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Posts Tagged ‘terminology’


Make Your Call on the Washington Football Team Name

american-football-151765_150The NFL’s Washington Redskins have been around since 1932. The team’s nickname has been discussed, disputed and disparaged for a long time as well. In writing this column, I debated whether to use it.

In mid-June, the U.S. Patents and Trademark Office announced that it was tearing up the team’s trademark registration, finding that it was “disparaging to Native Americans” and thus could no longer be given trademark protection.

Is avoiding the term advocacy?

Team owner Daniel Snyder is on the record saying he will never change the team’s name and fans and supporters – including some Native Americans – embrace the name. Journalists and media outlets have taken a stand on the issue themselves.

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, the Washington Post’s Christine Brennan and NBC’s Bob Costas are some of the most prominent journalists who have called for a name change. On the other side, Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly has voiced support for the name.

The Pew Research Center reported last year that 76 journalists and news outlets such as The Oregonian (whose policy dates back to 1992), the San Francisco Chronicle, Slate and the New Republic have decided not to use the nickname. Poynter recently compiled its own list.

But is this kind of advocacy media outlets should be taking? Some argue that media outlets have always set a limit on terms that they consider offensive to readers, viewers and listeners. For example, refusal to use the n-word is nearly universal in American news media.

Others, though, argue that the term has long been part of the American lexicon, used by some Native Americans themselves. Changing it, they say, would simply give in to the “politically correct” police.

And yet opposition to the name from such organizations as the National Congress of American Indians and the Oneida Nation continues to grow – and is becoming more difficult for the news media to ignore.

If it offends, stop using it

So how should media outlets handle the Washington mascot controversy?

Former Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial page editor Mark Trahant, who is now the Atwood Journalism chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said it should be an easy call – if it offends, stop using it.

“With Washington you don’t have to go beyond the dictionary; (the) word is defined as a slur,” said Trahant, a member of Idaho’s Shoshone-Bannock tribe, in an interview via social media. “I remember repeating the R-word as a kid, early 60s. My dad told me that’s a word we don’t use. One test for journalists: Would you use the word in a community of Natives where you are not known? If no, then keep it out of sports pages.”

A Native American Studies professor and former journalism professor, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, wrote in an email that she believes the media’s role is to be a leader on the issue.

“What should media outlets do? The right thing,” she said. “I can’t believe there’s an editor alive who doesn’t know this term is offensive to many and for good reasons, both historic and contemporary. Hasn’t the public often relied on the media to set the moral high bar, provide guidance for ethical, responsible behavior and decision-making? Why stop short now?”

At the very least, every newsroom should have a brutally honest discussion about the name. More importantly – journalists must get beyond their comfort zone, take a stand and make a call whether or not to use the term.


Clyde Hughes is a freelance journalist based in Lafayette, Indiana, who wrote many years for the Toledo Blade. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites around the country and taught courses on covering minorities in the media and media ethics as an adjunct professor.

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

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