Pulling Back the Curtain: How we treat gender in the news

Updated 2/2/2020 5:11 PM

We may be nearly 150 years old as a newsgathering organization, but we're not sticks in the mud.

We adapt as society adapts, and sometimes we try to help our readers navigate emerging social norms.


We've done this over the decades with the civil rights movement, the women's rights movement and the more recent emergence of the LGBTQ movement.

We generally follow The Associated Press Stylebook when it comes to use of, say, personal pronouns and other terms that are new to some of our readers.

When referring to someone who was born a girl but who now identifies as a man, we will use the pronoun "him" in a story.

When writing about a person who identifies as neither male nor female, the new societal default is to use "they/them/their."

While we are happy to apply the pronoun a given story subject desires, "they/them/their" provides some problems for us, so we tend to avoid it if possible. We don't thumb our nose at it, we just write around it.

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And this has in some cases caused consternation and suggestions that we are unfeeling.

Let me explain.

Co-opting what for centuries has been a plural pronoun to describe a single person can create confusion in our stories, and confusion is right up there with inaccuracy and insensitivity as bad actors in journalism.

Using "they" as a singular personal pronoun in some cases leads a reader to think we're writing about more than one person.

"They" also takes a plural verb, which also can lead to confusion.

So when we use a person's name in second reference instead of a pronoun as we normally would do, it's not a sign of disrespect but merely an attempt at ensuring understandable writing.

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