NABJ Statement on References to Race in Boston Bombing Coverage
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Posted by: Tiane Johnson
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
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
For reference from NABJ's Style Guide: http://www.nabj.org/?styleguide
•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.
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.
For more information, please visit www.nabj.org.