Posts Tagged ‘diversity’


Highlights thru Sept. 15

With EIJ two weeks behind us now, things are slowing down a little bit, but the momentum that started at the convention is still going strong. Committees, communities and volunteers are hard at work, locally and nationally. Here are this week’s highlights:

Launch of International Journalism Community: Under the leadership of Carlos Restrepo of the St. Louis Pro chapter, the International Journalism Community was launched. To date, more than 30 journalists have expressed an interest in joining the community. Want to get involved? Email Carlos directly.

Volunteer of the Month: Last week, the Membership Committee named its volunteer of the month – Victor Hernandez of CNN, for overseeing Excellence in Journalism news at EIJ14. Guiding a team of 14 student interns, Hernandez selflessly shared his expertise. Thank you, Victor!

Journalism Education Committee: Butler Cain, assistant professor of West Texas A&M, and the Journalism Education committee are getting the year off to a good start, wrapping up the editing of a book on the state of high school journalism. I anticipate lots of great work coming out of that committee this year, so stay tuned!

Diversity Committee: Lead by chair April Bethea, the Diversity Committee has gotten off to an enthusiastic start. Read April’s blog post about the committee’s goals for the year.

Ethics Committee:  Committee chair Andrew Seaman and SPJ communications strategist Jennifer  Royer are working on a plan to publish, publicize and share the revised Code of Ethics. Late last week the final version went to the printers. Posters and bookmarks will be available soon.

Journalism Advocacy: SPJ issued a statement applauding the city of Tupelo, Mississippi for complying with open records laws. Though the laws have been in place since 1983, Tupelo is the first municipality in Mississippi to comply. Thanks to SPJ member and reporter Robbie Ward, staff writer for The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, for prodding the city to archive text messages and make them available to the public.

Journalism Advocacy: SPJ signed onto a letter by the American Association of Law Libraries to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Court urging them to restore electronic access to court records that were recently removed from PACER and a letter from the Reporters Committee to the DOJ for a dialogue following the media’s treatment in Ferguson.

Volunteer Outreach: Since EIJ14, I’ve been making calls to volunteers including new board members, committee chairs and community leaders to learn about their goals for the year and to thank them for their service. In addition, I have asked for a volunteer to help me support SPJ’s communities, including freelance, digital and international journalism. If you have an interest in working with me, please email me.

Board Training: Chapter coordinator Tara Puckey held the first of two sessions of board training via Skype to tell us more about our roles and responsibilities.

I’m traveling this weekend to meet with the Fort Worth Pro SPJ chapter for its annual “welcome the president” event. I will update you on this week’s highlights when I get back. Until then, thanks for your support of SPJ and journalism, and let me know how I can help.

~ Dana Neuts, SPJ President

On “illegal alien/immigrant”

I have to admit to being skeptical last year when controversy broke out over Leo Laurence’s column in SPJ’s Quill magazine on use of the phrase “illegal immigrant.”

I’ve certainly used it many times over the last decade in keeping with guidelines spelled out in the Associated Press Stylebook.

Here’s what the AP Stylebook (2006 edition) has to say about the term: “Illegal Immigrant – Used to describe those who have entered the country illegally. It is the preferred term rather than illegal alien or undocumented worker.”

Sometimes I’ve also used the term “undocumented immigrant.” While looking back at stories written by my colleagues, I found plenty of instances where both terms were used in immigration-related stories.

Less common was use of the term “illegal alien.” Webster’s Dictionary still includes the secondary definition of alien as “a foreign-born resident who has not been naturalized and is still a subject or citizen of a foreign country.”

But that usage seems antique now. Science fiction movies and television programs like “The X-Files” have rendered the more common use of the word to refer to an extra-terrestrial — the third meaning listed in Webster’s.

So when the issue came up last week at the SPJ convention in the form of a resolution, I still wasn’t entirely convinced of the need to question use of the term “illegal immigrant.”

Others who shared my skepticism questioned the resolution’s wording.

Then Rebecca Aguilar got up to speak.

Rebecca is a member of SPJ’s Fort Worth Pro chapter. She attended the convention this year as one of six diversity fellows, a program that has been a valuable asset to the Society by ensuring that underrepresented voices are heard in debates like this one.

After receiving permission to speak as a non-delegate, Rebecca told voting delegates how she is the daughter of undocumented immigrants.

She talked about how her mother reads the Toledo Blade* every day and later became a U.S. citizen. Her mother believes in the work that journalists like her daughter do and its importance to society, Rebecca said.

But it pains her mom whenever she sees the term “illegal alien” in the newspaper.

“Every time you use the words ‘illegal alien,’ you insult my mother,” Rebecca told the delegates. “‘Alien’ is an ugly word.”

You could feel the whole debate start to shift as she sat down. I know I was moved. A short time later, the delegates approved the resolution by a resounding voice vote.

My gripe with the term “illegal immigrant” is not the phrase itself, but with the loose and imprecise way that it is applied.

I’ve had the experience of covering large scale immigration arrests at a meat packing plant or vehicle accidents where large numbers of people are arrested.

It’s not uncommon, however, for authorities to release several people the next day after determining that indeed they had papers. To call these people “illegal” is sloppy and inaccurate.

My concern is not one of being politically correct as it being precise and accurate.

When police arrest someone on a burglary charge, we don’t refer to them the next day as “illegal burglars.” They are burglary suspects.

I don’t see why we can’t treat immigration cases like any other arrests. A person under arrest is suspected of entering the country illegally until authorities are in fact sure that they did.

It’s worth noting that while the resolution (full wording below) urges journalists to stop using the term “illegal alien,” it stopped short of asking them not to use the term “illegal immigrant.”

Instead, it simply encourages “continuous discussion and re-evaluation of the use of ‘illegal immigrant’ in news stories.”

That seems like a healthy idea to me.

I’m curious about what you think. Please take a moment to respond to the poll at the end of this column.

Here is the resolution approved at the convention:

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.

* In fairness to the Blade, the term “illegal immigrant” is used far more often that “illegal alien” judging by a search of the paper’s website, although examples of both can be found.

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