April 28, 2015


When referring to individuals who have committed crimes in Baltimore, don’t describe them as “protesters,” NPR Standards and Practices Editor Mark Memmott wrote Tuesday.

Reports from Baltimore indicate that some people are taking advantage of the situation to lash out at authorities or to grab what they can from businesses. Those are not just protesters in the sense of the word that normally comes to mind.

In lieu of using labels like “protesters” that broadly categorizes entire groups of people, Memmott recommends describing specific actions. He describes them as “people who have injured police officers, started fires, looted stores and vandalized properties.”

In this respect, Memmott’s guidance is aligned with the AP Stylebook, which suggests avoiding the term “riot” because of its legal implications.

He also admonishes NPR journalists not to use the construction “protests turned violent.”

That paints a picture of a peaceful gathering that changed into a rock-throwing, tear-gas flying confrontation between citizens and police. Reports from Baltimore indicate that’s not been the case in many instances.

Likewise, in an earlier interview with Poynter, newsroom diversity champion Dori Maynard counseled against using the phrase “racial tensions” as a substitute for actually illustrating racial problems with concrete examples.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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