Letter from the Editor: New Pronoun Policy

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Journalism is both the process of communicating information and the responsibility of representing audiences and individuals alike. It is a practice best used as a resource for the masses, a means to hold people accountable and present multiple perspectives. As stated by the American Press Institute, the paramount obligation of journalism is to the truth while its paramount loyalty is to its citizens.

To meet these obligations, journalists must invest time and energy, as well as exert great discipline in maintaining the highest standards of efficacy and accuracy in news reporting. All the while, publications must adopt policies ensuring that these practices remain current and relevant. This requires constant evolution and the adaptation of publications to reflect social processes.

As such, a new policy will be adopted by the Hilltop Monitor in regards to pronoun use and gendered language within our articles.

The new pronoun policy is as follows: the Monitor’s journalists will now ask all individuals interviewed what pronouns they use; they/them pronouns will be used in all cases in which the actor’s/speaker’s gender is unknown and the Monitor will strive to use non-gendered language in cases in which journalists cannot interview people directly. Additionally in other non-specific cases, gender neutral language will be used whenever possible, for example: “first-years” as opposed to “freshmen.”

Adopting this new policy reflects several changes in the world of news media, such as the inclusion of the singular they/them pronoun in the AP and Chicago style guide books in 2017.

Similar policies have been adopted by several major publications. In 2012, The Baltimore Sun catalyzed the evolution of journalistic language by using the singular gender-neutral pronoun “they” in an article. In 2015, The New York Times followed suit, by using the title “Mx.” in an article. Later that year, The Washington Post announced that singular they/them pronouns had been added to their official stylebook. In 2016, The San Francisco Examiner announced a new policy to use singular they/them pronouns to refer to non-specific individuals and those identifying as gender-neutral. Since that time publications such as The Business Insider have used singular they/them pronouns in articles despite not implementing official policy changes.

Usage of the singular they/them pronoun yields multiple benefits and significantly improves the accuracy of news media.

First, using gender-neutral pronouns reduces incidents of gender bias. The English language traditionally exhibits a bias toward the masculine, as demonstrated through gendered terms such as “mankind,” “firemen” and “man-made.” Research has shown that this language bias has contributed to reproducing asymmetrical power and status structures in favor of men.

These gender biases are reinforced through the propagation of gendered language through several channels of communication, including pop-culture and college textbooks. Language tools such as Google Translate have been proven to demonstrate a gender bias, associating the masculine gender with more dominant—and connotatively positive—qualities and professions.

The Monitor’s new policy aims to combat and reduce the prevalence of such biases.

Second, gender-neutral pronouns are more accurate. Several academic disciplines have traditionally defined gender as a social construct, developed and maintained by society rather than nature, and research articles verifying this have been published. Though this assertion is still a part of public debate, it is unfactual for news media to refuse to acknowledge the presence and relevance of gender-neutral, genderqueer and gender non-binary individuals.

In the same regard, imposing a pronoun or gender onto any individual is not reporting facts; it is reporting opinion. Journalism’s biggest commitments are to the truth and to its readership, and misrepresenting a person’s gender is a violation of both of these responsibilities.

The offense that some might take to change in policy—be it to grammar, tradition or propriety—is secondary to the opportunity we have to present truth and affirm individual identities. It is far more important for us at the Monitor to accurately inform our readership than for us to uphold conventions that no longer bear relevance to who we are, or our shared human experience.

 

Sofia Arthurs-Schoppe

Sofia is a Junior chemistry and communication major at William Jewell College. Currently she serves as the Co-Editor in Chief of the Hilltop Monitor.

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