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July 15, 2019, 2:03 p.m.
Reporting & Production
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Christine Schmidt   |   July 15, 2019

Journalistic language is a funny thing: a mix of official style rules, newsroom norms with fuzzy origins, individual instinct, and whatever the copy desk will let through at a given moment. That intersection is highlighted whenever there’s a controversy about whether a particular usage (or non-usage) is giving cover to bad behavior or reinforcing harmful structures. (When President Trump tells four congresswomen of color to “go back” to their countries, do you call that racist? Or just “racially charged,” “racially infused,” “denounced as racist,” or an “example of ‘racism'”?)

There are now any number of guides aimed at encouraging more inclusive and representative language in your reporting that doesn’t let social divides become the background music for your reporting. You know, less “us vs. them” and more “we are all humans” and such.

But what if you want to move your work in that direction, but you’re not sure how — maybe your managers don’t seem on board, or the copy flows too quickly to think about how to change it? Well, Resolve Philadelphia, a nonprofit pulling together more equitable and collaborative journalism, wants to hear all about it.

“Think: What would it take for newsrooms to eliminate ‘addict’ and ‘illegal alien’ from our vocabularies or using ‘returning citizen’ instead of ‘ex-con’?” co-executive director Jean Friedman-Rudovsky explained in an email.

Today Resolve Philadelphia (also known as the group orchestrating the 19-newsroom Broke in Philly collaborative) is launching a survey for journalists to describe where a more actionable guide and tools would help. The project, called Reframe, received a $125,000 grant from the News Integrity Initiative earlier this year with the goal of building “a set of resources, tools and best practices for newsrooms of every size to support them in more accurate and representative coverage of individual and community identities.”

Broke in Philly has already had a language guide, nudging participants to use terms like people “experiencing poverty” rather than “poor people,” “needy citizens,” or “the economically disadvantaged.” But having it and using it are obviously two different things:

“We saw the use hasn’t been perfect of the words we want to encourage, but it has given us a baseline of which phrases are still being perpetuated or really caught on,” Aubrey Nagle, Resolve’s project editor for Reframe, told me. “There are plenty of style guides out there but what’s really lacking is implementation.”

Despite the city in its name, Resolve is trying to collect as many survey responses nationwide as possible and is aiming to launch a pilot next spring to test the tools it develops based on the survey.

“It’s more about creating opportunities for language and style in the newsroom and how we can effect change in the media ecosystem…rather than just focusing on the word of the day,” Nagle said.

The survey is available here. There’s an information session, virtual or in Philly, on July 30.

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