Why Global Press Journal banned the word “ethnic” in its coverage

A map of the world with the initials

I’m a big fan of Global Press Journal.  They work with local reporters around the world to cover the type of stories which are really important for daily life in low- and medium-income countries, but which might not otherwise get much international media attention.  And they’ve just won even more of my admiration for banning the word “ethnic” in their reporting.

As their news director Krista Kapralos explained, “ethnic” can have so many different connotations that it actually interferes with the core goal of journalism: clear and insightful reporting.  She went on to note:

The word isn’t inherently evil. If a source in a Global Press Journal story uses the word in a quote, it’s left as is. But, in every case, it’s imprecise. At best, it doesn’t give readers the information they need. At worst, it compounds stereotypes.

If violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is described as “ethnic tension,” a reader might assume that the conflict pits one tribe against another or that political divisions boiled over. In reality, a spate of violence might be due to a land dispute between two neighboring communities. The phrase is shorthand used by newspeople and academics who either aren’t sure of the origin of the violence or don’t believe readers have the tolerance for more precise descriptions.

The article has several more brilliant points about the importance of not compounding stereotypes about places experiencing poverty or violence.  Definitely worth a read.