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Thursday, April 5, 2012
Diversity Toolbox

Learn from the ESPN Jeremy Lin blunder

Rebecca Aguilar and Sandra Gonzalez

The headline read “ESPN Fires Employee for Jeremy Lin Racist Headline.” Today, that former ESPN editor, Anthony Federico, is learning a hard lesson for writing a racially offensive headline “Chink in the Armor: Jeremy Lin’s 9 Turnovers Cost Knicks in Streak-stopping Loss to Hornets.” A photo of Lin, an Asian-American, was attached to the story and posted on ESPN’s mobile website.

ESPN fired Federico and suspended one of its sports anchors for using the same offensive and inappropriate comment. You would think that in 2012 most people would know that “chink” was a racial slur used to describe Asians and Asian-Americans.

Federico told the New York Daily News he did not use the phrase with any racial intentions, and he apologized for offending anyone.

He also admitted he had used the phrase at least 100 times in headlines over years. It is a common sports cliché used to describe a weakness in the team or game, but he should have known better.

It’s time for that sports cliché to be eliminated, because when people not involved in the sports world hear it, they hear a racial slur. We should also use this incident as an opportunity to educate ourselves on the do’s and don’ts of covering Asians and Asian-Americans.

Lesson One: Review AAJA’s recent media advisory

No one knows how to cover Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders better than the Asian American Journalists Association. On Feb. 22, AAJA released an advisory on Jeremy Lin news coverage.

It’s very specific on the do’s and don’ts in covering Jeremy Lin. AAJA President Doris Truong says, “The ‘danger zones’ are specific to news coverage we’ve seen involving Jeremy Lin, but are not by any means comprehensive. This was meant to reinforce the basic rule: Use common sense.”

The lengthy advisory is packed with good information that is a must-read for all journalists. Truong gave us permission to share this information in Quill.

AAJA’s list of danger zones:

“CHINK”: Pejorative; do not use in a context involving an Asian person or someone who is Asian-American. Extreme care is needed if using the well-trod phrase “chink in the armor”; be mindful that the context does not involve Asia, Asians or Asian-Americans. (The appearance of this phrase with regard to Lin led AAJA MediaWatch to issue a statement to ESPN, which subsequently disciplined its employees.)

DRIVING: This is part of the sport of basketball, but resist the temptation to refer to “an Asian who knows how to drive.”

EYE SHAPE: This is irrelevant. Do not make such references if discussing Lin’s vision.

FOOD: Is there a compelling reason to draw a connection between Lin and fortune cookies, takeout boxes or similar imagery? In the majority of news coverage, the answer will be no.

MARTIAL ARTS: You’re writing about a basketball player. Don’t conflate his skills with judo, karate, tae kwon do, etc. Do not refer to Lin as “Grasshopper” or similar names associated with martial-arts stereotypes.

“ME LOVE YOU LIN TIME”: Avoid. This is a lazy pun on the athlete’s name and alludes to the broken English of a Hollywood caricature from the 1980s.

“YELLOW MAMBA”: This nickname that some have used for Lin plays off the “Black Mamba” nickname used by NBA star Kobe Bryant. It should be avoided. Asian immigrants in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries were subjected to discriminatory treatment resulting from a fear of a “Yellow Peril” that was touted in the media, which led to legislation such as the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Lesson Two: Read the AAJA handbook

Now is probably a good time for all of us to get the “All-American: A Handbook to Covering Asian America” that AAJA published in 2000. The 76-page handbook gives extensive advice on how to cover a variety of topics, including Asian countries and the awareness of terms that could be racially insensitive.

The handbook gives a good overview of how to best cover Asians and Asian-Americans. Some points:

Terms to use with caution: China Doll, Dragon Lady, Exotic, Fu Manchu, Oriental, Samurai, Hawaiian, Immigrant, Indochinese, Asian Gangs, Charlie Chan, Chinese Laundries

Words to avoid: Racial slurs — Chinaman, Paki, Jap, Gook

You can download the PDF handbook for free here. It’s a tool you need in your toolbox to make you a better, more sensitive and informed journalist.

Sandra Gonzalez is a one-woman-band reporter at WGNO-TV in New Orleans and a member of the SPJ Diversity Committee. On Twitter: @SandraGonzalez2 Rebecca Aguilar is vice chairwoman of the Diversity Committee. On Twitter: @RebeccaAguilar

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Current Issue
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Search Quill


Publications
SPJ Blogs
Quill
SPJ Leads
The EIJ News
Press Notes
SPJ News
Open Doors
Geneva Conventions
Annual FOI Reports