No one likes an argument, but according to my partner my passion for language makes me a real pain in the you-know-what. I have this horrible tendency to pick apart her examples and comb through her word choices, searching for a moment to shout—with my index finger pointed to the sky—“Ah-hah! You’re being inconsistent!”
Sadly, our daughter has the same gotcha love affair with language. With the wisdom of her nine years and none of the brain clutter that her moms have accumulated over the last 40, she zooms in on unfair generalizations and imprecise statements of fact.
The truth? I’m as proud as can be of her.
What makes my partner roll her eyes during an argument makes me a pretty good journalist, I think. And of course I’m not alone. Newsrooms across the country are full of uppity language- and fact-hounds like me—no matter what the public likes to believe. They worry over the one interview that didn’t go as planned. They flip through stylebooks (or wind through style Web sites) looking for just the right word or phrase. Say what you want about the state of journalism, but I believe that reporters and front-line editors are as dedicated as ever to reporting accurate and thought-provoking stories.
But because we’re human, we bring our own foibles to our work. We can strive for objectivity, but it’s impossible for us to maintain a perfect balance. (I don’t believe in balance anyway, but that’s a discussion for another day.) There’s a limit to self-awareness, and even the most astute journalist misses the mark from time to time. Thank goodness for editors and eagle-eyed readers.
And that’s why I decided to accept NLGJA’s invitation to blog here. Over the years, I’ve e-mailed dozens of journalists who are covering the GLBT beat, congratulating them on a well-reported story or (hopefully) gently pointing them to a better way to tell the story. I’ve almost always received positive feedback and thank yous for alerting them to a potentially insensitive term.
I believe that conversations about missteps or misunderstandings or mistakes are how we can achieve more accurate and sensitive reporting. Without these conversations, GLBT stories won’t be good reflections of the individuals who make up our diverse community and the issues that we face. This is as important to our craft as it is to our readers and the stories we tell.
So let’s get talking.