News Column

NHMC Decries NY Times' Continued Use of 'Illegal'

April 25, 2013

Rebecca Villaneda -- HispanicBusiness

NY Times headquarters

Despite the National Hispanic Media Coalition's (NHMC)
work to eliminate the word "illegal" in media coverage
because it fuels stereotypes about Hispanics and immigrants, the New York Times announced it will continue to use the phrase.

While the newspaper will retain the word "illegal" in its coverage, it will encourages reporters and editors to "consider alternatives when appropriate to explain the specific circumstances of the person in question, or to focus on actions," according to the NHMC.

"Advocates on one side of this political debate have called on news organizations to use only the terms they prefer," Philip B. Corbett, the associate managing editor for standards, said. "But we have to make those decisions for journalistic reasons alone, based on what we think best informs our readers on this important topic." He added: "It's not our job to take sides."

Corbett oversees the Times' style manual.

The Times' announcement comes on the
heels of the Associated Press' decision to drop 'illegal immigrant' from the its stylebook
. Reporters and editors use the AP Stylebook as a guide for grammar, punctuation and principles and practices of reporting. It is a standard text in the newspaper industry.

NHMC President and CEO Alex Nogales was disappointed to hear about the Times' decision, and released the following statement: "(The word) implies criminality and has become a racial slur. Language does evolve. In the past, we've seen words dropped by media outlets when they are harmful. One example is the success that the LGBT community had with the word 'homosexual.' Major media outlets heard the LGBT community and stopped using this word.

"Mr. Corbett states that media's job is not to take sides, but in effect the New York Times is taking a side when it continues to use a word that has lost any descriptive meaning and is used by anti-immigrants to impugn immigrants," he added.

The NHMC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media advocacy and civil rights organization set to educate and influence media corporations on the importance of including U.S. Hispanics at all levels of employment.

In 2012, NHMC commissioned a national poll that confirmed that media is hugely influential in shaping opinions about Hispanics. The poll found that in discussing those in this country without documentation, the term "illegal alien" elicited negative feelings and contributed to the negative opinions of the Hispanic community.


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