On Monday, The Associated Press’ Tom Kent wrote about a question many journalists now face — should journalists call those fleeing conflict in the Middle East migrants or refugees? Kent, the AP’s deputy managing editor and standards editor, advised this: Be as specific as possible about the group of people you’re reporting on.
We don’t ban “migrant” when a headline or the structure of a sentence allows for just one word. But in many cases we find the most effective word is simply “people” — “Thousands of people seeking entry to West Europe crossed into Germany …”
Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark took up this question on Aug. 25. Clark breaks down the meanings and usage of both words, but he ends his piece with this:
I understand the difference between a semantic disagreement and a humanitarian crisis. The goal for civilized nations should be the preservation of life, especially when the stakeholders, including little children, are so vulnerable. I know of no ethical imperative that requires journalists to be objective in matters of life and death.
There is a tradition in both the Old and New Testaments (I can’t speak to the Koran) in which the deepest moral code involves caring, not just for the neighbor, but for the stranger. Whatever their differences, both refugee and migrant denote the stranger. The best antidote is to write about them as people.