Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Society of Professional Journalists Calls on Members to Not Use the Term "Illegal Alien" in Their Reporting

Note: It would seem that a "clarification" that I either missed or more likely which was added after my having read the original source material for my posting states that the Society of Professional Journalists has not endorsed the restraining of the usage of this terminology.  Rather, the clarification states that a member of the SPJ has written an opinion piece encouraging such  constraints on members of the SPJ in their reporting.  The Society as a whole has not endorsed this at this date.

It would seem that the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) is trying to improve their "objectivity" as their Diversity Committee is calling on news reporters nationwide to drop the term “illegal immigrant” and "illegal alien" from their news coverage in an effort to “inform and sensitize” people on how “offensive” the phrase is to Latinos.

I would submit to the SPJ that their current efforts to restrain journalists' usage of the terms "illegal alien" and "illegal immigrant" only goes to show their distinct bias and lack of objectivity in their own reporting.  First, the fact that they claim that the need to change these "pejorative labels" to the milder term "undocumented worker" as the former terms are offensive to Latinos strikes me as quite stereotypical and subjective of the SPJ.  Are all illegal aliens in this country only of Latino heritage?  Are they they the only sub-group of illegals that are offended by these terms?  I am quite certain that there are tens of thousands of non-Latino people in this country that would also accurately be classified as "illegal aliens" and similarly take offense.

Further, the fact that the SPJ finds it necessary to have a "diversity committee" smacks of having a pre-disposed bias in protecting or being supportive of minority groups.  I rather thought it was a journalist's professional obligation to report without editorial comments or implications only the facts of a story.  Who, what, where, when, and why should be the guiding principles to any stories, not changing a "label" (particularly an accurately used label) in order to offer no offense to a certain person or group of people in a story.

Indeed, it would seem that we are further losing our language in America and political correctness has driven us to the point of fearing to use "labels" on people at all.  I would suggest that accurately descriptive labels are a part of our language and are necessary for conveying an explanation or dissemination of a given characteristic of a person.  Of course, it is imperative that such labels be accurate in their attribution towards a given person or group.  It would seem that political correctness has indeed run amok though when fear of "labeling" anyone, particularly of a minority status, is deemed not only inappropriate but exceptionally rude.

Ironically quoted, “[T]his is not about being politically correct,” SPJ Diversity Committee chairman George Daniels says, but about aiming to “minimize harm” when reporting.  I find it interesting that the altruistic SPJ group has concerns about "minimizing harm" to politically-correct-protected sub-groups of people but seemingly show no such similar restraint when it comes to interviewing grieving parents about the loss of their child in combat or other similar situations.

It has been painfully obvious that objective and accurate journalism has long been on the decline and indeed may be close to death.  The SPJ's latest pronouncement places one more nail into the coffin of the once venerable journalistic watch dog for the people.  Is it any wonder why most major newspapers, magazines, and news broadcasts in the mainstream media continue to hemorrhage consumers of their "news"?


S.W. Anderson said...

Your post headline:
"The Society of Professional Journalists Calls on Members to Not Use the Term 'Illegal Alien'
in Their Reporting"

Your lede:
"It would seem that the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) is trying to improve their 'objectivity' as their Diversity Committee is calling on news reporters nationwide to drop the term 'illegal immigrant' and 'illegal alien' from their news coverage in an effort to 'inform and sensitize' people on how 'offensive' the phrase is to Latinos."

From the very beginning of the item your post links to (emphasis mine):

CLARIFICATION: The following article is an opinion piece and does not reflect the views of SPJ, its membership or its Diversity Committee. The committee itself has taken no official initiative on the use of the phrase "illegal immigrant."

Paine, your post is so flat wrong from the get go, I am embarrassed for you. Facts matter, and you didn't bother to read the facts or you read the facts but didn't understand them, or you have twisted the facts absurdly and deliberately.

All there is to this is that one member — ONE — wrote an opinion piece, and another member evidently agrees. But at the very beginning, it's made completely clear neither SPJ nor its diversity committee endorse the position of the opinion piece writer.

You should run a correction or change your completely misleading headline.

All that said, I thoroughly disagree with the opinion piece writer. People who enter a country illegally, even if only in an effort to get a job and start a new life, have no kick coming about people referring to them as illegals. Language matters, and it shouldn't be twisted out of shape to suit the too-tender sensibilities of some people.

T. Paine said...

Anderson, I am indeed appalled at this. Either I missed entirely the "clarification" at the beginning of the story or said clarification was "clarified" after my having read the article to source my post. Regardless, your criticisms are just and I will indeed make corrections to reflect this.

S.W. Anderson said...

OK, TP, fair enough. I salute you for not just leaving it as it was.

T. Paine said...

I am a little amused and surprised that you think I would intentionally leave this uncorrected, Anderson.

I would not sacrifice my credibility nor my integrity simply to write a story. I am NOT Dan Rather! :)

I do sincerely appreciate the fact that you brought this error to my attention. Thank you!