Vol. 35, No. 6: Anonymity
Our coverage of Ukraine and Afghanistan includes compelling stories of people who, fearing harm, have made legitimate requests for anonymity. Some are willing to be identified by just a name, a code name, or a nickname.
The Standards team’s partial anonymity policy applies to reporting on any topic, anywhere: we avoid identifying sources in this way unless, in extreme cases, they pass two tests – a legitimate reason to fear serious physical harm and an important role in the article, video or podcast.
Does a one-name identifier help our audience follow the story we’re telling? With a play that mentions and quotes a person multiple times, the answer is often yes; it might read better with a name than with a descriptor like e.g the Afghan spy. When referring to other anonymous sources—those that play a minor role, are mentioned only marginally, or are not cited—the answer is usually no. Use a description and not a name, even if a person is willing to be addressed by name only.
If we allow partial anonymity on these rare occasions, we should be clear with our audience. Add a sentence such as The Wall Street Journal agreed to use only her first name. Otherwise, a reader might think that we use pseudonyms, which we don’t. As a rule, we don’t need to say why we only publish one name. The reason is almost always to protect in some way the person who is speaking to us, or that person’s family, and does not need to be explicitly stated. If the context described in the article does not make the reason obvious, an exception can be considered. Contact senior editors or the standards team – who, it should be noted, reserve the right to ask for sourcing details in any case.
Roe v. calf
The Supreme Court’s recent ruling means we must take extra care to ensure we are accurate and precise when we refer to “abortion rights.” Here’s a statement about the Wall Street Journal’s Standards editorial team being added to the style book. The second paragraph here is taken from the existing entry in the stylebook, which remains:
Following the US Supreme Court decision in June 2022, there is no longer a federal constitutional right to abortion. So be precise when using terms to describe the current legal framework, which varies from state to state in the US. Some states will effectively ban abortion now or soon, some will restrict it, and some will continue to provide legal access. Some have abortion rights in their state constitutions. For example, it is not right for news articles to speak broadly in our own voice about “protecting” abortion rights now that there is no federal constitutional law. Such expressions are acceptable in quotations or job titles of persons. It is more accurate to refer to a person who supports or advocates abortion rights or for legalized abortion. When referring to a constitutional right in one or more states, it is appropriate to refer to the protection of those rights.
abortion rights and anti-abortion are the preferred adjectives when describing advocates and activists on opposite sides of the issue. In US states or countries that ban all or most abortion, a campaign is more accurately referred to as a legalized abortion movement. Avoid “pro-life” and “pro-choice” except when quoting someone. late abortion or abortion later in pregnancy are more neutral terms for what opponents of the practice call “partial abortions.”
Perhaps for fear of the grammar police, writers tend to do this to the if they have doubts about the who/whom choice. But often, who was the right call.
Two recent examples:
- … says Heather Kirkwood, a Seattle attorney who helps defend clients, usually on a volunteer basis, to the She believes they are wrongly accused of AHT [abusive head trauma].
- …Abu Hamzah al-Yemeni, to the US Central Command said he was a senior leader of the Hurras al-Din organization.
In both cases, who was the right call, not who. Because in these cases who relates to the topic. Ignore such distracting phrases as “she believes” when making this decision. The trick with grammar is to stick with it wowo if the sentence can be turned into a question and the word can be replaced with he, she or she instead of him, she or her.
So for the first example: Who is wrongly accused? she are not she. So it’s a who. (On the other hand, Hemingway fans, who is the bell for? For she, Naturally. So that’s why it’s a to the.)
Choices & Memories
- The new US Treasurer will be Lynn Malerba although her official name is Marilynn. She does business under the first name Lynn, so we recognize that as we have for other politicians and officials, including Jimmy (Carter) and Bill (Clinton).
- amex, not AmEx, American Express Co. now capitalizes its abbreviation. (In the past we’ve worried about confusing the acronyms for American Express, then called AmEx, and the old American Stock Exchange or Amex, but that’s no longer a problem.)
- We sometimes make a mistake and use both past and present tense for verbs within the same article. (Unless, of course, it is intended to discuss current and past events.)
- Himar, not HIMARS in all caps, is how we capitalize on the missile launch system that the US supplied to Ukraine. It stands for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. Because it’s pronounced (as HIGH-mars) and has more than four letters, it’s an example that we don’t use all uppercase letters, even if the entity owning the name does.
- We spell now terracotta as a word, an exception to Webster’s 5th, for clay or its earthy color, rather than terra-cotta or terra-cotta.
- Web3with a capital W, we will spell the term for the idea of a new level of the internet tied to blockchain technology.
- Immigrate and emigrate…. We sometimes confuse them when describing migration movements. As our style book explains, one leaving a country emigrate from that. One who comes to a country immigrates. The same applies to emigrant and Immigrant. Do not use these terms for people moving within the same country. call her migrants. Speaking of which, the reason immigration is a political issue is not because of migrants, but because of migrants crossing the border illegally (sometimes then seeking asylum).
set incentives. Pooh.
We have to say it again: set incentives is trite, best left to technical jargon.
Examples that, as reader David E. Gold noted, continue to drag our prose down:
- she [SPAC investors] are motivated withdraw when stock prices are low…
- Republicans kept pushing them Attraction fossil fuels in the US
- …part of a controversial strategy discourage illegal immigration.
- PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan is planning this stimulate Players stay on tour.
There are many conventional and stronger verbs that could be used instead: motivated/encouraging/discouraging/persuasive.
heads above the rest
- “Consumers Are Giving Inflation the Bird—With a Whole Chicken,” a group work with Jennifer Levitz and Mitch Pacelle.
- “A Survival Guide to Dealing with a Bad Boss / Life is too short to work for idiots. Here’s what to do when your boss is a micromanager, a bully, or a complete lunatic‘, another group effort and particularly notable for the Fun deck, by Rachel Feintzeich, Vanessa Fuhrmans and Nikki Waller.
Heads that make you go ‘hmmm’
- Are we overusing “how” headlines? And how! They used to be a fun way to engage the reader and we’ve all done them, but now they’re commonplace. If the headline works just as well without the how, try to omit it. How a CEO turned her worst disaster into a success can be so strong without the word: A CEO turned her worst disaster into a success.
notifications above the rest
Here are some of the top mobile push notifications, both in WSJ’s native app and via Apple News. Our goal is to make our editors’ storytelling stand out on locked screens, typically 140 characters or fewer.
- The Supreme Court ruled Roe v. Wade overruled. The decision removes the constitutional right to abortion that had existed for half a century.
- She began to sob at the dining table. She had just returned from her daily Covid test, the only time her family has been able to leave their 10th floor apartment.
- A supermarket tried to do without plastic altogether. People who steal steak have started to go wrong.
- America’s most expensive homes used to sell out in days, but not anymore. In a hot city, the bubble threatens to burst.
- In the largest expansion of gun rights in a decade, the Supreme Court overturned a New York City statute allowing concealed guns
- These real estate agents were unprepared for what they discovered when they opened the closet
Quiz (Find the Flubs)
- A woman called a Credit Suisse hotline in 2020 to report alleged inappropriate and disrespectful behavior towards women by Mr. Chin.
- When she was in her mid-30s, breast cancer disrupted what seemed like steady progress toward becoming chief executive.
- If you want to fill your laser tag party, you can ask each of your close friends to invite another close friend.
- Some would argue that if the behavior was only allegedly inappropriate, then it is not reported, only alleged. In any case, it’s closer to saying she called the hotline inappropriate to claim and disrespectful behavior.
- A swerve. The cancer wasn’t someone in their mid-30s.
- A close friend of his or hers own. Or simply a close friend. Or keep the whole thing in the plural: …Ask your close friends to invite their own close friends. Our style book says that “singular they” (or their) is still not good grammar, except in reference to someone using gender-neutral pronouns.
Send questions or comments to William Power and Jennifer Hicks.
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