When should a person or group be identified by race, ethnicity, gender or religion?
Unless it is relevant to the story or is newsworthy then there is no reason why a person or group should be identified by race, ethnicity, gender or religion. It depends on the publication but some may feel it is normal to use these identifiers just like we name a person or give their age. One of these identifiers is usually used when a person becomes the first in that group to achieve something. That makes the identifier necessary to be mentioned because it’s newsworthy. When Margaret Thatcher became the first female prime minister in the UK her gender was relevant in reports since throughout history women were never accepted as equal and were never allowed roles of importance.
Where the racial/ethnical/gender/religious identification is placed within a story is also something that should be considered. This depends on the publication and how relevant that fact is to their readership. ‘Language performs a crucial role in expressing, changing and particularly reproducing ideologies’ (Oktar 2001). They way a person is identified can affect the way they are perceived by others. In certain countries, that person’s religion could be essential to the story and therefore be included in the headline but in another the fact may be mentioned lower down. It all depends how important the story is to that group of people.
When writing about crime it is essential to include descriptions such as race if the police have issued these details and are searching for this person. It is being reported as a public service and it is in the public interest to do so. But care needs to be taken in how race is discussed in crime reports. The media’s reporting of crime influences audience’s attitudes about race and ethnicity, and crime reporting maintains racial stereotypes and biases (Willis and Painter 2016).
Oktar, L., 2001. The Ideological Organisation Of Representational Processes In The Presentation Of Us And Them. Discourse Society, [Online], 12 (3), 313-347
Willis, E. and Painter, C., 2016. Race prominent feature in coverage of Trayvon Martin. Newspaper Research Journal, 37 (2), 180–195.
What is the most appropriate language to use for transgender people and people who do not identify as male or female?
It is normally the gender which people express publicly that is referred to in news reports/media. Regardless of what gender someone was at birth, it is appropriate to refer to them as the gender they have chosen even if they haven’t completed a physical transition. While sex is a noun that describes the genetic body, gender should be considered a verb in that it is defined by actions (Lenning 2009). One of the most famous examples of this is Bradley Manning who identified as a woman called Chelsea. He was involved in the WikiLeaks case and news organisations finally settled on referring to Chelsea as “she” as she had made a public statement about identifying herself as a woman.
People who don’t identify themselves as male or female might consider themselves either genderless or a combination of the two sexes. New pronouns like “ze” or “hir” are sometimes preferred by those people when asked how they would like to be referred to. Another solution is to avoid using pronouns as much as possible by just using their name unless their gender identification is essential to the story.
It is important to pay attention to how a transgender person would like to be referred to. If the media, or any other person, use a name that no longer corresponds with a transgender person’s view of who they are, it can affect their health and well-being (Prinster 2016). The gender they identify with needs to be recognised by others in the correct way in order to maintain their transition.
Lenning, E., 2009. Moving Beyond the Binary: Exploring the Dimensions of Gender Presentation and Orientation. International Journal of Social Inquiry, 2 (2), 39–54.
Prinster, R., 2016. Words Matter: Affirming Gender Identity Through Language.
Does the diversity of news staff affect the diversity of issues, topics and people depicted in news coverage?
Reflecting the diversity of a community is part of the expectation that a publication always tries to be as accurate as possible. You cannot just focus on one particular group of people if your readership covers a large area with lots of diverse groups of. Increasing the diversity in a news room can lead to more diverse story ideas, new sources and different ways to approach news. The increased variety of people can bring different views to a news room which impacts the diversity of the news coverage. However, the audience are presented with the content of the news, not the person who gathered it or it or the way in which it was gathered (Voakes et al. 1996). The content is what interests the audience and therefore the diversity should not affect this.
It could be argued that the diversity of news staff does not impact the diversity of topics and people depicted in news coverage because a good reporter can present news about all different groups of people and seek out newsworthy content despite not having experience in that area. This may be true if all humans were the same, but each person has a different background, mind and experience which means diverse news staff will affect the diversity of issues, topics and people depicted in news coverage. Former editor of U.S. News, Shelby Coffey also believed this and issued a ‘diversity’ memo to his staff saying, “rarely can a single person, writing or editing a story, have the full range of experiences to see the story from all angles” (Tharp 1995). Having more experience means your framing of a story will be more fair.
Tharp, M., 1995. U.S. News & World Report. A Quest for Diversity, 118 (6)
Voakes, P. S., Kapfer, J., Kurpius, D. and Chern, D. S. ., 1996. Diversity in the news: A conceptual and methodological framework. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 73 (3), 582–593