Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Illegal immigrants and Ask a Mexican

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has 1,879 entries in its stylebook -- and the latest to be overhauled is the rule on illegal immigrants.

But this wasn't just a quick style decision. A senior copy editor, Ben Welter, spent months surveying the rules of other newspapers, especially those close to the border. He took his findings to some interested parties in the newsroom. And then the reader representative asked readers for feedback.

The result? Illegal immigrant is the preferred term, although undocumented immigrant can be used in sometimes (such as when illegal has already been used in the sentence). Alien and illegal alien are considered technically correct but best avoided. Those terms and illegal as a noun can be used in rare instances (which seem to include tight headline counts), but the use must be approved by a supervisor.

UPDATE: The full text of the new rule is now included in the comments section.


In a related note, the tongue-in-cheek Ask a Mexican column that runs in a handful of alt-weeklies addressed the terms a few weeks ago. The column originates in Southern California's OC Weekly and said there: "The Orange County Register stylebook reportedly requires its reporters to describe as 'undocumented workers' the men and women you call 'illegal.'"

When the column appeared in the Dallas Observer, a friend, Josh Benton, noticed, that line said "The Dallas Morning News stylebook reportedly requires its reporters to describe as 'undocumented workers' the men and women you call 'illegal.'"

Not true. The local stylebook clearly requires "illegal immigrants."

Similar changes were made in the Kansas City and Nashville papers, and he suspects more; most papers simply linked to the original in the OC Weekly rather than the article as it appeared locally.

Josh wrote:
Needless to say, the idea that "illegal immigrant" is somehow banned from each of these newspapers is wrong. (OC Register: 53 stories with"illegal immigrants" according to Google News vs. 4 with "undocumented workers"; The Tennessean: 25 vs. 8; Kansas City Star: 221 vs. 49.)

What I'm assuming happened is that Gustavo wrote the column with the OC Register line, which was then sent out to sister papers. Recognizing that readers in Dallas/Nashville/wherever couldn't care less about the OC Register's stylebook, local editors changed the name of the newspaper to their city's daily.

But Josh did find one alt-weekly that edited out the dubious claim: The Phoenix New Times.


At 1:39 PM, June 06, 2006, Blogger Bocas said...

What's in a name?

At 3:59 PM, June 06, 2006, Blogger Phillip Blanchard said...

I don't think it was a good use of Ben's time to spend months coming up with a stylebook entry that should have taken about a half-hour to put together.

At 8:26 PM, June 06, 2006, Blogger Nicole said...

I'm sure he got in a couple of shifts on the rim and slot, too.

Here's the complete text of their new rule:

"Illegal immigrant" is the preferred term for those who enter the United States with no passport, visa or other document to show that they may legally visit, study, work or live here.

The term "undocumented immigrant" is acceptable as a synonym for illegal immigrant in some cases, such as when a form of the word "illegal" already appears in a sentence, but it should be avoided when possible. Be careful about calling individuals illegal immigrants. We cannot know without asking, for example, the legal status of a particular person or group of people.

While technically correct, "alien" and "illegal alien" can convey overtones of menace or strangeness. As a noun, the single word "illegal" has come into wide use but is not our preferred way to refer to illegal immigrants.

Resist the use of "alien," "illegal alien" and "illegal" except when unavoidable in a headline or when quoting others. If you feel the situation is unavoidable in a headline, you must clear the headline with the night supervisor, weekend manager on duty or the managing editor.

At 9:12 PM, June 14, 2006, Anonymous Ben Welter said...

Actually, it took about two hours to gather stylebook entries from a half-dozen newspapers and plow through Nexis to see how other papers were handling "illegals," "aliens," "undocumented workers," etc., in headlines. The rest of the time was spent waiting for management wheels to grind.

I did wedge in 40 hours a week in the slot in April and May. And found a few free moments to keep my newspaper history blog fresh:



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