People

aerial view of people walking on raod

If in doubt, refer to the NUJ reporting guidelines.

Gender

Do not use male terms generically. For instance, fire brigades employ firefighters.

Generally, use spokesman or spokeswoman rather than spokesperson (and chairman or chairwoman rather than chair). The exceptions are when the person’s sex is unknown, or when the person expresses a preference for being called one thing or another.

The feminising suffix ess (as in poetess) is almost always wrong. Even actress is on the way out; use actor for both sexes except where it would be confusing.

In avoiding sexism, it is rarely necessary to be clumsy. Instead of a journalist should always check his or her facts, try Journalists should always check their facts.

Avoid terms such as businessmen, housewives, male nurse, woman pilot, woman doctor, etc, which reinforce outdated stereotypes.

If you need to use an adjective, it is female and not “woman” in such phrases as female MPs, female president.

Do not gratuitously describe a woman as ‘mother-of-three‘: family details and marital status are only relevant in stories about families or marriage.

Use humankind or humanity rather than mankind.


Race

Where it is relevant to mention race, as a rule you should use the descriptions people use of themselves.

In Britain, people of African descent are usually black, African-Caribbean or African; people of European descent are usually white and people whose ancestors come from the Indian sub-continent are usually Asian.

Where possible, however, be more specific.

Do not use “ethnic” to mean black or Asian people. According to David Marsh, author of the Guardian Style Guide, “in a British sense, they are an ethnic minority; in a world sense, of course, white people are an ethnic minority”.

Just as in the Balkans or anywhere else, internal African peoples should be called ethnic groups or communities rather than “tribes“.

Avoid the word “immigrant“, which is offensive to many black and Asian people, not only because it is often incorrectly used to describe people who were born in Britain, but also because it has been used negatively for so many years that it carries imagery of “flooding“, “swamping“, “bogus“, “scroungers” etc.

The words black and Asian, moreover, should not be used as nouns, but adjectives: black people rather than “blacks“: an Asian woman rather than “an Asian“, etc.

If possible be specific, a woman of Bangladeshi extraction, arranged marriages are a norm in southern Asia, the Chinese community in Manchester etc … If in doubt, ask your Asian subjects how they want to be represented.

Write African-Caribbean rather than Afro-Caribbean.


Sexuality

The words and phrases we use to describe people of different sexualities is
experiencing a rate of flux hitherto unseen.

Journalism stylebooks written a handful of years ago have been superseded as new phrases and terms evolve.

On the one hand, this is a sign of an open society thinking deeply about how we address minority groups.

On the other, it is a sign that the world is becoming more uncertain and that fashion has taken root in place of certainty.

This stylebook seeks to walk a line between the two.

If you must generalise, then avoid the awkward construction LGBT (an acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) as there is a great deal of debate about the inadequacy of this umbrella term and already alternatives — LGB, GLBT, LGBTI (to include intersex), LGBTQ (to include queer), LGBTQI, LGBTQI+ (to presumably capture anyone not already represented) and even LGBTTQQIAAP (see google) — further muddy the waters.

It is impossible to recommend one of these acronyms over another.

Therefore, it is prudent to hesitate and perhaps wait for the debate to settle around a consensus, or indeed to see if the construction persists in common usage before deciding on an iron-rule.

If we really must generalise about non-heterosexuals (avoid “straight”) people, you will find yourself on more solid ground using the old German word queer, as in queer theory/ studies (an established academic discipline), queer fiction (a widely recognised literary genre), Queer Nation (the pioneering gay rights group) etc … Be careful, queer has long been a playground insult, so be sensitive that it doesn’t sting. As the Associated Press Stylebook writes: “Queer is acceptable for people and organisations that use the term to identify themselves. Do not use it when intended as a slur.”

Elsewhere, use gay (or queer) as an adjective rather than a noun: a gay man, gay people, gay men and lesbians not “gays and lesbians“.

Homosexual is technically correct, but a bit like referring to people as homo-sapiens, so try to avoid.


Disability

As a rule, use the descriptions that people with disabilities use of themselves.

If in doubt, ask.

Take especial care using language about mental health issues.

In addition to such clearly offensive and unacceptable expressions as loony, mentalist, maniac, nutter, psycho and schizo, terms to avoid – because they stereotype and stigmatise – include victim of, suffering from, and afflicted by; “a person with” is clear, accurate and preferable to “a person suffering from“.

Never use schizophrenic to mean “caught in two minds“. And avoid writing “the mentally ill” – say mentally ill people, mental health patients or people with mental health problems.


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