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Senior Editor

Pub Talk

By James Sturdivant

About James

 

Media Vent

Bob Sacks
Stats on Magazine Launches Are Irrelevant & Misleading
Jul 2, 2015

My friend Samir Husni has penned a short essay and complaint about "numbers" used in our industry for purposes of...



Marketing Services Lab

The Marketing Services Lab
3 Ways To Tell The Content Marketing Boom Spells Revenue Growth for Publishers
Jun 30, 2015

Last week Publishing Executive announced the launch of the Publishing & Media Labthat we will host at the 2015 Content Marketing World conference this...



Publishers' Dojo

Linda Ruth
Miniaturize & Simplify, Solutions to Publishers' Mobile Problem
Jun 15, 2015

As many publishers have found, providing a magazine experience on a mobile app and getting people to engage with it...



B2B Beat

Andy Kowl
Content is Money
Jun 12, 2015

Most of the publishing world says Content is King. The publishers at SIPA say Content is Money. The annual conference...



Industry Insiders

The Insiders
Apple Throws Publishers Another Curve Ball
Jun 9, 2015

The relationship between Apple and the magazine publishing industry has been acrimonious since the launch of the iPad in 2010...



The Digital Market

Thea Selby
4 Takeaways from the New Apple App Analytics
May 26, 2015

One of the lesser-known facts about magazine apps is that publishers can glean very little information about them and how...



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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