AP advises journalists to stop using ‘derogatory’ terms’ like ‘nuts’ or ‘crazed’ and people go ‘bonkers’

The Associated Press is advising reporters and journalists to stop using “mental health terms” the newswire now considers “derogatory” such as “nuts” and “crazed.”

“Do not use derogatory terms, such as insane, crazy/crazed, nuts or deranged, unless they are part of a quotation that is essential to the story. Avoid using mental health terms to describe unrelated issues. Don’t say that an awards show, for example, was schizophrenic,” The AP noted on Twitter.

The newswire announced the change via its “Stylebook,” a guide that the service publishes annually that provides journalists with industry-wide standards for language, spelling, phraseology, and terms that most outlets use.

The guide contains “chapters covering data journalism, business, religion and sports terms, as well as media law, news values, punctuation, social media and polls and surveys, plus a new chapter on digital security for journalists,” according to The AP’s Stylebook ordering site.

Several users, including some journalists, blasted The AP on social media over the change.

Warning: Strong language

This isn’t the first change The AP has made to its Stylebook in recent months that has drawn criticism.

In July, as rioting and looting — ostensibly in opposition to perceived systemic racism — The AP announced that journalists should begin capitalizing the word “black” when it is in reference to the racial makeup of a person.

But at the same time, the newswire service announced that “white” would not be capitalized because AP claimed they have not been historically oppressed.

“White people generally do not share the same history and culture, or the experience of being discriminated against because of skin color,” said AP’s vice president for standards John Daniszewski in an announcement.

However, “people who are Black have strong historical and cultural commonalities, even if they are from different parts of the world and even if they now live in different parts of the world. That includes the shared experience of discrimination due solely to the color of one’s skin,” he said.

The newswire noted further that capitalizing ‘white’ could also be upsetting and harmful since white supremacist groups often capitalize the word when referring to cultures and people.

“We agree that white people’s skin color plays into systemic inequalities and injustices, and we want our journalism to robustly explore these problems,”  Daniszewski said. “But capitalizing the term white, as is done by white supremacists, risks subtly conveying legitimacy to such beliefs.”

The announcement also claimed that capitalizing ‘white’ may lead Caucasians to skip conversations about alleged racial inequality in the U.S.

The New York Times also made the decision to begin capitalizing ‘black’ as well as other media outlets. Fox News, by comparison, is now capitalizing both ‘black’ and ‘white.’

“It seems like such a minor change, black versus Black,” The Times’s national editor Marc Lacey said in a public statement. “But for many people the capitalization of that one letter is the difference between a color and a culture.”

That said, several black organizations including The National Association of Black Journalists had also released guidance indicating that ‘white’ should also be capitalized in addition to ‘black’ when referencing racial makeup.

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Jon Dougherty


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