A Style Guide for Diversity in the media…

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DiversityGuideArtA Q&A with Rachele Kanigel, editor of The Diversity Style Guide

What would be the most accurate way to describe The Diversity Style Guide?

The Diversity Style Guide is a resource to help journalists and other media professionals cover a complex, multicultural world with accuracy, authority and sensitivity. The guide includes terms and phrases related to race/ethnicity; religion; sexual orientation; gender identity; age and generation; drugs and alcohol; adoption; and physical, mental and cognitive disabilities.

What prompted you to produce The Diversity Style Guide?

This is not about being politically correct; it’s about being accurate. It’s simply wrong to refer to a transgender man as “she” or to call someone “schizo.”

About 20 years ago the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism based at San Francisco State University compiled the original News Watch Diversity Style Guide, a compilation of terms from style guides put out by the National Association of Black Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Center on Disability and Journalism and five other organizations. It was last updated in 2002.

Rachele Kanigel
Rachele Kanigel

In 2014, when I was interim director of the center, I wrote an article for San Francisco Magazine about people who identify as genderqueer, agender or nonbinary, and I realized the Diversity Style Guide didn’t include any of these terms, which were just coming into common parlance. I decided to update and expand the guide, which at that time was just a PDF posted on a website. I received a grant from the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation of the Society of Professional Journalists to create a searchable online style guide and then I wrote a proposal for a book that would include the glossary but also provide a context and framework for diversity reporting. I was delighted to find that several publishers were interested and I signed a contract with Wiley to write the book.

The online guide now includes more than 750 terms – about double the number in the original News Watch Diversity Style Guide.

How did you go about researching and compiling the information for the Guide?

First I contacted the eight organizations that contributed material for the original guide and got permission to use it again. Some of those organizations had updated their style guides since and I incorporated this new material. Then I started to look for other resources related to diversity and found the Gender Spectrum Guide to Gender Terminology, the Michigan State University School of Journalism’s wonderful cultural competence series, edited by Joe Grimm; the Religion Newswriters Association’s Religion Stylebook, the Race Forward Race Reporting Guide; and other resources. I also decided to take a broader view of diversity and include mental health, drug and alcohol use, suicide, aging, adoption, and other issues where the media has been criticized for insensitive or inaccurate language. All sources are used with permission and most terms link back to the original reference.

Sometimes I would think of a term that should be included but I couldn’t find a style guide that defined it so I would research the term myself, using the most authoritative sources I could find. Among the resources I tapped were the U.S. Census Bureau; the Holocaust Encyclopedia; the Densho Encyclopedia, a digital educational resource on Japanese American internment and Japanese incarceration; and Neutrois.com, a website about people who don’t identify as strictly male or female. After I published the guide, the director of the bar/bat mitzvah program at my synagogue suggested a correction to my definition for “bar mitzvah.” Like raising a child, putting this guide together truly takes a village, and literally everyone is a potential source. It’s been a fascinating journey to find these resources and delve into them.

How do you respond when people say this is a guide to political correctness?

This is not about being politically correct; it’s about being accurate. It’s simply wrong to refer to a transgender man as “she” or to call someone “schizo.” It’s inaccurate to say “wheelchair-bound” or “confined to a wheelchair” when wheelchairs actually liberate people who use them.

And journalists risk alienating sources and readers when they use terms like “illegal alien” to describe an undocumented immigrant or “real mother” to refer to the mother who gave birth to a child who was adopted. Many journalists today struggle to find the right language but don’t know where to turn for information. The Diversity Style Guide offers context and nuance for media professionals who aim to be precise and accurate.

What challenges did you face in compiling the guide?

For many terms I found a single, reputable source and used that definition. Those were easy. But for others, I found different and sometimes conflicting information and I would have to do additional research to decide what to include. Some terms draw from two or three sources.

I also had to make some difficult judgment calls. Probably the hardest was whether to capitalize Black and White when used in reference to race. Most journalism style guides, like those of the Associated Press and The New York Times, call for putting both races in all lowercase letters because they do not include a proper noun like Asian. Many publications serving African-American communities capitalize Black and some, but not all of them, also capitalize White. The National Association of Black Journalists does not capitalize Black in its publications, including the NABJ Style Guide. But the team that put together 100 Questions & Answers About African Americans decided to capitalize Black. Many of the terms related to Black and African-American people in The Diversity Style Guide come from these two guides; to be consistent I had to make the call on capitalization. Originally, I lowercased both Black and White, but the question literally kept me up at night. After much research and consideration, I decided to capitalize Black and White when used in a racial context so I had to go back and change all the terms that included those words. I hope I caught them all!

Are you continuing to update the guide?

Yes, all the time. There’s a contact form on the website that encourages people to suggest terms that are missing. Recently I’ve added definitions for gypsy and Roma, Okies and terms related to adoption in response to reader suggestions.

What additional information will be included in the print book?

The terms in the online guide are really just the tip of the iceberg when writing about diverse communities. The book will include chapters on covering different ethnic, racial and religious communities as well as LGBTQ issues, mental health, drug and alcohol use, suicide and other topics. I’m writing most of the book but several experts are contributing chapters. Joe Grimm, the editor of the Michigan State School of Journalism’s cultural competence series and Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News are writing a chapter on Arab Americans; Kristin Gilger, director of the National Center on Disability and Journalism is contributing the chapter on writing about people with disabilities. Venise Wagner, Sally Lehrman, Cristina Azocar – all experts in the field of diversity and journalism – are also contributing chapters.

When will bound copies of the Guide be available to purchase, and where will it be sold?  (Online?  Bookstores?)

The book, also named The Diversity Style Guide, will include the glossary as well as chapters on covering different communities. The book will be published by Wiley in late 2017 or early 2018. It will be available for sale on the Wiley website and from online and brick-and-mortar bookstores.

What will the bound version cost?

The cost has not been set yet.

Will the online version, which can be downloaded now, continue to be available, even after the printed version is available?

Click for Link to Online Guide

Yes, the online version will remain and I’ll continue to update that.



Rachele Kanigel is an associate professor of journalism at San Francisco State University, where she advises Golden Gate Xpress newspaper. She is the author of The Student Newspaper Survival Guide and the editor of The Diversity Style Guide, a resource to help journalists and other media writers cover a complex, multicultural world with accuracy, authority and sensitivity. She is immediate past president of College Media Association.