Reflecting diversity in journalistic style guides ensures respectful reporting

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Language is constantly evolving, as is the public’s understanding of marginalized communities and identities. The words journalists use to refer to peoples’ identities should stay updated alongside this progress.

Style guides like the Canadian Press stylebook are used by countless news publications to ensure consistency and standardization in their work. Although most style guides make modest strides to stay up-to-date in their recommendations for referring to varying facets of identities and communities, such as race, ability, religion, and gender, the length between updates often results in a lack of truly inclusive language.

In a J-Source opinion, health and social justice journalist Julia Métraux highlighted a lack of representation of the nuances and diversity in disability language in contemporary journalism style guides. While some people with disabilities prefer to be described using identity-first language, such as “disabled person”, others prefer person-first language, like “person with a disability.”

Seeking out and incorporating existing resources, such as the Disability Language Style Guide published by the National Center on Disability and Journalism, is a vital next step for many publications, including The Journal, to sufficiently represent the communities they cover.

Sensitive journalism must constantly stay aware of appropriate language styling to best represent the identities of the people they cover in their stories. While style guides prove useful for discussing communities as a whole, the most inclusive approach to variety in disabled language is to leave identity language and titles to a person’s preference. 

Campus publications are often at the forefront of changes to voice and style in modern journalism. Student journalists represent a significant portion of the upcoming generation of journalists, which is why it’s important that all of us employ sensitive, empathetic, and respectful practices in our work, and carry them into our careers as well.

Careless diction and vocabulary when discussing marginalized communities fail to reflect the fair and respectful representation everyone is entitled to in the media. 

Education from disability activists and organizations on what language is and isn’t appropriate, or why some words may be preferred over others, is paramount to good reporting.

Journalism is a platform for exploring and giving voice to issues, people, and communities. As young journalists here at The Journal, we can’t do that mandate justice if we don’t make our publication a safe and inclusive space, beginning with the language we use.

Diversity and inclusivity in reporting is determined by both the stories we publish and our work behind the scenes, in our newsrooms and our style guides.

Adapting our language to better reflect the communities we cover and serve in our publication is a small change, but it’s an important one. 

—Journal Editorial Board

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