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Senior Editor

Pub Talk

By James Sturdivant

About James

 

Publishers' Dojo

Linda Ruth
Barbarians at Our Gates: Cybercrime, Security, and the Media
Jul 29, 2014

Cybercrime, privacy, and security are in the forefront of our minds these days, with everyone from Google to the NSA...



B2B Beat

Andy Kowl
How to Create Online Content Readers Will Pay For
Jul 17, 2014

Pity the poor consumer publishers getting millions of website visitors each month. The flipside of those universal topics generating huge...



Media Vent

Bob Sacks
The Power of Instantaneous Feedback
Jul 16, 2014

Being a writer and a successful e-newsletter publisher has had some interesting repercussions that are completely understandable and at the...



The Digital Market

Thea Selby
Top 5 Mobile Trends for Publishers—It’s Good News, Folks
Jul 7, 2014

Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers is one of my s/heroes. In this day and age of branded...



Industry Insiders

The Insiders
New York Times ‘Innovation Report’ Points Way to Digital Future
May 23, 2014

The leaked New York Times Innovation Report highlights the challenges it is facing in the digital age, but more importantly, it echoes...



Publisher's Paradox

Andrew Davis
Publisher’s Paradox: Your Newsletter Subscribers Are Being Overfed
Apr 28, 2014

Charlie Magazine, based in Charleston, South Carolina, isn't asking its readers to subscribe to everything. Instead, Charlie is inviting readers...



Profit from Publishing!

Thaddeus B. Kubis
Media Conference Exhibitors Should Go Deeper to Engage
Oct 9, 2013

It has been a few weeks since I attended (as the guest of the event organizer) the Publishing Business Conference...



The AP Takes a Stand for Clarity

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The Associated Press has recently altered its stylebook for journalists to discourage the use of the terms "homophobia" and "ethnic cleansing" in news reporting. I agree strongly with both of these recommendations. Ethnic cleansing is, as AP Deputy Standards Editor Dave Minthorn told Politico, a euphemism for activities that are "pretty violent" and should not be in any way glossed over. What began (in the context of Bosnia as I recall) as a darkly ironic term for mass killing and displacement has, unfortunately, entered the lexicon as a general description for the same. If people want to refer to what went on in Darfur as "ethnic cleansing" they are free to do so, but journalists should not whitewash such events with vagueness.

The decision to discourage "homophobia" is much dicier, and has led to no small amount of discussion and controversy. I think Minthorn is correct that, because a phobia is a clinical term for a "an irrational, uncontrollable fear," it should not be used to casually describe opponents of gay rights. I have always been uncomfortable with the term as a type of political hyperbole meant to pigeonhole as much as describe; in journalistic contexts, it certainly does not connote objectivity.

One of the main arguments made against the AP's decision is that most anti-gay activists are motivated by fear, and that this level of fear does, in fact, border on the pathological. This may be true for some, but certainly not all, people who take a position against, say, gay marriage—and does not in any way justify its use in news reporting. Can any thoughtful journalist really be comfortable with branding all of those in California who voted for Proposition 8 (limiting the definition of marriage between a man and a woman) with the label homophobic? Many of them are Hispanic Catholics with deep cultural grounding in the idea of marriage as a holy sacrament. You can disagree with them; you can (as I would) wish to argue the distinction between religious and civil marriage, but you cannot call them pathological. If you do, what's the point of even trying to dialogue with them?

On the other side is the argument that a non-clinical use of the suffix "-phobia" has entered the lexicon in many contexts—"Francophobia," "Islamophobia," "xenophobia," etc.—and that "homophobia" should, as many of these other terms are, be considered normative. It's important to remember here that we are talking about standards for news reporting, not general discourse. I would be no more comfortable with the terms "xenophobic" or "Francophobic" applied to people described in news articles (outside of quotes) than I am with "homophobic." Leave these subjective terms to the political stump or the editorial page; they have no place in straight journalism.

 

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