An Open Letter to Journalists: Words Matter

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The field of journalism has changed a lot in recent decades. New platforms, increasing citizen journalism and social media are ever-changing, and at the same time, how and where people digest news is also constantly evolving. But, one concept remains the same; words matter.

As communications practitioners, we have the responsibility to keep up to date on how and where to share stories to reach the right audience. For us, it’s all about connections. We love building relationships with local journalists and media professionals because they are an awesome group. They want to share interesting stories, and we have kickass clients that often have timely and compelling information to share.

We also are fortunate to work with clients who are functioning within critical areas of our community. Great people who do challenging and thoughtful work. As their communications partner, we work alongside these key institutions through research, strategy, messaging, and best practices, to share their impact.

It is not uncommon for us to assist clients in testing and modifying language: words chosen to describe a mission, values, and people are extremely important. Dignity, equity, compassion – – these themes resonate in the work of our clients, and they seek to use language that respectfully speaks not just about their work, but about people.

Once a word or phrase has been identified as the best term to use, it is used consistently to support the work of the organization, and to ensure that it upholds the values of those words.

Words matter. Words have power.

When people write about our clients, they sometimes replace phrases or words with others; it makes sense, repeating the same word over and over may not seem compelling.

When a writer replaces a keyword or phrase with another to keep a story interesting, and from becoming repetitive, we get it. We really do. But, that also takes away a very carefully chosen narrative that often seeks to empower, dignify, and respect.

Here is our ask: when writing about a group or company, please pay attention to the words they use to describe their work. Do they say “client,” or “guest”? Is the term “disadvantaged” or “under-resourced”? Do they say “accessibility” or “access”?

While some are frustrated by perceived “political correctness,” we can all agree that words have power. They have the power to position, describe, create or even remove value. Given all they can do, those words should be chosen carefully.

 

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