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AP Gives New Guidelines On How We Talk About Race

 April 9, 2019 at 10:23 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 This is KPBS mid day edition. I'm jade Hindman. When it comes to race and ethnicity, you may notice many news outlets changing the way they talk about it. That's because the Associated Press has come out with new guidance on how we label people and issues of identity doors. Truong is the director of training and diversity at the Poynter institute, which is one of the world's most influential schools for journalist. And she is talking to me about those changes. The AP may doors. Welcome. Hi. Thanks for having me. So why are style guidelines from the Associated Press so important? The guidelines that the associated press issues are particularly resonant in us journalism because many newsrooms don't have the capacity to come up with their own style guides. So everything that the AP says is amplified to multiple newsrooms, not just the people who take the APS newswires. And so this time around this year has guidelines focus on race and ethnicity, some of them do. Speaker 1: 01:00 Uh, what were some of the major pivots that you saw and why are they significant? There were several changes all along multiple areas involving race coverage. But there were several things that were seemingly insignificant but also had a lot of resonance to me. One of the things that really stuck out to me was that the associated processes that we no longer need to hyphenate people who have dual heritage. So in the past the AP had recommended hyphenating African American or Asian American for example. And in the new guidelines they're saying that you don't need that hyphen. Um, another piece of guidance from this year's Stylebook update is that you should not say a black or a white as a noun. And that's, um, something that was not previously explicitly spelled out in aps guidelines. So that was a change. And over the years, what significance did the hyphen before American have and why is it important to change that now? Speaker 1: 01:59 Yeah, so the hyphenated American is a term that dates to the late 19th century. And it was a way that was used to kind of describe immigrants as an other. That's why you would have the hyphenated Asian American. So it was a way of constantly reinforcing that unless you were somebody who was born in the United States, that you were still an other. So getting rid of that hyphen is a way of signifying that. Finally, something that many activist groups I've been calling for for decades is something that AP is saying. Yes. Now we agree that this is the way that we recommend that people use the language and the new guidelines also suggesting away from terms like racially charged or racially motivated. What are are they suggesting we use instead? Yeah, why? So it AP points out that racially charged and racially motivated are euphemisms. Speaker 1: 02:55 What they're recommending is that when appropriate could say racial such as racial arguments or racial tensions. So what this is really saying is stop, um, stop kind of hedging things that are racist. So you don't want to say that the lynching was racially motivated when it was racist. How important is it to do that, to just call something racist? When something is racist, then AP is giving you permission to say that it is racist. Um, and that's really to describe an incident. Um, and it's not to ascribe the motives to a person that you're interviewing. Speaking of racism after attacks, like the ones in New Zealand, Pittsburgh, Charleston, and even Louisville, many consumers of news wonder about when someone is called a terrorist or lone wolf or when a mass shooting is labeled a hate crime or even terrorist attack or when someone is a white supremacist versus a white nationalist. Speaker 1: 03:55 Is there any guidance on those terms? You know, I did not see specific guidance in the AP about that, but Meryl Perlman, who was a well respected language authority wrote at length about the difference between white supremacists and white nationalists in 2017 after the Charlottesville protests. And so Merrill points out in her article for Cjr that someone who's a supremacist believes in the supremacy of a particular race or sex or cultural characteristic, that they're naturally superior to others. Whereas a nationalist is somebody who strongly believes in the interest of their own nation. However nation might be defined so they're not interchangeable terms. And how do you think these changes help journalist frame today's news for consumers? I think that having AP spell out some of these guidelines give the journalist a little bit more context as they're thinking about how they tell stories today. One of the things that AP points out is that unless it's Germane to the story, it's not necessary to mention someone's race. Speaker 1: 05:01 So you wouldn't necessarily need to identify what the heritage is of a business owner when you're talking to that person if it's not something that's very relevant to the story. And why do you think these changes were made? Now are our perceptions changing or is America evolving? I think it's a little bit of both. Certainly race is at the top of a lot of people's minds. We just had the outcome of the mayoral runoff in Chicago and they elected their first black female, openly gay mayor. So that's going to be, I'm a huge topic in Chicago, which also is also where the Jesse Small let case happened. And that case involved race as well as, um, issues about, um, possible homophobia. So there were a lot of different issues that are just, um, very nuanced in today's news. And it gives journalists more tools to talk about them in a more specific way. Speaker 1: 05:59 And while the Associated Press give some guidance to newsrooms when it comes to covering their communities, which are diverse with people of different races and ethnicities, how important is diversity and inclusion in those newsrooms when it comes to setting the right tone and telling stories that accurately represent the communities they serve? Right. So it's really important for newsrooms to have people who have different perspectives and viewpoints. That's why you wouldn't have people who are only from the west coast in your newsroom because they wouldn't have perspective that people who had lived in other parts of the country might have gained from their life experience. So in order to properly reflect the communities in America, which are more and more people of Color, where we have immigrants coming from many different countries every day, where we have people shifting around so that people are living in different parts of the country. You know, it's really important to have people who have those understandings of the communities within the newsroom in order to effectively tell those stories. I've been speaking with Doris Trung, the Poynter institute as director of training and diversity doors. Thank you very much for joining us. Thank you so much. And you're listening to KPBS midday edition.

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Associated Press style guidelines may help bring understanding to issues of race.