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Issue for December 2019

Gender-Neutral and Inclusive Pronouns

Posted on Saturday, December 28, 2019 at 8:34 PM

Getting up to speed on gender-inclusive writing.

By Denise Gable

Language is fluid. Grammar shifts and changes over time. Merriam-Webster’s named “they” -- the singular pronoun to use for a “person whose gender identity is nonbinary” -- as their 2019 word of the year. Although most consider it good practice to write in gender-neutral terms, adopting gender-neutral pronouns can be awkard and confusing.

Many publications are deciding how best to incorporate gender-neutral language into their publications. Depending on your audience, you may have already addressed this in your style guide and with your staff. The Society for Editing (ACES), the Chicago Manual of Style, and the Associated Press have all updated their style guides to include the use of "they," "them," and "their" as acceptable in limited cases as a singular or gender-neutral pronoun when alternative wording is overly awkward or clumsy. We asked editors to weigh in on how they were handling the use of gender-neutral and inclusive pronouns.

Google Trends shows an overall increase in the use of the word "they" from 2004 to the present. It began around 2007. The exact cause is unclear.

--Cathy Brown, executive editor, Psychiatric News: "We still use 'he or she.' I know it's becoming more acceptable to use 'they' as singular, but to me such usage sounds uneducated and lazy. Just because styles change due to popular usage doesn't mean that we should abandon grammar rules that have served us quite well to reflect the language of refined communication and clarity."

--Dan Markham, senior editor, Metal Center News: "We don't use the single 'they.' We use he or she when applicable, which isn't often. Why? Our readers are pretty old. I'd be up for a new pronoun that covers gender ambiguity, but I'd rather not use a plural pronoun to do it."

--Deborah Lockridge, editor-in-chief, Heavy Duty Trucking: "Is this just a general grammar question, or are we getting into the issue of non-binary pronouns?"

--C.G. Masi, cgmasi.com: "Most of my current writing is for outlets that explicitly require APA style, so it makes sense to start with their recommendations, then include my preferences based on experience with both academic and more informal journalistic writing styles. The sixth edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association devotes a substantial section to reducing gender bias in language. The clearest statement summarizing their position is that 'replacing "he" with "he or she" or "she or he" should be done sparingly because the repetition can become tiresome. Combination forms such as "he/she" or "(s)he" are awkward and distracting. Alternating between "he" and "she" may also be distracting.' The Manual editors recommend avoiding the whole problem by recasting the sentence to remove the need for the gender-specific pronoun entirely. They give an example of such a revision of the sentence 'A researcher must apply for "his" grant by September 1' to 'A researcher must apply for "the" grant by September 1.'

"Generally, I find the Manual's recommendations on this topic to be extremely useful. In short, informal pieces, such as discussion-group postings, I like to use the combination forms 'he/she' or '(s)he' depending on cadence of the paragraph. The other forms seem annoyingly contrived, more distracting, and harder to fit into the language flow. In longer, more formal pieces, where first and second person are to be avoided anyway, carefully crafting the entire paragraph to avoid the situation is best. In cases specifying a certain person, I always use the appropriate gender-specific pronoun, which opens a whole 'nother can of worms for transgender individuals!"

--Dave Zoia, editorial director, WardsAuto: "We've begun to allow it. It eliminates gender issues and avoids using cumbersome 'he and/or she'–type references. It's the way people talk, and we often had that usage in direct quotes anyway, so it's not that much of a stretch to apply it outside of direct quotes."

--Curtis Phillips, senior technical editor, Wine Business Monthly: "We tend to allow all forms with a slight preference for 'they' when referring to corporate entities and alternating between he and she when referring to individuals, but we realize that the singular 'they" has been a part of the English language for so long (since the 14th century, if I'm not mistaken) that it's futile to try to edit it out in all instances.

"Personally, I use 'one' when I can even though I realize that this comes across as stiff and formal. One would rather be formal than inadvertently imply that half the population doesn't exist. I would prefer it if English had a third-person singular pronoun with undefined gender, and without the non-person connotations of 'it,' but all attempts in that direction (s/he, ae, e, ey, per, ve, xe, fae) fail to enter common usage. Maybe the recognition of non-binary gender will change things. One doubts that it will.

"While we are at it, should we bring back the dual pronouns wit, uncer, unc, incer, incite, and inc?"

--Curt Harler, curtharler.com: "I'm a freelancer. In the only instance where this was an issue, we simply referred to the individual by last name throughout (e.g., 'Smith said,' 'Smith did such-and-such,' etc., per style). It eliminated any issues of grammar or of political correctness. My personal opinion is that 'they' is plural. If anyone wants to be referred to by a special pronoun, they should coin one and not co-opt one."

--Dave Fusaro, editor-in-chief, Food Processing: "We have not moved to the 'they' just to be gender-neutral. Most of the time, we're quoting people, and we know their gender, at least by name and/or visual appearance. If a gender-neutral person ever were to ask us to use 'they' for him/her, we certainly would. It just hasn't come up. If we use it as second reference, we usually alternate between he's and she's: 'When a consumer looks for x she probably wants x. If he doesn't find his brand, he'll buy another.' One area that I am beginning to cave in on is using 'they' in second reference to a company. Although technically correct, 'it' has always seemed awkward, and it's not the way people talk, is it? E.g., 'Superior Farms Lamb is a leading processor of lamb in this country and they have developed...'"

--Heidi Richards Mooney, publisher, We Magazine for Women: "We alternate depending on the context. We use 'he or she' when the topic lends itself to more specific gender and 'they' if the topic is more gender-neutral or when speaking about a group rather than an individual."

--Angela Hartley, senior managing editor, JOGNN: "In the updated 7th edition of Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, the APA endorsed the singular 'they,' 'consistent with inclusive language.' The JOGNN editors discussed this change at length and agreed that an individual's preferred pronouns should and would be respected and used as appropriate for the given context in JOGNN articles. This includes the use of the singular they. We were already doing this when the APA change was announced. However, we do not interpret this guidance to mean that all instances of singular pronouns should be replaced with they, them, or their universally in every article. Such a change would result in sentences that are grammatically incorrect, illogical, and difficult to read. Unless context indicates otherwise, we use 'she' or 'he' and will continue to do so. We encourage authors to use inclusive language that is free from bias and to apply common sense and rules of grammar.

"Although I feel it is a good suggestion, I believe that this guidance from the APA will be misinterpreted and then misused. I've already gotten questions such as, 'Why did you use her or him in the newsletter if APA says to use they?' This was in reference to reviewers: 'Do you have a colleague with publication experience who would like to review for JOGNN? Please have her or him send us a CV.' My response was, 'The singular they was not needed or appropriate in this context.' For the sake of good writing, I hope that common sense prevails and that other editors take this approach as well."

--Leslie Block, managing editor, Nursing Education Perspectives: "I never use 'they' as singular. That would be wrong. Also, I try very hard through editing to avoid he-she. Most often I try to use plurals so they would be correct. The singular 'they' is a lazy construction."

Dear Amy advice columnist Amy Dickinson, commenting on the new "they" usage, says, "It’s time to get used to it." Maybe or maybe not, depending upon your audience.

Denise Gable is managing editor of Editors Only.

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You May Face Jail for Handling Foreign Copy

Posted on Saturday, December 28, 2019 at 8:34 PM

Understanding how DOJ rules pertaining to foreign agents might affect your publication.

By William Dunkerley

If you ever handle articles from foreign sources, watch out!

The Justice Department may be able to assert that you are acting as an agent of a "foreign principal." And if you're not registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), you could be subject to a 5-year jail term.

But how in the world could you as an editor be considered a foreign agent? On the surface this seems like a real stretch. But read the following citation from the FARA law that defines who must register as a foreign agent:

"Any person who acts as an agent, representative, employee, or servant, or any person who acts in any other capacity at the order, request, or under the direction or control, of a foreign principal or of a person any of whose activities are directly or indirectly supervised, directed, controlled, financed, or subsidized in whole or in major part by a foreign principal, and who directly or through any other person ... within the United States solicits, collects, disburses, or dispenses contributions, loans, money, or other things of value for or in the interest of such foreign principal..."

This probably still does not sound like you, right? But look at the term "things of value." If you've been following the contemporary political discourse in the United States, you'll have heard that information is indeed considered a thing of value.

Now let's see how this could apply to a typical editorial office. If a foreign author requests that you publish his or her article and you accept it, you are halfway there toward being a foreign agent. The other half occurs when you disburse that thing of value -- i.e., when you publish the article.

The situation is even worse if you are handling a sponsored article (native advertising). Payment for handling the article could be considered a subsidy under FARA.

My first reaction to learning about these FARA provisions was that they are an abridgment of our First Amendment rights regarding freedom of the press. I confronted the Justice Department with that observation. Quickly they replied assuring me that courts have examined that issue and found FARA to be constitutional.

In support of that, the DOJ cited Meese v. Keene, a 1987 Supreme Court case. After reading the text, I found that the citation seemed irrelevant to the question I asked. That case involved an American who sought to distribute in the US several Canadian films. They were on topics such as nuclear war and acid rain.

Using the FARA law, the Justice Department labeled the content as "political propaganda" and required that the American distributor conspicuously label the films as such when exhibiting them before audiences. He was also asked to furnish the identities of theaters in which the films were shown.

The distributor objected on the grounds that the labeling would prejudice audiences against the content and that distributing "foreign propaganda" would impugn his personal reputation.

The Supreme Court found against the distributor, offering this amazing statement:

"The Act's use of the term 'political propaganda' is neutral, evenhanded, and without pejorative connotation, and is therefore constitutionally permissible"

That's our Supreme Court speaking. Its bending of reality illustrates how the law can be stretched to support a governmental objective. This does not give me much confidence that any actions taken against publication editors will be handled with intellectual integrity.

There is some good news in this story, though: Since FARA's inception in the late 1930s, prosecutions have been sparse. According to National Law Review, "DOJ brought only seven criminal FARA cases between 1966 and 2015 (securing FARA convictions in just three cases) and had not employed FARA's civil injunctive relief since 1991."

What's more, the law actually provides an exemption for newspapers, magazines, periodicals, or other publications. There's a catch, though. They must have "on file with the United States Postal Service information in compliance with section 3611 of Title 39."

That leaves out Editors Only and perhaps your publication or publications as well. So I wrote the Justice Department again:

"On quick read of the case example you provided, the following comes to mind: The original FARA legislation attempted to provide adequate exemptions for the media. In its day they may have been adequate. But the law was written in the last century, decades before the advent of the internet. And even the case you cited was decided only at the dawn of the Internet Age and before the mass migration we've seen by publishers from print to digital. Neither digital publishing nor current media business practices appear to be addressed by the case, and obviously not in the law. Could you comment on that?"

I received an acknowledgment of receipt, but the Justice Department refused to comment on the substance of my inquiry.

In November, National Law Review reported, "Earlier this year, the Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division publicly confirmed the Department of Justice's intention to make Foreign Agents Registration Act a criminal enforcement priority." It added that this has resulted in a surge of FARA prosecutions."

National Law Review goes on:

"Congress has also given extra attention to FARA, as over a dozen bills related to FARA were introduced in the last session, most of which seek to eliminate statutory exemptions and give additional powers and resources for investigating potential violations and increased enforcement. Because of FARA's startlingly broad language, the new enforcement priority creates compliance challenges and enforcement risks for companies that have international business operations or otherwise deal with foreign governments and firms."

In all likelihood, few EO readers deal with politically charged content that would draw the ire of the Trump administration's Justice Department. But that would still leave our First Amendment protections to the largess of the Department of Justice. That's a far cry from a constitutional guarantee. Something should be done about that.

Editors Only will bring this issue to the attention of the major media associations and organizations concerned with protecting the First Amendment. We'll attempt to rally their support for getting a clear and unambiguous exemption from FARA for all editors and journalists. We shouldn't settle for anything less. Editors Only will keep you posted on future developments.

P.S. FARA is not the only government intrusion into the editing business. California has enacted a law that interferes with our traditional use of freelancers. That issue is covered in EO's sister publication, the STRAT newsletter. Click here to view that article. See also our summary in our monthly news roundup below.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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The Fog Index

Posted on Saturday, December 28, 2019 at 8:33 PM

Assessing the readability of an excerpt from TheAtlantic.com.

This month’s Fog Index sample text comes from a December 26 article on TheAtlantic.com ("A Field Guide for the Entire 21st Century" by Robinson Meyer). Here’s the excerpt we’re analyzing, with longer words in italics:

"So it was distressing, this holiday season, to learn that the eastern goldfinch could soon depart the Garden State, at least for half the year. If global temperatures rise 3 degrees Celsius by 2080, the goldfinch’s summer range will no longer include any part of New Jersey, according to the National Audubon Society. So, too, will the goldfinch exit Iowa, where it is also the state bird. In fact, many state birds could soon fly their domiciles: the yellowhammer from Alabama, the purple finch from New Hampshire, the ruffled grouse from Pennsylvania. The official birds of Georgia, Idaho, and Utah will all see their ranges shrink dramatically in those states."

--Word count: 110 words
--Average sentence length: 22 words (25, 28, 14, 25, 18)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 6 percent (7/110 words)
--Fog Index (22+6) * .4 = 11 (11.2, no rounding)

The Fog Index of this sample is 11. An ideal Fog-Gunning score is below 12, so this sample falls within the desired range. As we’ve noted in previous issues, scientific writing is difficult to keep clear of fog. In a publication such as the Atlantic, science writers need to convey technical information so that it makes sense to lay readers. This piece gets the job done because it breaks often to let the reader digest information before continuing. It also keeps jargon to a minimum, which keeps the percentage of longer words low. Many of the longer words (i.e,. 3+ syllables) are proper nouns, which don’t factor into the Fog-Gunning longer word count.

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California’s Changing Freelancer Economy

Posted on Saturday, December 28, 2019 at 8:33 PM

In the news: A new labor law taking effect in California upends its gig economy.

Next week, a new labor law in California goes into effect that will redefine freelance work. Ari Levy and Alex Sherman of CNBC.com write that Assembly Bill 5, “targeted primarily at ride-hailing and food delivery companies like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and PostMates ... requires gig economy workers to be hired as employees with benefits like health coverage and minimum wage protections.” The law limits freelancers to 35 individual contributions per year before they must be hired as employees.

The law, intended by its framers to protect gig workers from being exploited by companies, has landed with a thud in some sectors. There’s widespread backlash from freelance journalists who have lost, or expect to lose, their jobs because they are producing more than 35 pieces of content per year. According to CBS San Francisco, freelance journalists are suing the state to revise the part of the law that’s threatening their livelihood. Read more here.

Also Notable

A Rough Month for Car Magazines

Earlier this month, TEN Publishing stopped production of 19 of its 22 print car magazines. According to Greg Dool of Foliomag.com, the surviving print titles are MotorTrend, Hot Rod, and Four Wheeler. Canceled titles include Automobile, Classic Trucks, and Truck Trend. A memo to employees announced a “one-time voluntary separation program, in which some editors and salespeople will be given the option to resign in exchange for ‘special separation benefits.’” For a full list of shuttered automotive magazines, read here.

New Print Magazines in 2019

This year saw the launch of several branded print magazines. Among them are Sir Kensington’s Sandwich magazine and outdoor retailer REI’s Uncommon Path. Read more about this burgeoning trend in content marketing here.

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