Reader: I am confused by the change in capitalizing certain race adjectives. I have been noticing for several weeks that the word "black" when used to describe a person's race is now written with a capital "B." However when "white" is used for the same reason the "w" is not capitalized.
A perfect example is in (the Saturday, Aug. 29) paper in the article titled "At DC march, Black families...". The capitalization rule is applied in the title and in several places in the article such as the first sentence: Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. famously laid out a vision for harmony between white and Black people...
In looking over Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech" I saw his words written in this way: "Little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers." The black and white terms were equally applied with no capitalizations. Clearly much has changed in the way we do and say things since those times.
I was a young person in those times. Now I am 68 years old. Obviously the times in which I grew up and the fact that I am a white female have colored my way of understanding the world. Even so, I want fairness and justice applied equally. I want to have peaceful, loving relations with my fellow brothers and sisters of all ages and all racial, ethnic, and sexual identities.
And, I need to understand the reasoning behind the disparity of capitalization rules now getting used. If you can explain why the rules changed and why this change is beneficial to the American people, I would be most grateful.
Here is another thought: It might be helpful to begin a conversation about how we, the people, want to identify ourselves. What is the history behind the terms that have been used to identify people and how has this effected social and racial relations. And, how do we want to go forward.
Thank you for considering my request.
— Deborah Goaldman
Peterson: Deborah, thank you for your thoughtful questions on a topic where there is no one correct answer, and there don't seem to be easy or straightforward answers. Language evolves and changes — sometimes for the better, sometimes for worse — as anyone who has lived at least a few decades surely knows!
We follow the guidance of the Associated Press Stylebook, which is about 350 pages of rules on everything from capitalization to when to write 17 vs. seventeen to word usage and punctuation and more. We follow the Stylebook for consistency, and have for decades, so we don't have one story that says "back yard" and the one right next to it that says "backyard."
It includes everything from what is likely trivial to many (but exciting to copy editors!) to serious matters such as how and when people are identified by race and ethnicity.
In June, AP issued a note, which reads in part:
"We are making an important change to AP style that stems from a long and fruitful conversation among news leaders, editors and diverse members of our staff and external groups and organizations.
"AP's style is now to capitalize Black in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense, conveying an essential and shared sense of history, identity and community among people who identify as Black, including those in the African diaspora and within Africa. The lowercase black is a color, not a person.
"We also now capitalize Indigenous in reference to original inhabitants of a place.
"These changes align with long-standing capitalization of other racial and ethnic identifiers such as Latino, Asian American and Native American. Our discussions on style and language consider many points, including the need to be inclusive and respectful in our storytelling and the evolution of language ..."
Reader: I have noticed for some time that Associated Press news feeds you print in TBC’s Nation and World section frequently contain opinion and commentary. An egregious example of what I am referring to is the article appearing in the Aug. 26 edition titled, “Melania Trump, Pompeo headline Day 2 of RNC.”
Almost immediately the news story switches to commentary: “The first-term president is laboring to improve his standing in a 2020 presidential race he is currently losing under the weight of the coronavirus and its related economic devastation. Most polls report that Democratic rival Joe Biden has a significant advantage in terms of raw support; the former vice president also leads on character issues such as trustworthiness and likability.”
What does this have to do with reporting what took place on day two of the RNC? This article is riddled with additional commentary and innuendo and belongs in the opinion section rather than the news section.
Aren’t there other news feeds TBC can reprint that are true news reports rather than attempts to sway our opinions? In Alexander Hamilton’s day, political movements had their own newspapers so one knew that the news in a particular paper was slanted by the viewpoints represented by that movement. If TBC has embraced a certain political movement and is no longer a neutral source of objective news, please stop masquerading as an unbiased news source.
— Miguel Nidever
Peterson: The Californian has not embraced a political movement — of any kind.
The question here, to me, is really a matter of commentary vs. context. Do news stories simply provide what I call "book report" reporting (think third-grade book reports, at least when I was a child: This happened, then that happened, then this was said ...) or do they provide context, depth and synthesize information?
Most of the better news stories provide context and depth.
That said, I am going to agree with you, Miguel, that the particular story you cited had a bit more commentary than I thought was warranted.
To your other question: We subscribe to the Associated Press and The Washington Post, both highly respected news services that provide what you call "true" news reports. Yes, there are others too.
Reader: One page of sports on Wednesday????
No list of tennis results. (An article about a few key matches isn’t enough.) No baseball scores. No hockey scores. No Tour de France news. TV listings for today’s sports events that are woefully incomplete.
I like a daily paper. I like it that editors can sift through all the news and give me a good summary each day. But I guess I am forced to use the internet and find the stories and results myself.
You in the newspaper business moan about readers abandoning you for the internet. We are not abandoning you; you are pushing us away.
Please forward this up to your executives and new owners so that they know they are really screwing up what used to be a good newspaper.
— Jim St. Amour
Peterson: Thank you, Jim, for taking the time to write.
Here's what happened Wednesday: We published an eight-page special section on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II.
On the press, the number of pages in the sections have to match up. So the A and C section have to contain the same number of pages, and the B and D section have to have the same number of pages. Add in an eight-page special section, and then it becomes a puzzle of how to fit everything else.
Unfortunately for our sports fans, this resulted in a one-page sports section that day.
But I hear you, and we'll try to avoid that whenever possible. Sometimes we're faced with those trade-offs to fit a special section.
Trust me, we don't want to push you away, and I thank you and others who sounded off on this topic for your readership. I hope you and they will continue to find valuable sports news and information in our pages.
Reader: Dear Mr. Mayer,
You hit it out of the park with your coverage on hometown heroes of Kern County.
It is a superlative piece of journalism bringing to light the local men who served for us all. (There were women, too.)
We appreciate the reprinting letters of remembrances of WWII and V-J Day. We can all learn from these primary sources of history.
— Gratefully, Steve and Kay Nowatzki
Reader: I was born in 1935 and was a kid during the war. It was a totally different world in those days, in which everyone was working toward the same goal.
Following the war in magazines and books of the time helped spur my lifelong love of reading, and writing.
Great story, Steve!
— Bill Deaver
Peterson: Thank you, Steve and Kay, and Bill, for your kind words for the stories reporter Steven Mayer reported and wrote for our special section, "Remembering World War II 75 years later: The Bakersfield Californian looks back on its hometown heroes," which published Wednesday.
Most striking to me in this section was the two-page list of Kern County residents killed, captured or missing in action in World War II. Families in Kern County sacrificed so much. As Steven pointed out in a story published Thursday about a ceremony held Wednesday at the Kern Veterans Memorial, nearly 700 Kern residents lost their lives in the war, "a stunning casualty rate for a county whose largest city hadn't yet reached 30,000 residents."
If you missed it, or want to read even more stories about the men and women who served in the war, please go to Bakersfield.com. We published more there than fit in the special section in print.
Peterson: There won't be a Parade magazine in this Sunday's newspaper. This isn't an error; a few times a year, usually on Sundays attached to holiday weekends, Parade does not publish. So look forward to the Sept. 13 issue, which highlights 20 must-watch TV shows and movies.