Journalists must not serve as unquestioning heralds for those who espouse racism and hate.

By Kathy English for the Toronto Star

The concern about how the Toronto Star refers to the people who call themselves the “alt-right” was first raised in our newsroom by Ed Tubb, the Star’s deputy foreign editor, in the days immediately following the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.

“I think we should have a discussion on how we’re using the terms ‘alt-right’ and ‘white nationalist,’ both of which I think we’ve been using lazily and euphemistically,” said Tubb, who spends considerable time every day monitoring and editing stories from the Star’s wire services.

In handling dozens of reports about the U.S. election, he had seen inconsistencies — and in some cases outright inaccuracies — in references to the “alt-right” movement of racist right-wing extremists who supported Trump. “We’re all over the place on how we define it, especially in wire copy,” Tubb said, concerned that the vague, euphemistic label is confusing to readers and doesn’t accurately reflect what the so-called alt-right actually stands for.

Indeed, that same concern was raised by some readers too. As one woman said in an email last week, the term alt-right is, “an ambiguous and fairly neutral term for a group that could also be described as ‘white supremacist’, ‘new KKK’ and many other more accurate labels.

“We call on the media to be clear about who and what they are, and to not obfuscate in a way that will allow them to gain acceptance borne of ignorance of their true values, beliefs and intentions,” she said. “Clearly naming them, not calling them ‘the alt-right’ would be a good start.”

As a result of these concerns, several senior Star editors met to discuss this issue. In order to seek some measure of consistency, we decided to consult further with our main wire services – The Canadian Press and the U.S. based Associated Press.

This week, both services issued “style notes” on how to refer to the self-labeled alt-right. The Star followed with a newsroom-wide note from Tubb outlining how we will deal with this.

The main points to guide Star journalists in writing and editing:

  • Avoid using alt-right generically.

“We should strive to be accurate and precise, and at least for now, the term ‘alt-right.’ is neither. Terms like ‘white nationalist’ or ‘white supremacist’ are known, accurate and much clearer to readers.”

  • If you use the term alt-right, define it.

“Phrasing like ‘the ‘alt-right,’ a white nationalist movement’ is appropriate.”

Continue reading this story on the Toronto Star website, where it was first published.