"Who Does He Look Like?"
In an article on Poynter's Web site, Thomas T. Huang discusses why he believes it was wrong to identify the VT shooter as an "Asian man." He argues that identifying someone in a crime story by using racial terms will stereotype large groups of people and that racial terms should only be used if there's a greater amount of detail used about the identity of the person.
"We need to push for specific and accurate details," Huang writes. "Going with a single descriptor like "Asian" doesn't reveal very much. What, after all, does an "Asian" look like?"
He says that race or nationality should not be mentioned unless it's a relevant part of the story.
"But it's not as if the killer's Asian-ness, or nationality, or immigration status were a link to the massacre," Huang writes. "It's not like his description as an "Asian" would help us catch him."
On the other hand, the reporters were reporting what they knew.
Huang writes, "On the day after the shootings, the president of Virginia Tech gave this first official identification of the killer: 'We know that he was an Asian male.' "
And that's what the news media ran with: an "Asian man."
My two cents
While I agree that the immediate reporting of an "Asian man" created racial tension, I am not sure if it would be prevented by not reporting the race until the pictures came out later. I think that as the public eventually gets the pictures, the identities, the names, the viewers will come to their own conclusions, even racist conclusions, despite media using race as an identifier or not.
But this is all talk.
If it came down to it, I don't think I'd use racial terms in reporting a crime story. Sure, giving that person's race paints a better picture of who did what, but it's possible to do more harm than good. If reporting about what an "Asian man" did might stereotype the race, then, in my opinion, the cons out weigh the pros by far, and journalists might need to be more sensitive in crime reporting.
Back to you
Should the media just have reported the shooter as "man" instead of "Asian man"? Are there other options?
Do you think that using a person's race in the reporting of the crime will negatively portray the race? Have you seen it in action?
What would you do if you had to make the call?
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On the Net: http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=58&aid=121748 - The Poynter article referred to in this post.