NABJ Statement on Reference to Race in Boston Bombing Coverage

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 17, 2013) — The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) urges all news outlets to use extreme caution when reporting on the tragic events which occurred in Boston this week.
There have been various reports identifying a potential suspect as “a dark-skinned individual”. This terminology is not only offensive, but also offers an incomplete picture of relevant facts about the potential person of interest’s identity. When conveying information for the public good, and which can help law enforcement with the help of a vigilant public to keep the country safe, it’s important that such facts be put into proper context. NABJ in no way encourages censorship but does encourage news organizations to be responsible when reporting about race, to report on race only when relevant and a vital part of a story. Ultimately this helps to avoid mischaracterizations which might encourage potential bias or discrimination against a person or a group of people based on race or ethnicity. As news organizations which seek to uphold the highest ethical standards it is important to exercise good judgment, to be cautious, to be mindful of bias, and sensitive to the perpetuation of stereotypes in the mass media.
*Ethnicity, race: The mention of a persons race should not be used unless relevant. This also applies to references to ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion. Derogatory terms or slurs aimed at members of a racial or ethnic group may not be used unless having a direct bearing on the news, and then only with the approval of the senior editor in charge. Avoid stereotypes. Race and ethnicity may be relevant in some stories, including the following:
* Crime stories – A highly detailed description of a suspect sought by police can contain race. Be sure the description is properly attributed. Do not use descriptions that include only a few items or are vague, such as tall, dark clothes.
* Biographical or announcement stories – Be careful about using race or ethnicity to describe a person as the first to accomplish a specific feat. Firsts are important, but race and ethnicity shouldn’t be overemphasized. Reserve race or ethnicity for significant, groundbreaking or historic events such as winning a Nobel Prize, being named chief justice or becoming mayor. By overplaying race or ethnicity, ones achievement may seem dependent on that instead of ability.

An advocacy group established in 1975 in Washington, D.C., NABJ is the largest organization for journalists of color in the nation, and provides career development as well as educational and other support to its members worldwide, visit our website at http://www.nabj.org.

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