violate the part of our SPJ Code of Ethics that says “Minimize Harm,” there should be a newsroom/web site operational structure whereby the internal alarms go off before a headline like this ends up on any news organization’s web site.

The Larger Issue Linsanity Brings

The ESPN headline snafu raises the issue of whether most journalists are prepared to cover a story where the racial or ethnic background of the central figure in the story IS the story.

For journalists, when one’s racial or ethnic background becomes a central component of the story, we have to take the extra mile to check for words we use to describe these figures.

Sometimes our own biases and stereotypical thinking can creep into our copy.

Let ESPN.com’s blunder serve as a wake-up call to the rest of us to seed our writing with sensitivity for those from historically under-represented racial and ethnic groups.

George L. Daniels, a member of the SPJ National Board of Directors, is a former chair of the SPJ Diversity Committee and associate professor of journalism at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.   Read more of his thoughts on BAMAPRODUCER.wordpress.com

 

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