Tag Archives: New York Times

UPDATE: Roma and the Copy Fail

“The treatment of the Roma is a litmus test for civil society.”
–Former Czech premier Vaclav Havel, 1993


***To all my journalist friends out there: your copy desk is more open than you think. Please, if you see #gypsycopyfail, correct it. ***

Gypsy, Gypsies Capitalize references to the nomadic Caucasiod people found throughout the world. Also known as Roma or Romany.
—The Associated Press Stylebook 2008

A few months back, I wrote about the mechanics of the AP Stylebook and (characteristically) why you should care in the case of a particular European minority. Well, things have gotten even worse for the Roma in recent weeks, and if there’s any stronger evidence that we should stop calling them Gypsies, I’d invite you to find it.

By all accounts (and sadly, the moral accountants are few) the plight of Europe’s most blighted minority–slaughtered by the Nazis, stripped of their culture by the Soviets, swindled out of education, housing and work, and segregated out of Europe’s public life in the post Soviet era (and that’s just the last 100 years!)– is at a critical tipping point. Last year, Italy began an aggressive census of it’s Roma population, despite the failure of a popular push to fingerprint every Roma child. Violence against Roma in Hungary and Romania is so common, individual attacks rarely make the news. Now, it has begun to spill out of Eastern and Southern Europe into the vererable west, where earlier this month, one hundred economic immigrants to Northern Ireland–Romanian EU passport holderswere run out of Belfast. Roma in Kosovo are fairing little better. Recent events have prodded even sluggish American agencies to pick up their pens. At which point they commit the same fatal copy error, over and over, enshrining the same racism they are supposedly documenting against.

The fact is, the AP, the New York Times and other venerable American news organizations persist in the use of the word Gypsy in the face of overwhelming evidence that a) it’s offensive and incorrect and b) readers can handle the lexical swap. In my previous post, I offered some background on the formation and ammendment of AP Style–a system notoriously resistant to change. But enough is enough. Gypsy is a musical–Roma is a culture. If you work at a news organization, please keep your eyeballs peeled.  Even where AP Style is the gold-standard, most publications have their own styleguides, and your copy desk is more receptive than you think–if you believe the semantics are wrong, speak up. They’ll probably listen.

“They are not from Somalia. They are people like us.”


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Filed under 3rd World Imagineering, The Liberal Media, United Nations

Swine Flu, Day 3— (news) fatigue and (24/7) general malaise

The American public, it seems, is already exhausted by our (possible) pandemic. Even as HuffPo breaks the glass on their emergency 72 point font, people are suffering the first symptoms of Swine Flu fatigue. That is, in the weekend since H1N1 entered the national consciousness, our constant tumblring and retweeting, digesting and regergitating has produced an unwanted side effect—known in the medical community as general malaise—in our readers.  Gawker.and Mother Jones are already posting second day stories (MoJo, as usual, a thoughtful and valuable piece, Gawker, likewise, notsomuch) on what is stil very much a first day story.


Well, and how would you react? After all, this isn’t like the Chinese earthquake, where something happened  all at once and we spent weeks finding out exactly what,  or the financial crisis, which happened bit by bit every day. Right now, we’re mostly reporting  what might happen in the future. Yeah, you shit yourself when you first heard about it, but this thing is moving so slowly…I mean, how long can one topic really stay at the top of Twitter trends when it takes three days for the CDC to confirm a new case?   In a cycle where we can report each piece in real time, even the NYT’s valient attempt to constantly update a single, cohesive story each day feels exhausting.

Collective exhaustion  presents some really serious problems. The threat of a viral pandemic in an era when we are more densely populated and internationally connected is real and close, the threat of a panic even more so. New York, which has 28 confirmed cases and at about 100 suspected ones has already seen a rush on the anti-flu drug Tamiflu and emergency rooms full of jittery would-be patients. You know where’s a really great place to get sick…but I digress.

You only have to look at last year’s outbreak of measles (a disease against which virtually the entire country is vaccinated), which was imported from London in early spring and  swept Borough Park in the largest single outbreak since 1992 before traveling to Israel  to see that disease travels differently now that it did even 5 or 10 years ago. Measels is a very contagious disease that is not endemic to North America (meaning it’s always imported) against which every New York City public school student must be vaccinated, basically on pain of death. And yet, there were more confirmed cases of measles in Brooklyn than there have been of swine flu in Queens (look for that to change, like, tomorrow).

The point in all this being, comparisons to the 1976 scare are largely false. Insofar as they address the potential for media-stoked hysteria, and the dangers inherent to rushing a vaccine, it’s illuminating to study, but otherwise the world of Gerald Ford hold’s little relevance for us @ 6.7 billion. If we allow ourselves (as readers as well as writers) either to be sucked into the collective hysteria or, conversely,  to spit at the risk or use it as a springboard for something else entirely, we’re falling into our own trap.  That is, Gawker and the Times are each a little right: keep the pandemic stoked 24/7 and we risk burrying public information in public bullshit.

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Filed under 3rd World Imagineering, Bird Flu, Brooklyn, Mexico, Swine Flu, The Liberal Media