AP Pronouncement on ‘Husband’ and ‘Wife’

The Associated Press (AP) style is still what many of us media types use as a benchmark for standards. More importantly to me, however, is what I believe is the high regard the public has for AP style (at least among those who are aware of such a thing as “AP style”).

So it’s no small thing when AP makes a change (such as it’s recent “homophobia” decision) or weighs in on a new situation that needs weighing in on.

Which leads me to this brief but consequential recent memo from AP standards that Jim Romenesko posted:

APLogoFrom: AP Standards
Sent: Mon 2/11/2013 2:45 PM

STYLE WATCH

SAME-SEX COUPLES: We were asked how to report about same-sex couples who call themselves “husband” and “wife.” Our view is that such terms may be used in AP stories with attribution. Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages.

Tom Kent
Dave Minthorn

What’s with the “scare quotes”? I can see the distinction from an AP viewpoint when, for example, a man in a domestic partnership or civil union calls the other man in that legally recognized relationship “husband” that technically that person is not his husband, because “husband” is reserved for marriage.

But when two men in a legally recognized marriage call themselves husbands, it makes no sense to me that AP should make a distinction because that marriage is not yet federally recognized.

I don’t know for sure, but I would be surprised if AP made such a distinction back in the days before Loving v. Virginia made interracial marriages legal nationwide.

UPDATE 1: AP sent Romenesko the following updated version of the memo above:

SAME-SEX COUPLES: We were asked how to report about same-sex couples who call themselves “husband” and “wife.” Our view is that such terms may be used in AP content if those involved have regularly used those terms (“Smith is survived by his husband, John Jones”) or in quotes attributed to them. Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages.

UPDATE 2: AP has changed its stylebook:

The following entry was added today to the AP Stylebook Online and also will appear in the new print edition and Stylebook Mobile, published in the spring:

husband, wife Regardless of sexual orientation, husband or wife is acceptable in all references to individuals in any legally recognized marriage. Spouse or partner may be used if requested.

“The AP has never had a Stylebook entry on the question of the usage of husband and wife,” said AP Senior Managing Editor for U.S. News Mike Oreskes. “All the previous conversation was in the absence of such a formal entry. This lays down clear and simple usage. After reviewing existing practice, we are formalizing ‘husband, wife’ as an entry.”

Observations on the NLGJA Excellence in Journalism Awards

nlgjaI was pleased to chair the NLGJA Excellence in Journalism Awards, announced today. Without divulging too much information about the process, there were some interesting trends in the winners and finalists that say a lot about the future of coverage of the LGBT community.

- Two awards, best online and best TV network segment, went to coverage of the same story: telling the story of Kirk Andrew Murphy, who was treated for “pre-homosexuality” at UCLA by George Rekers in 1970 and how it affected the rest of his short life. The winners were able to use their unique platforms–a national news show and an online effort run by a citizen journalist–to tell this unique story.

- Journalist of the Year Steven Thrasher found time to cover LGBT issues for the VIllage Voice as a staff writer, but also write expansive stories for the New York Times and Out.

- Sarah Petit Memorial Award for LGBT Journalist winner Chris Geidner, formerly of MetroWeekly, showed how effective LGBT journalism includes social media, online columns, and traditional print efforts.

- HIV/AIDS is still a story people are talking about.  HIV/AIDS related stories won for opinion writing, radio, and HIV/AIDS coverage.

- Covering LGBT issues is not just happening in big cities on the coasts. The student winner was from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.  The best local television segment went to Fox4 (WDAF) in Kansas City.  The best feature writing was in the Tulsa World in Tulsa, Okla. Online winner Box Turtle Bulletin is based in Tucson, Arizona.

About That Study

A lot of talk in the media today about the study by University of Texas professor Mark Regnerus in Social Science Research that questions the outcomes for children raised in same-sex relationships.  The study was rolled out to the press last Thursday and the first reports on the study in the mainstream press came from the conservative newspapers Washington Times and Deseret News.

Fortunately, the folks at Box Turtle Bulletin were all over the research and quickly provided important information about the study, including news that the study was funded by two conservative foundations that fund efforts opposed to same-sex marriage–the Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation.  Like most of the work at BTB, the analysis is rational and even-handed.

The best mainstream coverage of the study came from the New York Times, which did a nice job explaining both the critiques of the study but also explaining the study’s strengths, including quotes from supporters of same-sex marriage who nonetheless believe the study is significant.

Other good coverage came from Slate, which featured both the study’s author as well as a fisking of the research by William Saletan.

Beyond that, most of the coverage is predictable based on who is doing the coverage.  The conservative world thinks it’s the best thing since sliced bread in a bag and the progressive/LGBT media has taken the approach that it is deeply flawed research based on a clear conservative agenda.

There is nothing more difficult than writing about social science research, especially when it comes to the LGBT community where the research is often deeply flawed or deeply limited.  In fact, a companion analysis in Social Science Research looks at the problems in many of the “kids are alright” studies on LGBT families and notes the problems that exist in that research.

For journalists, our first job is to be accurate . . . and skeptical.  We must look at research and put it into context.  While lots of people are demagoguing the research, Regenerus is fairly upfront about the study’s limitation and encourages people not to use the data to make assumptions about LGBT families in 2012.  Of course, he says that knowing that’s exactly what people are going to do with the research.

But being skeptical of research is a two-way street and journalists need to be skeptical (and find out the agenda of the researchers and funders) whether the research undermines assumptions or confirms assumptions.  There’s a lot of flawed research out there, including research that is favorable to LGBT families.

As more coverage of the study emerges, it will be important to avoid the demagogues and seek out analysts who can speak to research design and to people who have actually read the study.  What are the strengths of the study?  What are the flaws?  Are the critiques fair?  Does it matter who pays for a study?  These are all questions journalists should be asking as the study moves beyond the ideological arena and into the mainstream.

 

Front Pages on the Obama Announcement

This time, let’s go beyond the usual suspects and see how the story was played by a variety of newspapers that don’t always get a lot of attention.

Obama’s Same-Sex Marriage Announcement — The Online Coverage

Julie Moos at the Poynter Institute has a great round-up of how major websites handled the news that President Obama now officially supports same-sex marriage.

A couple of highlights:

ABC

 

And a few others from the LGBT press not included in Poynter’s collection.