Journalism News Theory & Ethics: Critical Thinking – Week 16 Answers

1) When should a person or group be identified by race, ethnicity, gender or religion? 

This depends entirely on context and many journalists will avoid identifying a person or group by race, ethnicity, gender or religion unless it is relevant to the story. That being said, they should not avoid identifying in this way out of fear as if they are seeking to promote or defend certain groups then it is paramount that they mention them. Another scenario where it is relevant to mention this is when a person becomes the first of his/her race, gender, ethnicity or religion or they have reached and achieved a significant milestone. A prime example of this would be Barack Obama becoming the first black President of the United States of America. In this context it is perfectly acceptable and a historic landmark, but in many smaller cases it is far less significant in terms of its relevance in the public interest.

Moreover, it is also acceptable to identify a person by their race when the police issue a detailed description of suspects being sought as news organisations report it as part of public service, but only if it helps with the investigation. Where it would be unacceptable to identify is when people of a certain race or ethnicity commit riots or a series of crimes as it is not relevant to the crimes they have committed. It would instead be more relevant to refer to them as ‘youths’ or ‘neighbourhood residents’, rather than attaching the crimes they have committed as a link to their race. Any racial comments or slogans which attack particular ethnic groups should not be published by the journalists as they should not introduce or condone the comments. (4)

With this in mind, Frost notes that “there are groups in society who are made particularly vulnerable to media abuse or oppression because they have had their ability to control their lives reduced by circumstances in which they find themselves”. (Frost 2016) (2) This is particularly relevant as peoples opinions are being shaped by the media and the way that certain groups are being portrayed is out of their control and not necessarily accurate, a prime example of this being the migrant crisis affecting those in Syria.

2) What is the most appropriate language to use for transgender people and people who do not identify as male or female?

Having looked at the media guidelines from GLAAD I have learnt the preferred terminology used to describe transgender people and one thing which they stress as being important is that “it is never appropriate to put quotation marks around either a transgender person’s chosen name or the pronoun that reflects that person’s gender identity.” (GLAAD, 2016) (3) The most appropriate language to use is now included in the Washington Post’s style guide. This features points such as, always use a transgender person’s chosen name, use the pronoun that matches the person’s authentic gender and if it is not possible to ask a transgender person which pronoun they use then use the pronoun that is consistent with the person’s appearance and gender expression or use the singular they.

Furthermore, other terms to avoid include using the noun, e.g. ‘Transgenders or a transgender’ and it is preferred if journalists use the word transition as opposed to ‘sex change’, ‘pre-operative’ and ‘post-operative’. They also prefer the phrase ‘assigned male at birth/assigned female at birth’ rather than ‘biologically male/biologically female’. (GLAAD, 2016) (3)

Moreover, avoiding the use of defamatory language is also paramount. Descriptions such as ‘tranny’, ‘she-male’, ‘he/she’, ‘it’, ‘shim’ dehumanise transgender people and it is also important that they are not categorised as being ‘deceptive’, ‘fooling’, ‘pretending’, ‘posing’, ‘trap’ or ‘masquerading’.

3) Does the diversity of a news staff affect the diversity of issues, topics and people depicted in news coverage?

The diversity of a news staff does affect the diversity of issues, topics and people depicted in news coverage as journalists write about people who are not like themselves and however hard people try to pursue stories and sources beyond their own experience, diversity brings more and different views to a newsroom. Christmas and Mayes suggest that women have changed news agendas, putting different perspectives on human interest stories.  “Women have changed news agendas by introducing new postmodern, feature-oriented styles of writing that focus on confessional narratives and on the personal, including the writers’ own feelings.” (Christmas, 1997; Mayes, 2000). (Allan 2009, pp.49-60) (1)

With regards to the coverage of topics, it is argued that war and regional conflicts have improved in the diversity of coverage as female journalists have drawn more attention to the humanitarian issues outside of the battlefield. Rouvalis and Shackner and Sebba note that “others praise women for highlighting the human, non-military dimensions of war, including rape as an instrument of war”. (Rouvalis and Schackner, 2000; Sebba, 1994) (Allan 2009, pp.49-60) (1) They claim that “women have challenged the and bullets and bombs’ discourse dominating war reporting by personalising stories, even while providing an appropriate political and historical context. Orla Guerin, a BBC foreign correspondent who covered the Israeli and Palestinian conflict in 2001, says men and women journalists work differently; she says it is not merely and women writing about refugees and men about tanks’ but that women have different emphases in their coverage.” This suggests that diversity of a news staff had definitely affected the diversity of news angles and news stories covered, particularly as a result of the changing attitudes in the 21st century and the creation/increasing expansion of the internet.


(1) Allan, S., 2009. The Routledge companion to news and journalism studies. New York, NY: Taylor and Francis (Routledge).

(2) Frost, C, 2016. Journalism ethics and regulation. Oxen: (Routledge).


(4) Online News Association, 2016. Racial, ethnic, religious, gender and sexual orientation references – ONA Ethics. ONA Ethics


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