Last updated on March 15, 2023. We track all revisions and include the latest changes below.
Language is messy. It can be inconsistent, nuanced, and have a lot of stigmas. Every word has the power to shape how communities see us and feel seen. So starting in May 2021, our newsroom launched Dialogue, an initiative from Southern California Public Radio to redesign its style guide informed by the desires of our communities and staff. (Here's how we did this and why it's important.)
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People may also hear or read content informed by external style guides. For example, NPR-produced shows can be heard on-air at LAist 89.3 FM, on the LAist app, or at laist.com/radio.
While journalists should make every effort to ask people featured in LAist content what they prefer, we believe intentional and researched guidelines are important. Before this guide, we used the Associated Press Stylebook (a style guide commonly followed by American newsrooms).
The guidance below supersedes any previous internal guidance. We invite you to share your perspective below as this is a living guide that will be updated.
Digital Blackface and Methane are new entries. The first directs non-Black staff to avoid using media of Black culture to convey emotion — such as with GIFs in stories — with tools for staff to help spot it. The second reflects a change from natural gas to methane, with directions to use both terms accurately for clarity.
When considering food and culture, what people deem authentic can be deeply subjective. The notion of authenticity can connote an idealized version of a specific time and place, informed by ideas of class, race or supremacy. But culture isn’t static; it’s dynamic.
Don’t use the word authentic in a story to describe a particular food or form of cultural expression. The term can be included if it is used by the subject of a story. In place of authentic, use more specific descriptors, such as explaining the cultural significance of something to a particular region or moment in time.
There are dozens of neighborhoods in Los Angeles County, and the boundaries can change over time. To better reflect the breadth of experiences within our communities, our newsroom uses specific names of neighborhoods when we’re not speaking broadly. If a story includes Boyle Heights, we say that instead of East L.A. To determine these boundaries, we follow the guides in this map for all of L.A. County. If it’s a small neighborhood that our audiences might be unfamiliar with, add more descriptions in the story: "Japantown in West L.A." We also capitalize East, South and West L.A., but don’t use North L.A.
We also use these maps for Orange County, Riverside County, and San Bernardino County.
Our newsroom uses specific language that plainly describes any actions instead of using loaded terms like riot, clash, and looting. While we generally avoid these terms, staff should have thoughtful conversations with their editors if they feel a story or coverage situation merits it. When more succinct language would benefit our audiences (e.g. the insurrection at the Capitol), priority should be given to words that will accurately describe the impact of a situation. We do not use qualifiers like peaceful protest, unless it's in a quote, because it incorrectly implies that other protests are inherently unpeaceful.
We are also mindful that individual actions should not always be attributed to all protesters or an organization, so care should be taken to provide context for an action. Whenever possible, we describe who did what and why and include how we know this.
We no longer use any version of L.A. Riots to refer to the uprising after the Rodney King verdict or Watts Riots to describe the events following Marquette and Ronald Frye’s traffic stop in 1965. While riot is used historically, we cannot ignore the media's role in popularizing a term that is now often used as a dog whistle for race, as NPR’s Code Switch highlights. Words like response, unrest, or uprising encourage our audiences to think deeper about its origins.
Because timing and space are crucial, using versions of "the L.A. uprising in 1992" and "the Watts uprising in 1965" are acceptable.
Certain phrases can further stigmatize suicide or undermine suicide prevention, such as commit suicide. This can imply a criminal act. Our newsroom uses guidance from Reporting on Suicide and the AP to report compassionately. For example:
- Use "killed themself," "took their own life," or "died by suicide" when appropriate.
- Avoid presenting suicide as an acceptable response to hardship or stress. We also avoid shaming people who struggle with suicide.
When reporting a digital story involving suicide, include appropriate resources for suicide prevention and mental health at the top (there is also a shared infobox for stories in the SHARED module under Mental Health Infobox), such as:
- Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health’s 24/7 Help Line (Spanish available): 800-854-7771
- East Los Angeles Women’s Center 24/7 crisis hotline (Spanish available): 800-585-6231
- Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 for 24/7 crisis counseling
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 988
When reporting a broadcast story involving suicide, include the following information:
- If you or someone you know needs immediate mental health counseling you can dial 988 to reach the The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
For more guidance and best practices, staff should see Reporting on Suicide.
Digital blackface has been described as "type of minstrelsy for the internet age." Instead of a non-Black person painting their faces and performing stereotypes in person, it's become common online to post viral media of Black people (e.g. memes, GIFs, TikTok trending sounds and voice recordings) as a way to explain emotion. These forms of media often use language and appearances that a non-Black person may not typically employ in daily life.
Our newsroom should not engage in digital blackface on any level, including in stories where media images are embedded and in social media. Digital blackface is highly problematic because it's the exploiting of Black culture for one's benefit.
Digital blackface can take multiple forms. Ask yourself these questions to do a gut check, adapted from Mixte's guide to culturally appropriate GIFing:
- Does this form of media represent how you would talk or write?
- Does this form of media reinforce a stereotype or demean a person or community’s culture?
- Could someone misinterpret this given who the sender and the recipient are?
- Do you know the context of how, why and when this media became popular?
- Are you choosing to send or post this media because it features exaggerated emotions or expressions?
For more resources on how to spot digital blackface, see here:
- What Is Digital Blackface? Experts Explain Why The Social Media Practice Is Problematic
- We Need to Talk About Digital Blackface in Reaction GIFs
- Unlearning Digital Blackface with Culturally-Responsible GIFing
Our newsroom is committed to including a range of voices in our coverage, and that includes across multiple generations. Generally, we only include a person’s age when it’s directly relevant to the story (e.g., "At 62, Jane Smith is now eligible for Medicare."). We write it as the number and avoid using elderly and senior unless it’s a part of a care facility name or the source prefers it. While these terms traditionally refer to people over 65, they often come with preconceived notions about mobility and independence. If either of these terms is a part of a facility’s name, we ask how this is defined to provide clarity for our audiences. In headlines and social copy, use people over 65 or a more specific age instead of seniors.
When our content includes someone under 18 years old, we specify that because future employers' and colleagues’ perceptions may be influenced by it.
In addition, our newsroom follows guidance from the Associated Press, which encourages the use of man or woman for any person 18 or older. From the AP Style Book: “The news media in general has been justifiably criticized for sometimes using man/woman to describe a Black 18-year-old, but teen for a white 18-year-old. The 18-year-old can also work for a person of that age of any race. Again, be consistent.” If someone does not identify as male or female, our newsroom uses person or adult.
Our newsroom describes natural gas as methane gas whenever it's most accurate. Studies show that the term natural gas can influence public perception of fossil fuels and obscure the harmful effects it has on our environment.
Because natural gas is much more commonly known, our newsroom includes both terms in stories so the meaning is clear. Staff should include a brief line explaining the use of either term in digital and audio stories, and when feasible, describe its impact. Some examples:
- “Natural gas, which is composed primarily of methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide…”
- “Methane, which is commonly known as natural gas...”
Our newsroom follows the Associated Press to determine the titles and styles we use for people and various types of work. We do not use courtesy titles on first or subsequent references. A doctor’s title should only be used on first reference. (Examples of what to avoid: Mrs. Jane Doe and Dr. Harrison). However, if using the title again later in the story could help avoid confusion for our audiences, that’s acceptable.
Per AP, a person’s formal title on first reference should include Dr. only if they are a doctor of dental surgery, medicine, optometry, osteopathic medicine, podiatric medicine, or veterinary medicine (e.g. Dr. Jamie Harrison, an emergency care physician at...).
If a person has a doctoral degree but is not a medical doctor, it is acceptable and encouraged to note that for our audiences. You can specify the person’s area of expertise (e.g. Jamie Harrison is a health policy researcher with a doctorate in behavioral care…). While all doctoral degrees convey a person’s level of skill in their field, the Dr. title is heavily associated with medical doctors, thus making the distinction necessary for public health.
When working on a story involving historically excluded groups, it's important to view the contents holistically and individually to know if biases or stereotypes are present. Our newsroom examines a story's photos for typecasting and isolated depictions of activity (e.g. showing fires at a protest even if it was just the one).
We recognize that our choices may have a lasting impact on the people and/or issues portrayed, especially in high-profile cases, and become part of the ongoing social narrative about the communities involved. A good way to identify the best visual representation for a story is to plan ahead and work with the visual journalist to produce illustrations or images that are accurate representations.
Our newsroom is also required to use alt text functionality. See "Alt Text" for guidance.
When choosing a photograph of a trans person, efforts should be made to use gender-affirming photos regardless of how long the person has been out.
Our newsroom thinks critically about what words imply or purposefully leave out. Merriam-Webster defines diverse as “composed of distinct or unlike elements or qualities.” Importantly, there is not a direct mention of race or ethnicity because it encompasses multiple parts of daily life.
Diverse is not a synonym for non-white and should not be used as such. Diversity can include religion, socioeconomic status, age, physical abilities, race and ethnicity, and a lot more. Even location can create diversity.
Be aware of why you’re using diverse in a story and include specifics. An example: “Los Angeles County is economically diverse because it’s a hub for multiple industries.”
Using Victim And Survivor
When working with people who’ve lived through a deeply distressing or disturbing experience, some people may prefer to be described as a survivor or a victim. Our newsroom takes special care with these terms because the words can imply multiple meanings (e.g. survivor could mean someone who’s lived through cancer, endured a threat, or experienced sexual assault). We are also cautious of the assumptions that come with victim because it can depict someone as weak or powerless and hold legal connotations. We ask a person how they want to be described and explain the context compassionately.
When reporting a digital story involving trauma, include appropriate mental health and reporting resources at the top (there is also a shared infobox for stories in the SHARED module under Mental Health Infobox), such as:
- Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health’s 24/7 Helpline (Spanish available): 800-854-7771
- Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 for 24/7 crisis counseling
- East Los Angeles Women’s Center 24/7 crisis hotline (Spanish available): 800-585-6231
When reporting a broadcast story involving trauma, include at least one of the aforementioned resources at the end. It's better for understanding to say name of the organization and website instead of a phone number.
For more guidance and best practices, staff should see the AP Stylebook and RAINN.
World War II Incarceration
Our newsroom does not use internment to describe the incarceration of people with Japanese ancestry in World War II. During that time, the U.S. confined thousands of Japanese Americans in concentration camps, which makes the usage of internment incorrect.
An example of proper usage: “Tanaka is trying to preserve the story of her grandparents, who were incarcerated during World War II.”
Staff should see the Japanese American Citizens League’s Power of Words Handbook for further guidance on incarceration during the war.
Our newsroom is required to use alt text functionality wherever images have the option. The purpose of alt text is to share what elements on the internet look like and why they’re there. It should be succinct text that provides context not repeated in a caption.
See WebAIM’s best practices and the guidance below for how to write alt text. Here's an example of what LAist.com sounds like through a screen reader extension:
Color is often still valuable information to people with low or no vision. Include descriptions of color whenever it will provide context. An example about Caltrans workers: “A group of people wearing bright orange vests and white hard hats dig into dirt on the side of the road.”
Gender is one of the most common elements in alt text (e.g. “a woman holds a yellow notepad”), but it should never be assumed. Someone could be a man, woman, nonbinary, or identify in another way — and that is not determined by appearance.
Staff should ask sources how they describe their gender (this is part of the interview process). If someone’s gender is already known, such as with most public officials, it’s fine to use that language. But if you’re not able to verify (e.g. in a wire photo), use person instead.
An example: “A person holds a yellow notepad.”
Race, ethnicity, and skin color
Include a person’s race, ethnicity, or skin color in any alt text where they’re mentioned. Remember, context is a core function of alt text because there are multiple ways to describe a single image (see two scenarios here and here). For example, if a story is about deteriorating water infrastructure and photos show the community, a key part of context is knowing who is affected. A person’s race, ethnicity, or skin tone is valuable information to someone with low or no vision — just as it is to a sighted person.
Staff should ask people in photos how they self-identify, or use the language that sources have shared about their race or ethnicity (this is also gathered during interviews). In cases where this isn’t possible (e.g. wire service images), staff should focus on describing skin color.
The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum recommends using emoji skin tones as a guide in determining which skin tones are given certain terms. These have a shared understanding because of widespread use. It’s a limited range of skin colors, so use your best judgment:
For example, an option with this headline image could be: “A medium skin-toned woman with short curly hair wearing a pink and black apron stands in front of a cart with an umbrella.”
But if you know the person is a woman who describes herself as Brown, Latina, or Mexican, those words are fully acceptable to use in alt text.
Writing alt text for social media images should be done in the same ways as outlined earlier whenever we have the ability to add it.
If an image has text on it, such as an infographic, staff should make sure that is put into alt text in its entirety. In cases where there are too many characters to fit into alt text, consider breaking up the graphic.
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have alt text abilities for photo posts. TikTok and Instagram Stories do not have alt text support, but text-to-speech and captions functions can be used in-video.
In our newsroom, we strive to avoid ableist language. Some of the English language’s most common phrases are ableist, meaning it uses words originally meant to refer to a condition someone has and/or takes it out of context with negative connotations. For example, crazy and turn a blind eye are considered ableist by some because it stigmatizes mental health and vision loss. Even tone-deaf and blindspot are rooted in ableism.
To avoid this, we do not use ableist hyperbolic words or expressions unless it’s in a quote that is necessary to a story. We say what we mean and ask sources how they would like to be described. For example:
- Instead of turn a blind eye, say what the idiom implies: To wrongly ignore something.
- Avoid using birth defect, deformed, and other phrases that describe conditions negatively. Instead, plainly explain the disability or injury.
What's deemed as essential will change depending on your story, but generally, quotes with ableist language should only be used if the language conveys emotion and impact not available elsewhere in the interview or tape. Ask yourself these questions when doing a gut check:
- What is the term referring to? Is it a reaction to a broader situation, or about a person or identity trait?
- Could the term read as a microaggression?
Always find out how a person or organization wants to be described. There will be times when identity-first language (e.g. deaf people) is right. When this can't be determined, use person-first language. This follows guidance from the National Center on Disability and Journalism.
In line with the California Department of Education, our newsroom uses students with disabilities to describe students who receive special education services, unless a source says otherwise.
The understanding of ableist language is evolving. For more guidance and best practices, staff should see the NCDJ's style guide.
Formatting For Deaf And Other Abilities
How newsrooms spell and capitalize words for physical identity can be highly important to certain groups. Our newsroom follows guidance from the AP Stylebook for the capitalization of “deaf,” which directs staff to uppercase the word in certain instances to signify the culture and community. For more guidance on capitalization and formatting for other conditions, staff should follow the person’s preference first and refer to the NCDJ’s style guide as needed.
Substance addiction and misuse are health issues that affect people deeply. Be very mindful about when and why you’re using language that depicts addiction as a disease or illness because it can create barriers to recovery, according to 2019 research in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. Instead of solely referencing addiction as a disease, include specific context about the person’s health issue and methods for recovery. Addiction and alcoholism are generally acceptable for the conditions but properly source and name the substance for personal experiences.
We avoid using stereotypical terms about addiction overall, but especially colloquially. For example, calling someone who’s passionate about something a junkie or addict makes light of very complicated realities.
Don’t refer to people as addicts, alcoholics, users, or use other labels about substance use unless it’s a direct quote or an organization’s name (e.g. Alcoholics Anonymous). Use person-first language: “Jamie developed an opioid addiction after they started a prescription.”
Avoid describing sobriety as clean or dirty. For clinical and general alternatives, see the National Institute of Health.
Beyond this, we rely on guidance from the AP Stylebook:
- Avoid words like abuse or problem in favor of the word use with an appropriate modifier such as risky, unhealthy, excessive or heavy. Misuse is also acceptable. Don’t assume all people who engage in risky use of drugs or alcohol have an addiction.
- Not all compulsive behaviors, including shopping, eating and sex, are considered addictions. Gambling is the only one classified as an addiction in the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual. The World Health Organization says excessive video gaming can be an addiction.
- The term misuse can be helpful in cases of legally prescribed medications, such as if a person with a painkiller prescription purposely takes too many … or excessively uses medical marijuana. Such actions do not necessarily entail an addiction but can progress into one.
Our newsroom does not describe an individual as having a mental illness unless it is clearly pertinent to a story and the diagnosis is properly sourced and named. When included, identify the source for the diagnosis. Seek firsthand knowledge; ask how the source knows. Don't rely on hearsay or speculate on a diagnosis. Specify the time frame for the diagnosis and ask about treatment.
A person's condition can change over time, so a diagnosis might not apply anymore. Keep in mind that mental illnesses exist in degrees: from mild, to serious, to severe. This information should be included in reporting.
Avoid anonymous sources when discussing someone’s mental health. On-the-record sources may be family members, mental health professionals, medical authorities, law enforcement officials, or court records. Be sure they have accurate information to make the diagnosis. Provide examples of symptoms.
When meant broadly, we use mental illnesses because there are multiple diagnoses.
As with other illnesses, specific conditions should be named. Examples: "He was diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to court documents." "She was diagnosed with anorexia, according to her parents." "He was treated for depression."
Following the guidance of the World Health Organization and NPR, we will refer to the disease formerly known as monkeypox as mpox. Similar to the WHO, our newsroom will eventually stop using the term monkeypox altogether. During the transition, the name change should be mentioned on first reference to ensure our audiences know that the names mpox and monkeypox are the same. An example: “Health officials say mpox, which was previously known as monkeypox, should be taken seriously.” In subsequent references, use mpox.
Public health experts and LGBTQ activists say calling it monkeypox is imprecise and plays into racist stereotypes about Africa and is detrimental to the global response. “In the context of the current global outbreak, continued reference to, and nomenclature of this virus being African is not only inaccurate but is also discriminatory and stigmatizing,” a group of scientists wrote in a joint statement published in June, 2022.
Avoiding Othering And Monolithic Language
Every effort should be made to use language that promotes belonging and identity. We avoid charged language and coded words that can generalize or other groups of people.
Our newsroom avoids othering and monolithic language. Othering implies distance and casts a person or group as different, while monolithic language describes communities without including nuanced experiences. There is no hard and fast way to identify when these writing styles show up, but they go hand-in-hand in contributing to systemic problems and biases. For example:
- When working with a community that you're not a part of, avoid language like "those people say..." Instead, use language like "people in this neighborhood say..." when appropriate. Be aware of the reasons for your use of they, us, and we and why you're attributing any qualities to a person or group. Every time the aforementioned words are used, we say exactly who we mean.
- Avoid descriptions that cast a group as a monolith unless you're speaking nationally, statewide, or using statistics. Is there one Black community in L.A. County, or are there multiple communities in it? Use simple and specific language to reflect the experiences with sentences like "Members of South L.A.'s Black communities have said..." or "Some Black trans and nonbinary communities have said..."
In general, our newsroom uses language that can apply to any gender. This treats people equally and includes people whose gender is not strictly male or female. We also avoid words that can emphasize one gender over another. This helps us be more inclusive and disrupt gender stereotypes.
An example: use business owner and business person instead of businessman or businesswoman, or use a more precise word if it's available (e.g. manager, executive, etc.)
When it’s appropriate, using the plural version of a description is also useful for clarity. An example: "Students who lose too much sleep may have trouble focusing during their exams."
Our newsroom only includes someone’s specific gender if it’s relevant to a story. If we’re not able to verify someone’s gender, use the source’s name in place of a pronoun unless there is evidence available from the source indicating the pronoun (e.g. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s website, which uses he/him).
We also use phrases like reproductive health, pregnant people, and birthing person when writing about abortion, birth control, and other reproductive health issues because this also affects trans and nonbinary people. (See "Reproductive Care" for more.)
For more guidance on gender-neutral language and examples, staff should see the AP Stylebook.
More than half of L.A. County residents speak a language at home other than English. While LAist content is primarily in English, staff may include multiple languages in their reporting to more fully convey a source's story.
If staff conduct an interview in another language, it's acceptable to include that source's quotes as stated and unitalicized. (Words can be italicized for other reasons, such as book titles, but avoid doing so purely because it’s not English.) Research shows that sharing information in someone's first language can help increase retention. Additionally, some words may not translate fully into English. This makes sharing a source's full quotes essential to representation and understanding.
We recognize that not all our audiences will understand other languages. For clarity, follow up a quote with its English translation — whether in audio or digital coverage — to the most reasonable extent possible. For example with radio reporting, it’s fine to paraphrase the translation if you have a short amount of time.
Our newsroom does not include slurs in our coverage generally. These can be single words or phrases. Slurs are designed to inflict hate, and are derogatory or insulting terms about a particular group of people. Even in an educational context, it is harmful for news organizations to repeat them as it can encourage normalization.
There will be times when slurs are the subject, such as this story about anti-Latino slurs at a college campus. Circumstances such as these should always be interrogated, but in practice — instead of including the slurs or edited versions of them — staff should opt to describe them and explain why they're derogatory.
- An example: "Jamie Doe berated her neighbors, using racist slurs steeped in wrongful connotations about their immigration status."
It may be necessary to share evidence of slurs (e.g. photos, documents, or audio tape). It's acceptable to do so in a way that gives audiences the choice to view or hear it — such as through clickable hyperlinks or content warnings before airing an audio recording — as always, following Federal Communications Commission rules.
Our newsroom uses person-first language in many cases, which puts the person before the descriptor. It's used by some to limit stigma and avoid objectifying someone’s identities, circumstances, or traits. An example: "People without health insurance face extra costs."
In social copy and headlines, identity-first language (e.g. uninsured people) may be better suited for length, but efforts should be made to stick with the style above. In most cases, only one extra word is needed. We do not objectify someone’s qualities (e.g. don’t use phrases like the uninsured).
We don't let person-first style stand alone. We also add more information about a specific identity or trait and how we know it because no experience is the same.
An exception with disabilities: Always find out how a person or organization wants to be described. There will be times when identity-first language (e.g. deaf people) is right. When this can't be determined, use person-first language. This follows guidance from the National Center on Disability and Journalism.
In line with the California Department of Education, our newsroom uses students with disabilities to describe students who receive special education services, unless a source says otherwise. See "Avoiding Abelsim" for more disability guidance.
Our newsroom avoids using shorthand descriptions (e.g. constructions with anti-, pro-, and ___ supporter) in digital stories because these can be cumbersome to understand and oversimplify someone. Clarity is paramount for our audiences. This includes what The New York Times stylebook calls false titles, which are a description or job designation with someone’s name as if it were a formal title. For example, instead of "Trump supporter John Smith," the preferred characterization would be "John Smith, who supports former President Trump."
We may use some level of shorthand in places where short copy is needed (e.g. broadcasts, headlines, and social) due to timing and limited space, but effort should be made to stick with the style above. Clarity and ethics also come before the tone for LAist copy. We do not assume everyone knows shorthand phrasing. Staff should consult an editor if they believe shorthand is merited and be mindful to avoid negative connotations.
It’s important to communicate pronouns in a non-othering way. Cisgender people who use she/her or he/him have the benefit of commonality on their side, but contrary to popular belief, they/them has been used as a singular pronoun since the 1300s. To remain fair and consistent, we do not explain a person's pronouns unless they are less common (like ze/zir). An example: Instead of "Jane Doe, who uses they/them pronouns, says they ride the bus," use "Jane Doe says they ride the bus."
For more guidance and best practices, staff should see the Trans Journalists Association's style guide. NPR also has a guide to gender identity terms.
When appropriate to include, our newsroom believes it is important to describe someone's sexual orientation in a way that does not imply choice. This includes avoiding words like prefers, decided to, or identifies as. If preferential terms are desired by a subject, explain that nuance (e.g. a person who's bisexual has a stronger attraction to one gender than another).
For more guidance and best practices, see The Association of LGBTQ Journalists'style guide.
When it is appropriate to refer to someone’s gender transition, our newsroom does so affirmingly. Avoid the terms biological gender, biological sex, biological woman, biological female, biological man, or biological male even if used in the past tense. These terms are inaccurate and often offensive. Instead use, assigned male/female at birth, assigned sex at birth, or raised as a boy/girl. An example: "John, who was assigned female at birth, said he knew he was a boy at age five."
We do not deadname a trans person by using their former name unless it’s requested by that individual. If it is, we briefly explain this request to maintain trust since this can be harmful and offensive to trans people. We use someone's current name and pronouns when writing about that person in the past unless they tell us differently. When choosing a photograph of a trans person, efforts should be made to use gender-affirming photos regardless of how long the person has been out.
NPR’s guide to gender identity terms and the Trans Journalists Association’s style guide can help with spelling and structure. Staff should aim to use the same grammatical conventions used for cisgender people. For example, we don’t use gender nonbinary just like we wouldn’t use gender woman. We also avoid identifies as because this is an extra qualifier not used with cisgender people.
For more guidance and best practices, staff should first see the Trans Journalists Association's style guide.
When appropriate, our newsroom uses LGBTQ+ as an umbrella term for communities or groups of people in our headlines, stories, and social media copy. Though queer is also often used in the same way, this word is historically a slur that is now being reclaimed. We avoid using it unless it's desired by the subject.
There is no need to explain the acronym after its use unless you’re using a longer version for specificity. When working with individuals, do not describe someone as being LGBTQ+ and instead be specific with their identity. In most cases, it's not possible for someone to identify with all letters in the acronym at once.
For more guidance and best practices, staff should see The Association of LGBTQ Journalists’ style guide.
When someone's living condition is important to a story, our newsroom uses phrases like unhoused communities or people experiencing homelessness, unless you’ve asked the source and they’ve told you otherwise. Describing someone as homeless often brings many more descriptions to one's mind than just lacking a stable residence.
We also avoid the dehumanizing collective noun the homeless, but homelessness is acceptable. In headlines and social copy, use single words like unhoused. Use of the term homeless in formal program names, such as the LAHSA’s annual homeless count, are acceptable. Include a note that lets our audiences know it’s part of an official name.
Experiences in homelessness happen on a spectrum — include specifics whenever possible. For more, see Street Sense Media’s researched guidance for covering homelessness.
When it’s appropriate to include immigration status into a story, our newsroom aims to specify how someone entered the country illegally and from where. For example, did the person cross a border or overstay a visa? Except in direct quotes essential to the story, we use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person. An example: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.
We do not use the terms illegal alien, an illegal, illegals, or unauthorized immigrant unless it’s in a quote. Do not describe people as violating immigration laws without attribution. Undocumented is acceptable as it is widely used by the communities we serve.
People who were brought into the country as children should not be described as having immigrated illegally. For people granted a temporary right to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, use temporary resident status, with details on the program lower in the story.
For more guidance and best practices, staff should see the NAHJ Cultural Competence Handbook.
When it’s necessary to include a person or group’s income level, it's important to reduce prejudice. Avoid terms like poverty-ridden and poverty-stricken, as these can make situations sound like a disease. Unless desired by the source, avoid using words like poor, underserved, and underprivileged. The terms can oversimplify complex issues and bring preconceived notions. Instead, use phrases like historically low-income to speak broadly or plainly describe a personal situation (e.g. "Jane can't afford to cover her bills"). Low-income is acceptable in places where brevity is needed, like in headlines and social media copy, or when referring to program eligibility.
In all cases, we should strive for specificity. As the Journalist's Resource puts it: "Rely on concrete statistics instead of labels or catch phrases." What makes an area low-income isn't universally understood. Use direct language like "80 percent of the adults living in this area earn $12,000 a year or less."
The Lunar New Year entry directs staff to use the term generally for the holiday, unless a more specific holiday name can be used.
Our newsroom does not use minority to describe traditionally marginalized or underrepresented communities. Whenever possible, we plainly explain a community’s relative size or how it has been marginalized. An example: In the city of Los Angeles, Asian communities account for about 12% of the city’s population. Additionally, we avoid the term majority minority.
BIPOC And POC
Our newsroom uses the BIPOC and POC acronyms sparingly. The terms can lose meaning when overused. The terms POC (people of color) and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) are different because the latter emphasizes unique experiences for Black and Indigenous people.
When it's important to use POC or BIPOC, our newsroom does not use the acronyms for an individual because the meaning is usually plural. Using the expanded person of color or people of color is acceptable if a source wishes, but we strive for specificity. If we’re talking about specific groups of people (e.g. Latino communities in L.A.), we say that instead of using people of color, POC, or BIPOC.
We also avoid using the acronyms and the words racial and ethnic in objectifying ways. Examples of what to avoid include "BIPOCs protested downtown today," and "The restaurant serves ethnic meals."
Capitalizing Racial And Ethnic Identifiers
When including a person’s race is integral to a story, our newsroom capitalizes certain racial identifiers to highlight communal experiences. We capitalize the "B" in Black when referring to people connected to the African diaspora, within Africa, or who identify with that word. We also capitalize the "I" in Indigenous when referring to the original inhabitants of a place. This aligns with our long-standing capitalization of distinct racial and ethnic identifiers such as Latino, Asian American, and Native American (including tribal names).
For more guidance on capitalization, staff should see the AP Stylebook.
Including Race And Ethnicity
Our newsroom is committed to exploring how race and ethnicity affect every aspect of our society. However, including someone’s specific identity is not always relevant. Unless it’s necessary for our audiences’ understanding (like our Race In LA series), our newsroom does not include a person’s race or ethnicity. In medical reports, we exercise caution to avoid inferring that race or ethnicity could be a biological explanation for health outcomes.
In an image’s alt text, our newsroom is required to include race, ethnicity or skin tone when a person is mentioned because this is valuable information to someone with low or no vision — just as it is to a sighted person. See “Alt Text” for guidance.
Our newsroom also does not hyphenate any dual nationality or heritage terms. For example, we use Asian American instead of Asian-American.
Our newsroom uses Black instead of African American when speaking broadly. If you're unsure which descriptions to use and can't check with a source, keep this caveat in mind: Use the term that is most accurate and specific to the topic. For example, if a statistic uses the term African American, this should stay because it’s both accurate to the data and more specific.
In line with the National Association of Black Journalists, we also use biracial and multiracial instead of mixed to describe people with multiple racial identities unless a source tells us otherwise or shares more specific identities.
Including someone’s race or ethnicity should be done with care to avoid stereotyping people. We should not center whiteness as a default. There are times where race or ethnicity will explain impact, such as stories that involve groundbreaking and historic events, civil rights issues, and demonstrations. For example:
- Barack Obama is the first Black U.S. president.
- Jeremy Lin is the first American-born NBA player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent.
- Black communities in Los Angeles are protesting against racial injustice.
In stories where law enforcement is seeking someone in connection with a crime, we do not include race or ethnicity. Police descriptions can often apply to thousands of people and dangerously encourage discrimination. In cases of extreme and immediate importance to our communities, we include race or ethnicity only when we know other distinctive information. An example: "The mass shooter is described as a 6 foot, 3 inch white man with a prosthetic leg, eyepatch, and three-cornered hat."
While our newsroom uses specific tribal names whenever possible, there isn’t a universally agreed-upon term for Native American populations. We follow guidance from the Native American Journalists Association, which notes that American Indian or Native American is acceptable and that we should capitalize the first letter in the two words when writing for our website. We exercise caution when using Native as an adjective to describe style or appearance as this is commonly used as slang. We ask our sources how they would like to be described whenever possible.
We avoid using Native to describe where someone was born or grew up, unless it’s in direct quotes that are essential to a story. Instead, simply state that a person is from a particular area or how long they’ve lived there: “Jane Doe was born and raised in Los Angeles.”
For more guidance and best practices, staff should see the Native American Journalists Association's Terminology Guide or Indigenous Media Guides for reporting on First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities as appropriate.
Lunar New Year
Lunar New Year is celebrated globally to mark the first new moon of the lunisolar calendar traditionally in multiple East Asian countries.
This holiday is not an "Asian New Year." That language obscures the uniqueness of this time and can be offensive. Not only are there different traditions in each culture, each can have a different name for the celebrations. Also, Lunar New Year is not widely observed in some Asian countries. For example, Japan celebrates its New Year, Oshogatsu, on January 1.
Our newsroom uses Lunar New Year to refer to the holiday time generally. Chinese New Year can be used instead if it’s how a source refers to the holiday. When it makes sense, staff may also use a more specific name such as Losar for Tibetan New Year or Tết Nguyên Đán in Vietnamese (Tết for short). For clarity, include a brief line that this is part of the Lunar New Year tradition.
Getting a person’s full name correct is more than just spelling. There are diacritics and formatting to consider that are important to communicating identity. For example, some Spanish-speaking communities don’t use hyphens between two surnames but that can vary by person and culture. In our newsroom, we ask sources about the correct formatting and markings in their names for all languages.
There are specific directions below for Spanish-speaking, Filipino, and Korean cultures that can be applied if it is not possible to verify how a source personally formats their name. Diacritics should be checked directly or through evidence available from close sources (e.g. Darien Núñez’s last name has two accents in Major League Baseball).
Spanish-Speaking Cultures: This follows guidance from NAHJ.
- People may have multiple first names and may have paternal and maternal surnames.
- When referring to someone by surname, the traditional format is to use the father’s surname. The father’s surname precedes the mother’s surname.
- Women traditionally don’t change their names after marriage and use both without a hyphen.
- The traditional use of Spanish surnames does not include a hyphen.
An example: A person named Stephanie Garcia Durazo would be referred to on second reference as Garcia, unless a source shares otherwise. For more best practices, staff should see the NAHJ Cultural Competence Handbook.
- Similar to Spanish-speaking traditions, people in Filipino cultures may use multiple first names and have paternal and maternal surnames.
- When referring to someone by surname, the traditional format is to use the father’s surname. The father’s surname is last while the mother’s maiden name acts as a middle name. Some people may use an initial in place of their mother’s maiden name.
- Women can choose to keep their full maiden name. Some women have replaced their maiden maternal name (the middle) with their maiden paternal surname (the last) and add their husband’s paternal surname to the end.
- Hyphen use may vary. In formal and traditional settings, some names may be formatted with the Spanish “y” between the maternal and paternal surnames.
An example: A person named José Santos Pineda would be referred to on second reference as Pineda, unless a source shares otherwise. In formal settings, this name may appear as José Santos y Pineda.
- In North and South Korean cultures, names written in the Roman alphabet may have several spelling variations because the original characters can have multiple representations in English.
- The first name is the paternal surname followed by the individual’s given name. (Chinese and Japanese cultures also follow this naming convention.)
- Given names can be multiple syllables, typically one or two. If there is more than one, treat the syllables as a unit. Korean cultures traditionally don’t use middle names.
- Under AP Style, North Korean names are written as three separate words that are each capitalized (Kim Jong Un). South Korean names are written as two names, with the given name hyphenated and a lowercase letter after the hyphen (Moon Jae-in).
- A person may prefer for their name to be written together, hyphenated, or separated.
An example: A person named Kim Hyo Ri would be referred to on second reference as Kim, unless a source shares otherwise. Keep in mind that a source may reserve the order of the surname and given name (e.g. Hyo Ri Kim) or prefer to use westernized names in English.
Historically, words for people with connections to Latin America have evolved multiple times. While our newsroom’s guidance is rooted in the AP Stylebook, we ask for a person's preference. When it’s not possible to verify this, or we’re speaking broadly, we use Latino. If a source has communicated to us that they use Latinx or Latine to identify themselves, we will use it in our story. An example: "Jennifer Lopez, a Latinx business owner in Mid-City, applied for a PPP loan last year."
For more guidance and best practices, staff should see the AP Stylebook and NAHJ Cultural Competence Handbook.
Religion is a new category that houses guidance on the term Jewish and how to count Jewish holidays through nights. It will be expanded.
Our newsroom uses the term Jewish to describe any person or organization who identifies as part of that group. Additional terms can be used if it's part of an official name, or it’s an essential, direct quote from a source sharing how they self-identify.
This is coupled with our guidance on person-first language. An example: "Jewish people have lived in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood for decades."
We recognize that some people identify with Judaism as a religion and others as an ethnicity or culture. We have put it under religion for ease of access for our staff.
Jewish holidays begin at sundown and end at nightfall on the last day of observance. A full day under a Jewish calendar is between two days on a Gregorian one. This means phrasing such as, “it’s the first day of Yom Kippur,” can become an issue.
To be more accurate and specific, our newsroom describes and counts Jewish holidays through nights instead of through days, which denotes a westernized calendar. Nights is commonly used by Jewish media outlets and groups.
An example: “On night one, families will gather and light the first candle on the menorah.”
Breastfeeding And Chestfeeding
Trans people often have a complicated experience with the medical system. Our goal is to use affirmative language. One example of that is in use of the term chestfeeding. While the Trans Journalists Association does not take a stance on alternatives to the word breastfeeding, here, we defer to the National Institutes of Health, which writes:
"The term chestfeeding or bodyfeeding can be used alongside breastfeeding to be more inclusive. Nonbinary or trans people may not align with the term breastfeeding because of their gender or may have a dysphoric relationship to their anatomy. Chestfeeding will not replace the word breastfeeding, but it should be included as an option when discussing lactation."
For broader reproductive care language, our newsroom follows guidance from the NPR Editorial Guidance Book, which is included in the subsections below.
- “Pro-choice,” “Pro-life”: Instead of pro-choice, use abortion-rights supporter(s) or abortion-rights advocate(s). Instead of pro-life, use abortion-rights opponent(s) or derivations thereof (for example: “a group that opposes abortion” or “a group that supports access to abortion”). Do not use pro-life and pro-choice in copy except when used in a quote, actuality or the official name of a group.
- “Forced Births”: Supporters of abortion rights accuse the other side of advocating “forced births.” We do not use that phrase.
- “Unborn” or “unborn child”: Do not use the term unborn. The term unborn implies that there is a baby inside a pregnant woman, not a fetus. Babies are not babies until they are born. They're embryos or fetuses. Generally, it’s an embryo until 10 weeks of pregnancy (8 weeks after fertilization). Most ob-gyns use the term embryo early in a pregnancy, and although this may vary, may use that language with patients until a pregnancy reaches 7 or 8 weeks, before switching to fetus. Incorrectly calling a fetus a baby or the unborn is part of a strategy used by anti-abortion groups to drive legislation and shift public opinion. Use unborn if it’s used in an official context such as the title of a bill. Or qualify the use of unborn by saying, “what anti-abortion groups call the 'unborn' victims of violence.”
- Clinics: Do not use the term abortion clinic unless it is in a quote or an actuality. NPR instead says “medical [or health] clinics that perform abortions” or “clinics that offer abortion services.” The point is to not use abortion before the word clinic. The clinics offer other health services and perform other procedures, not just abortions.
- Doctors and Providers: Do not use the term abortion doctor unless it is in a quote or an actuality. As with clinics, abortion is not the only procedure a medical provider usually performs. As in any story, use a medical provider’s title and training, such as being a nurse, family doctor, or ob-gyn. For example, you could talk about a doctor “who provides abortions as part of her medical practice” or “who provides abortions at the Planned Parenthood in Austin.”
Language Around The Procedure And Stages Of Pregnancy
We focus on medical terminology.
- We stick to medical terms when referring to the stages of pregnancy.
- Embryo: First 8 weeks.
- Fetus: From 9 weeks to birth.
- Baby: At birth.
- “Unborn child” is not a medical term and should not be used.
- Electrical activity: Electrical activity, which expectant parents (and many doctors) understandably call a heartbeat, typically shows up at 6 to 8 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion rights opponents have pushed for laws banning abortions as soon as a “heartbeat” or “fetal heartbeat” is detected. When we report about what the proposed laws would do, we focus on the time periods – that is, for example, “laws that would ban abortions after the first six weeks.” We can explain that proponents call them “heartbeat” or “fetal heartbeat” bills because it’s at that stage of a pregnancy when the first flickers of a heartbeat, or electrical activity, are detected.
- Partial-birth abortion: Do not use the term partial-birth abortion, as partial birth is not a medical term. Instead, use intact dilation and extraction to refer to the procedure that may be used to end a pregnancy in the second trimester or later. You could also say “a procedure known medically as ‘intact dilation and extraction’; opponents call it ‘partial-birth’ abortion.” It may be necessary to point out that the term partial-birth is used by those opposed to the procedure; simply using the phrase so-called partial birth abortion is not sufficient without explaining who's calling it that.
- Also, it is not correct to call these procedures “rare” as it is not known exactly how often they are performed. Nor is it accurate to use the phrase late-term abortion. Though it may appear that this term carries less ideological baggage compared to partial birth, late-term still misleads by implying that such an abortion takes place in the 8th or 9th month, and that the fetus is viable. In fact, the procedure called “intact dilation and extraction” is performed most often in the 5th or 6th month — the second trimester — and the second trimester is not considered “late” pregnancy. Thus, “late term” is not appropriate.
- Fetal homicide: The most neutral language to refer to the death of a fetus during a crime is fetal homicide.
- Fetal heartbeat: Do not use the term fetal heartbeat unless it is in a quote, actuality, or the title of an abortion-related bill or law. Fetal heartbeat is not a medical term; it’s a term that was developed by anti-abortion groups. But it’s misleading: Cardiac cells in an embryo may exhibit electrical activity that is detectable, but at the early stages of pregnancy there is no heart, nor cardiac valves that could generate the sound we know as a “heartbeat.” Here’s how Dr. Nisha Verma of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists explains it: “At six weeks of gestation, those valves don't exist. The flickering that we're seeing on the ultrasound that early in the development of the pregnancy is actually electrical activity, and the sound that you 'hear' is actually manufactured by the ultrasound machine.”
Note: Parents Do “Expect A Baby”
Those who are pregnant say they are expecting “babies.” We ask them about their hopes, dreams – and fears – for the “babies” they are eagerly and anxiously awaiting. It is not contradictory to use such future-oriented references as we also use neutral, even clinical, language when reporting about the abortion debate.
Gender Inclusivity In Abortion And Reproductive Coverage
When reporting on these issues, keep in mind that not everyone who is pregnant or may seek abortion care identifies as a woman: Some trans men and some nonbinary people can become pregnant and give birth, or get an abortion.
NPR recognizes this and has been using additional terms such as pregnant people or patients seeking abortions alongside terms such as pregnant women. These terms are not mutually exclusive and all of them can be used.
It is important that our stories use inclusive, accurate and specific language. For example, in reporting on a Texas abortion law, language such as “Texans seeking abortions” can work well.
[Staff should see "Gender-Neutral Language" for more guidance.]
Criminal Justice Reporting
Too often, newsrooms repeat the police version of events with little revision or context, including when covering officer shootings. There are media reports of people losing their lives or being critically injured at the hands of police. Often, the initial accounts of the circumstances surrounding those deaths come directly from the police.
The risk of taking an agency’s statement or press release at face value has been evident in numerous incidents, including the initial police account of the murder of George Floyd, which was completely centered in the police narrative. Our newsroom follows certain guidelines for all criminal justice coverage, including:
- We do not take any law enforcement press release at face value, and do not reprint or broadcast police statements verbatim. We seek eyewitness accounts whenever possible. If no other information is available, we summarize the initial report and make clear that it’s based solely on an agency’s uncorroborated or unconfirmed account.
- We avoid vague attribution. Ask for names and use direct attribution at the beginning of a sentence, not the end, and be specific about how we reached them (e.g. “Lt. Jane Doe, a spokesperson for the LAPD, said in an interview/in a written statement/in an email, etc.”). We do not use attribution such as police said or according to law enforcement officials.
- We do not use law enforcement jargon. Phrases like officer-involved shooting, active shooter, vehicle pursuit, police action, or transported to a local hospital are all examples of police-speak that should not appear in our coverage. Use direct language, and avoid centering accounts in the police narrative. We center our accounts on the most reliable, credible sources we have.
- We do not use any militaristic terms to describe equipment or tactics used by police. Verbs like deploy (as in, “police deployed surveillance drones”), neutralize (as in “police neutralized the threat”) or disperse (“police dispersed the crowd”) should be avoided.
When our newsroom can specifically describe confirmed police use of force, we use that in place of "...at the hands of police," and do so in the active voice.
Our newsroom follows AP Style, which advises against using suspect as a catch-all to describe an unknown person who committed a crime. In other words, don’t use suspect as a substitute when words like robber or shooter could be more precise. This helps reduce ambiguity and priming before someone is arrested. Use suspect when it is the correct word. For example:
- "Lt. Jane Doe, a spokesperson for the LAPD, said in a press conference that the robber stole $15,000 in merchandise. The LAPD arrested a suspect the next day."
In stories where law enforcement is seeking someone in connection with a crime, we do not include race or ethnicity. See "Including Race And Ethnicity" for more. In line with AP Style, we also do not name suspects in brief stories involving minor crime when we won’t follow up.
Since it takes very little evidence to make an arrest, we should avoid naming someone who's been booked on suspicion of a crime(s), unless it's absolutely necessary, such as an elected official getting arrested. Once someone is charged, we can use the name but need to follow up when they're arraigned.
Given that 45% of the people in L.A. County jails have not been tried for the crime they were arrested for and wrongful convictions occur, it’s important to be mindful about how we describe people impacted by the justice system. Our newsroom follows The Marshall Project’s direction for covering people and incarceration, which prioritizes person-first language.
We do not call people inmates or convicts when they’re confined in correctional facilities. Instead use specific sentences like "people in Orange County prisons," "people in the Metropolitan Detention Center" or "John Doe was detained in the Men’s Central Jail."
When using the terms sex offender or offense, be sure to provide context. We would not say “John Doe is a sex offender.” Instead, we would say, “John Doe is registered as a sex offender in California…” When using offense, again, we provide context. For example, “Jane Doe was charged with disturbing the peace, a low-level offense.”
We do not use felon, parolee, or probationer. Instead, use sentences that explain context, like “Jane Doe was convicted of felony assault…” or “John Doe was on parole…”
Exceptions are made for direct quotes that are essential to a story and personal essays. In cases where brevity is needed, staff should work with an editor to incorporate person-first language. For more guidance and best practices, see The Marshall Project.
Our newsroom does not use the term accident for traffic collisions. This makes a crash sound like an unavoidable result of increased vehicle use and risks minimizing responsibility when little is known. Unsafe speeds, inattentive driving, and decades of transportation disinvestment also contribute to a collision. Using words like collision and crash are acceptable.
Avoid using the phrase hit/killed by a car. This removes the onus of responsibility from the driver. Whether a crash was intentional or not, vehicles are tools used by people. Acceptable phrases include the driver hit a person with their car (or a phrase more accurate to the story).
Lead author: Caitlin Hernández
Additional contributors: Ashley Alvarado, Dana Amihere, Caitlin Biljan, Megan Garvey, Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, Josie Huang, Sal LoCurto, Harold A. Maio, Tony Marcano, Giuliana Mayo, Kristen Muller, Nubia Perez, Brian De Los Santos and the LAist staff.