AP Stylebook takes a stance on race-related coverage

The resource advises communicators to use the term ‘racist’ or ‘racism’ when the situation calls for it, prompting many Twitter users to applaud the updated guidance.

AP Stylebook doesn’t mince words when it comes to racist language or actions—and it doesn’t want you to, either.

On Friday, AP Stylebook editor Paula Froke announced the following guidance at the 2019 ACES conference, a national gathering of editors: Do not use the terms “racially charged,” “racially motivated” or “racially tinged” as a replacement for “racist” or “racism.”

Poynter reported:

Race is central to many recent headlines: Jussie Smollett’s caseimmigration, the viral video of a teenager and a Native American elder.

However we are in an era of dog-whistle politics — if you know what to listen for, you get the message. Some newsrooms have soft-pedaled describing actions as racist. Instead, they have hedged with language such as “racially motivated.” Now AP has drawn a bright line in its entry on racism.

In a new “race-related coverage” entry, AP Stylebook writes:

Reporting and writing about issues involving race calls for thoughtful consideration, precise language, and an openness to discussions with others of diverse backgrounds about how to frame coverage or what language is most appropriate, accurate and fair. Avoid broad generalizations and labels; race and ethnicity are one part of a person’s identity. Identifying people by race and reporting on actions that have to do with race often go beyond simple style questions, challenging journalists to think broadly about racial issues before having to make decisions on specific situations and stories.

… Deciding whether a specific statement, action, policy, etc., should be termed racist often is not clearcut. Such decisions should include discussion with colleagues and/or others from diverse backgrounds and perspectives. In the AP, that conversation should also include senior managers.

Begin by assessing the facts: Does the statement or action meet the definition of racism? That assessment need not involve examining the motivation of the person who spoke or acted, which is a separate issue that may not be related to how the statement or action itself can be characterized.

In general, AP Stylebook says to avoid labeling a person as a racist. Instead, describe and attach “racist” or “racism” to an individual’s specific actions or words.

Avoid derogatory terms; however, they can be relevant in quoted matter in cases when their inclusion is crucial to readers’ understanding.

Also within the “race-related coverage” entry, AP Stylebook advises communicators to identify people by race only when it’s pertinent to the story, such as with “groundbreaking or historic events,” instances of missing persons where detailed descriptions are not based only on race, and demonstrations or conflicts involving race or racial issues.

If you’re writing about a suspect who has been arrested, remove references to race.

“Often, it is an irrelevant factor and drawing unnecessary attention to someone’s race or ethnicity can be interpreted as bigotry,” AP Stylebook writes.

‘Data’ and ‘percentage’ changes spark vocal responses

Many communicators on Twitter have applauded the updated guidance on race-related coverage, but it’s not the only AP style change to cause the resource to trend on Twitter.

AP Stylebook also announced that outside of scientific and academic copy, you can consider “data” as a singular noun:

In another change already stirring up conversation—and contention—AP Stylebook directed communicators to use the % sign when a percentage is paired with a numeral:

Twitter users’ responses to using the % sign were not as supportive as for AP’s changes to race-related coverage:

What do you think of the AP style changes, PR Daily readers?


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