April 28, 2010

Failure to Edit

Failure to edit can lead to ethical failure. We saw a sad example of this in a recent column by one of the Springfield News-Leaders’ many amateur pundits. This pundit, writing a column called A Patriot’s Pen, used the term “colored” to refer to black youths.

I have been arguing somewhat regularly that the News-Leaders’ failure to edit its amateur pundits and teach them the basics of opinion journalism has created a toxic opinion section that is harmful to our civic discourse. I stand by that criticism. It’s not hard to do.

One of my colleagues called the paper on its failure to edit and received this reply:

Editor’s note: We try to give writers flexibility in terms to express themselves. Terms involving race are always sensitive, but it should be noted that the use of colored, negro, black or African-American are in flux.

What the hell?

Does Dave Iseman, the Opinion section editor, not own an AP Stylebook? On page 53 of my edition it says about “colored”:

In some societies, including the United States, the word is considered derogatory and should not be used.

Further, the SPJ Code of Ethics says:

Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.

In other words, no, the use of colored is most certainly not in “flux.”

It’s sad that Springfield is the second whitest city in the U.S. It’s sadder still that the local newspaper can be this tone deaf to racial terms and stereotypes.

It seems like every week one of these amateur pundits commits a new outrage. It’s not their fault. They don’t know what they are doing. Their contributions are better suited for the Letters to the Editor. But if the News-Leader is going to give them columns with titles and mug shots, then journalistic ethics demands that Dave Iseman, or someone, edit these columns and attempt to teach these pundits how to be opinion journalists (assuming someone at the N-L knows what opinion journalism is).

6 Responses

  1. Mark Paxton 

    Thanks, Andy. If the N-L editors think “colored” is OK, what’s to stop someone from using the N word. It’s all in “flux” anyway, right?

  2. Tim 

    Oh dear, maybe someone should tell the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

    Changing Racial Labels: From “Colored” to “Negro” to “Black” to “African American” (pdf)

  3. Tim 
  4. Jason 

    Well said, Andy. There has to be ethical standards even in opinion pieces.

  5. Something about this reminds me of the recent incident in which the WW2 commemorative poster in a Russian town accidentally included pictures of German soldiers because 1) the graphic artist that put it together was a 20-something who hadn’t stayed awake in history class long enough to recognize the helmets and 2) the surviving veteran who reviewed it was nearly blind.

    Related query: anybody know if the 1906 lynching is taught about in Springfield schools these days?

  6. Claudia Brown 

    I, too, gasped when I read Snider’s latest diatribe. I even read it out loud to my husband. Then, we both gasped when we read the paper’s defense! Upon further thought, however, I wonder if leaving in the 50’s language, as written, doesn’t expose the ignorance and racism of the author better than cloaking it in the more accepted parlance. The paper’s defense was stunningly backward and ignorant and, frankly, indefensible!