The following is an excerpt from a training for journalists by National Public Radio.
Here are five things you can do to reach a good decision on how to identify people:
1. If you are reporting about an individual, it’s relatively simple: Generally, you should go with how they self-identify. But first ask yourself this: Is this person’s race, ethnicity, religion, gender, etc. necessary to understanding the story? And is it made clear in the story why it’s necessary? If not, clarify or leave it out.
2. If you need to identify a group, seek input from as many sources as possible within that group. Make sure you’ve also consulted your organization’s style guide or newsroom leadership and taken stock of any objections from outside sources.
3. Explain the descriptor (spelling out an acronym) if it’s reasonable to expect that some audiences won’t be familiar with it.
4. Be clear about who and what you are talking about, and make sure to point out the diversity and/or significant differences of opinion about the descriptor within the group, where relevant.
5. And remember, it’s often fine to just say “people.”
Why follow these steps? Because descriptors involve gray areas and complexity and sincere differences of opinion. They are better determined on a per-story basis, rather than expecting newsroom leaders and style guides to deliver all the answers.