Arkansas Paper IDs Race in Crime Stories; No “Relevance Test”


The Arkansas-Democrat Gazette uses racial information in its crime reporting. Managing editor Frank Fellone tells the Arkansas Times that the newspaper has used race in its “Police Beat” column “for years and years.” The newsroom standard, he says, is “to use all available information provided by the police.” That’s at odds with the conventions of many other news outlets, which avoid racial or ethnic identifiers unless they’re important or, in some cases, if victims provide detailed descriptions.

Newsrooms apply a standard test, says a 2008 article from the Society of Professional Journalists: “[Is] the racial information useful to people in the community who might know the attacker or want to avoid harm themselves? Or [is] it so general that it only merely contribute[s] to stereotypes about one group or another?” Associated Press style says “references to race or nationality must be relevant to the story.” The Arkansas paper’s crime reporting in July used race used as a single identifier several times. In an item, “Hair-raising scuffle reported at LR wig shop,” the suspects are described only as “six black women.” In a July 19 article, “Man arrested in robbery of a woman,” the man is identified by name and age and then, the crime is described as “a black man robbed a woman.”

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