Americans are split on how media should be choosing their words when reporting on racism

Oana DumitruSurvey Data Journalism Intern
September 21, 2022, 9:27 PM GMT+0

The sensitive nature of language around instances of racism makes reporting on them in the media complicated. What do Americans think is the right way to report words or phrases used by perpetrators of racial abuse?

For both writing and speaking, Americans were split on which option is best when the media is reporting on racism, according to a recent survey by YouGov. When it comes to writing, about one in five say that newspapers should quote a racial slur in full, and one in four say they should print the first letter of the slur, followed by asterisks or dashes for the remaining letters. Using a reference to a euphemism is preferred by 18% of Americans, while 13% say the word should not be reported at all.

Republicans were most likely among the political groups polled to say a slur should not be used at all. White Americans were also slightly more likely to say the word should not be used at all (15%), compared to Black and Hispanic Americans (9% each). These patterns are similar to those of a recent similar survey conducted by YouGov in the UK.

However, white Americans were also more likely to say that newspapers should use the word in full (25%) compared to Black Americans (18%) and Hispanic Americans (13%).

Americans seem to feel similarly about hearing these words as they do about reading them. A similar share (20%) say radio and TV shows should quote the word in full as say newspapers should print it (22%). Among the political groups polled, Democrats (43%) are most likely to say that the media should reference a euphemism when it comes to speaking the words, and Hispanic Americans are most likely among the racial groups polled to say the same (37%).

— Carl Bialik, Taylor Orth, and Linley Sanders contributed to this article

Related: How should journalists report racially offensive language? (YouGov UK)

This poll was conducted on August 31 - September 4, 2022 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.

Image: Getty (Halfpoint Images)

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