August 16, 2017 / 4:08 PM / 4 months ago

The precise way to describe a movement

“Define alt-right for me,” President Donald Trump demanded during a news conference on Tuesday when asked about the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Since the term became widely known during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, our guidance to Reuters journalists has been to use this label as minimally as possible. We prefer precise descriptions over labels.

In keeping with Thomson Reuters Trust Principles, our goal is to be fair, not just to the various groups making headlines, but also to our readers, to let them know exactly what or who is being talked about. For example, our photos from Charlottesville where violence erupted at a rally carried detailed captions, such as: “White nationalists shelter behind shields, displaying the Southern Nationalist flag after clashing with counter protesters at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.”

“The more precise we can be in the descriptions, the better,” says Howard Goller, Deputy Editor for News on the Reuters Americas Desk.

“When we do use the phrase alt-right, we should describe it as a loose grouping characterized by a rejection of mainstream politics that includes neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-Semites,” according to our U.S. Political News Coverage Guidelines.

The terms white nationalists and white supremacists seem to be largely interchangeable, used to describe individuals united in their belief that white people are superior to all other races, Reuters prefers to use the term white nationalists, which is more familiar to a global audience. (The Associated Press guidelines say its writers are free to determine which description most aptly applies to a group or an individual in a particular situation.)

Language, like public sentiment, is constantly evolving. Reuters updated its Political News Coverage Guidelines more than 20 times in the past two years. Those changes included making sure we accurately describe an individual immigrant’s legal circumstances as well as how to describe people whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned at birth.

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