The question of whether and how to include racial and ethnic descriptions in news stories is one of the most debated and least understood topics of journalism. When handled poorly, the consequences can be explosive. But the reward for handling the decision with skill is great: You honor journalism’s highest values – accuracy, fairness and contextual truth, as well as clarity and precision in the use of language.
In this course, you’ll examine your own assumptions about race and ethnicity. You’ll learn how to approach this delicate topic with confidence, and you’ll explore a framework to help you and your news organization make more thoughtful and informed decisions about word choices. You’ll learn how to discuss the issue with awareness, skill, care, thoughtfulness and critical thinking. And you’ll reach for more precise ways of describing the way people look.
Journalists routinely use race and ethnicity in their stories to describe individuals and groups. Yet, as descriptions, race and ethnicity are imprecise and often inaccurate. Terms such as black, white, Native American, Asian and Hispanic carry no true color. Don’t believe it? You will after you finish the “What does ethnicity look like?” interactive activity.
What will I learn
- Identify the way you view matters of race and ethnicity and gain insights into new ways of thinking
- Deconstruct the forms of racial and ethnic identification that appear in news stories so you can make more thoughtful and informed choices about word choices
- Confront the white-hot issue of suspect identification and reach for more precise ways of describing the way people look
Who should take this course
Anyone who describes people in the course of their reporting. Whether you are writing about the person police say robbed a convenience store or the new president of the local college, you will be tempted to – or tormented by the prospect of having to – describe a person’s ethnicity. This course will help you learn to make more thoughtful decisions.
About self-directed courses
In a self-directed course, you can start and stop whenever you like, progressing entirely at your own pace and going back as many times as you want to review the material.
Keith Woods is vice president of diversity in news and operations at NPR in Washington, D.C. He previously was dean of faculty at The Poynter Institute and a former sportswriter, news reporter, city editor, editorial writer and columnist at the New Orleans Times-Picayune.v