There are a few basic questions every journalist might ask before they interview someone.
How do you spell your name? What’s your title? How old are you?
But now, writers at one major newspaper will be asking one more question: What’s your pronoun?
The San Francisco Examiner is adopting a policy requiring writers to ask subjects if they wish to be referred to as “he,” “she,” or “they,” editor-in-chief Michael Howerton announced in a column on Thursday.
The change is an effort to “represent everybody as accurately as we can,” as well as making the paper “more inclusive” and “more responsive” to its community, Howerton wrote.
“If we strive to tell the story of San Francisco and the stories of the people who live here, the language we use to do so must be up to the task,” he wrote.
The Examiner will also start using the pronoun “they” in situations where nonspecific people are mentioned, like in the phrase “Nobody in their right mind” (or like in the first sentence of this article).
“Editors like to tell reporters they should assume nothing when covering a story,” Howerton wrote. “So relying on ‘he’ and ‘she’ to reference individuals without asking which one is accurate is lazy at best and wrong and damaging at worst.”
“Just as we would be loath to ascribe nationality, religion, social and economic status or race to a passerby on the street, so it is with gender as well,” he added.
Arguments for inclusive language are becoming increasingly mainstream, and the Examiner is not the first news outlet to take a progressive stance on the matter.
The Washington Post updated its style guide in December to accept “they” as a singular pronoun, particularly for people who don’t conform to the gender binary.
“What finally pushed me from acceptance to action on gender-neutral pronouns was the increasing visibility of gender-neutral people,” copy editor Bill Walsh wrote in a column announcing the change.
The American Dialect Society cited The Post’s example when it named “they” its 2015 Word of the Year, in a vote among linguists, grammarians and lexicographers.
The New York Times also broke ground in 2015 by using the honorific “Mx.” instead of “Mr.” or “Mrs.” when one of its subjects preferred not to be assigned a gender.
Howerton argued that, while the use of the singular “they” might be unusual for readers at first, it will become second nature over time. More importantly, he said, it’s a way for the newspaper to gain the trust of the people they interview and report on.
“Our intention is to celebrate, dignify and respect the affirmations people make about their identities,” Howerton wrote in his column. “We want to honour the identities of those we write about, not enforce gender binary language or diminish anyone’s right to their own.”
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