The New York Times public editor and readers’ representative, Margaret Sullivan recently deliberated on the i-word and decided she was for keeping it. In a span of a few days she read through multiple reasons and a compelling case delivered by leading linguists, scholars, lawyers, readers from across the country, the Drop the I-Word campaign, Times editorial board member, Lawrence Downes and Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas who kicked off the conversation with her a little more than a year after coming out as undocumented (not as “illegal”) in the pages of the Times.
Sullivan weighed in saying that she sees “no advantage for Times readers in a move away from the paper’s use of the phrase ‘illegal immigrant.’” She said “It is clear and accurate; it gets its job done in two words that are easily understood. The same cannot be said of the most frequently suggested alternatives - ‘unauthorized,’ ‘immigrants without legal status,’ ‘undocumented.’ She said this, all after linguists and attorneys have weighed in with expertise on the opposite. Now, in a welcome and exciting turn, colleagues in the field of journalism are calling out the Times, too.
Christina Costantini and Ted Hesson reporting via the new ABC/Univision partnership have noted racially charged and discriminatory language from the outlet’s past. And Costantini also reported this week that, The Times Is Behind the Times noting that “when it comes to the term ‘illegal immigrant,’ the Gray Lady is late to the game.”
The article includes a run-down of the reasons why the following papers have dropped the i-word: The Huffington Post, NBC News, CNN, Fox News Latino, San Antonio Express News, The Miami Herald, ABC, Univision and the ABC/Univision partnership.
Forward-thinking reporters, editors, news outlets and journalism associations are making it clear that although the racially charged term “illegal immigrant” was once normalized, it’s on it’s way out. They are dropping the i-word for the sake of accuracy, respect and to maintain credibility, all core values of journalism. There is a growing division between these changing institutions that get it, and those who don’t, like The New York Times and the AP. It’s disappointing, but we will continue to encourage them to change course. By not dropping the i-word, they are jeopardizing their values, credibility and a really smart segment of readers.
In addition to these outlets, the 7,800-member Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) passed a resolution in 2011 to discontinue use of the term “illegal alien” based on the idea that describing someone as “illegal” is unconstitutional. They recommended that members re-evaluate the implications of the use of “illegal immigrant.” And, the campaign to Drop the I-Word was endorsed by the national UNITY alliance of over 10,000 members comprised of the Asian American Journalists Association, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Native American Journalists Association and most recently, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association.
Let’s keep the outreach and pressure on, it’s working!