Race and relevancy in reporting continues to be a fine line that most newspapers walk. A story we published on Wednesday stirred the debate in our newsroom.
Here's a note I sent out to the news staff today:
Race/ethnicity and relevancy in police description
In general, do not use race/ethnicity in a police description. What does this mean: Police are searching for a big, tattooed Hispanic man .....
Take this from noted diversity expert Keith Woods (a link to his full essay is included below):
What, for example, does a Hispanic man look like? Is his skin dark brown? Reddish brown? Pale? Is his hair straight? Curly? Course? Fine? Does he have a flat, curved nose or is it narrow and straight? Telling the public that he’s 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, with a blue shirt and blue jeans says something about the person’s appearance. But what do you add to that picture when you say Latino?
Ask police to get more specific. What other details can you include? This following example of a description is a little better because it has very specific details, and does not indict any specific ethnicity. Police are looking for a dark-skinned man with dark, short hair, about 6-foot-3, with a tattoo of a butterfly on his arm. He was wearing blue jeans, and a black T-shirt and he escaped driving a black Lexus.
We, as a leader in the community, have to be careful not to indict a whole group of people. We have to be sensitive to the strong power of our words, our language. By saying police are looking for big Hispanic man with a tattoo, we probably just included about 5,000 innocent people into the mix.
Any questions, please see an editor.
Again, it's a fine line. We want to give as much detail to the public as we can, but we also want to be as exact as we can. Some accuse newspapers of being too politically correct.
What are your thoughts on this? Please comment here or send me an e-mail if you prefer.
Thanks for reading.
Here's a link to Keith Woods' full essay.
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