The Beacon Style Guide is a living document that establishes rules for referring to the people and places in Beacon stories. Each entry is crafted by Beacon staff with the specific intention of promoting human dignity and reader clarity in journalism and community engagement.
Any staff member may propose a new entry to the Style Guide, but it must be presented to the team for feedback and approval. The process of maintaining The Beacon Style Guide provides an editorial and cultural framework for discussions about Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging.
The Guide augments The Beacon’s use of the Associated Press Stylebook and provides word choice where the AP’s book is silent. Some entries intentionally deviate from AP style. Thorough rationales are provided for all entries.
Rule: Avoid flippant use of terms like lame, dumb, deaf, gay, crazy, insane, crippled, schizophrenic, etc., or other terms that may turn descriptors and medical conditions into euphemisms for something else. In the case of a direct quote that includes these, preference is for paraphrasing or selecting other quotes to get across the point.
Ex. “Fell on deaf ears,” “blind spot,” “went crazy”
Rationale: We strive not to use slurs or stigmatize anyone, especially marginalized communities. Disabilities and mental health conditions are not jokes or metaphors. Ableist language justifies discriminatory practices.
Rule: Follow AP style for addresses. Provide addresses for locations in the public interest (ex. stores, community centers, schools) in Kansas City. For private homes or other locations where publishing the exact address could prove dangerous or a violation of privacy (ex. domestic violence shelter), use the name of the city (ex. Blue Springs, North Kansas City,) or the widely recognized neighborhood name (ex. Columbus Park, South Hyde Park). For non-major towns outside of the metro, include a general location descriptor to help readers to get their bearings (ex: The city of Newton in south-central Kansas).
Rationale: Addresses of public buildings and references to city names and areas of town serve reader clarity.
Abortion, pregnancy and reproductive health care
Rule: Follow AP style for abortion-related terms (listed in the AP’s Abortion Topical Guide) relating to gestational age, legislative language and medical terminology. Use specific yet conversational gender-neutral phrasing that accounts for the breadth of people who have gynecological or obstetrical health care needs (see the Trans Journalists’ Association style guide for further guidance). The exception to this would be when directly quoting sources, or if sources self-identify using gendered language. Avoid overly clinical language like “people with uteruses” or “menstruating people” where possible. Some suggested gender-neutral substitutions are:
- Instead of “women’s health care,” use “reproductive health care” when talking about abortion, pregnancy, birth control, menstruation or other related health issues. Or, refer to health care needs by their specific area of practice, such as gynecological care, obstetrical care or pre/post-natal care;
- Instead of “pregnant women,” or “pregnant mothers,” use “pregnant patients,” or “pregnant people,” unless someone self-identifies as a pregnant woman or mother;
- Instead of “feminine hygiene products,” use “menstrual hygiene products,” “or “period products.”
Some medical terms do not have gender-neutral alternatives, for example, maternal-fetal medicine, maternal mortality, etc. In these situations, use whichever standardized term is most appropriate for the context in which it appears.
Rationale: Medically precise terminology avoids repeating misinformation of a highly politicized medical procedure while protecting the dignity of abortion patients. A conversational tone ensures clarity for the reader. Gender-neutral language most accurately reflects who is impacted by policies that would restrict abortion or otherwise impact reproductive health care.
Rule: Use precise language around seeking asylum and refugee status that explains that someone is here for safety, along with legal definitions/explainers. Legally, refugees and asylum seekers are separate categories, but “refugee” can also be used to describe any person fleeing violence. When using the term “refugee,” clarify which definition you are using. Where relevant to the story, explain the differences between asylum and refugee status and the impact on available support and ease of acquiring legal status. As in all cases where anonymity is a consideration, talk to an editor. Avoid terms like “wave” or “influx” that can cause public fear. See immigration
Rationale: Refugees and asylum seekers are fleeing situations of extreme danger. We don’t want to inflict additional trauma on sources or put them or family members in their home country at risk. Identifying someone who has asylum or refugee status could lead to discrimination and hostility in the U.S. or retaliation against relatives at home. Many Americans do not understand the complexities of the immigration system or the disparities immigrants can face in U.S. government support based on their nationality or reasons for leaving their home country. Additional context for situations promotes reader clarity.
Rule: Avoid use of BIPOC to describe communities of color. AP style guide discourages use of the term and recommends people of color. Individuals or organizations may self-identify using the term, but when in use spell it out.
Rationale: Many people are unfamiliar with the phrase BIPOC and it can come off as jargon.
Rule: Avoid the use of the word citizen. Consider residents, people, community or humans.
Rationale: The term “citizen” implies legal citizenship status. Other terms are more inclusive, and likely, more accurate.
Rule: For topics that may frequently trigger heavy emotional responses, include a brief content warning at the top of the story. Examples of topics warranting content warnings include domestic abuse, suicide, sexual assault, the death of a child, abuse, various forms of violence, eating disorders, etc.
Example: This story contains references to and descriptions of domestic and sexual violence. The Beacon has included a resource box with contact information for local support organizations.
Rationale: Content warnings recognize the centrality of trauma as a community issue and give readers a chance to give informed consent before reading potentially triggering material.
Rule: “Deaf” or “hard of hearing” are the preferred terms. Ask sources to self-identify when interviewing. Do not use “hearing impaired” or “hearing impairment” as it describes someone in terms of what they cannot do. Reference the National Center on Disability and Journalism’s Disability Language Style Guide for more information.
Rationale: People who are deaf or hard of hearing may not consider it a disability.
Rule: When relevant to the story, work with subjects to get precise descriptions of disabilities, rather than calling them simply “disabled,” which is very vague. Ask sources with disabilities if they prefer person-first or identity-first language when referring to their disease or disorder. If you can’t ask, default to person-first, ex. “Person who is blind.” Do not “other” people with disabilities, for example, by referring to people without disabilities as “normal.” When disabilities aren’t relevant to the story, leave them out. When disabilities are relevant, make every effort to give a voice to disabled people, not just service providers, caretakers and advocates.
Rationale: Precise descriptions promote source dignity and reader clarity.
Rule: When it is relevant to the story to differentiate between people who have disabilities and people who do not, avoid using terms such as “able-bodied” (See entry on “Disabilities” above.) Instead, the National Center on Disability Journalism recommends using the term “non-disabled,” or the phrases “does not have a disability” or “is not living with a disability.”
Rationale: By using terms that designate one type of person as “normal,” we “other” communities of people with disabilities. There are invisible disabilities and we shouldn’t broadly assign terminology.
Rule: Some people may require intentional accommodations or assistance to tell their stories and participate in our journalism. This may include translation service, parental guidance, caretaker help or assistive technology. It is the newsroom’s responsibility to pay for any expenses.
When interviewing children, consult the Education Writers Association’s reporter guide on the topic. Reporters should obtain parents’ or school permission before interviewing elementary school-aged children in most cases, while interviewing older children (i.e. teenagers and high schoolers) is generally okay in instances where their comments will not make them vulnerable or expose them to criticism. To gauge the potential negative consequences of reporting, try to engage adults in the youth’s life. Comments are particularly fair for use when shared in a public forum. For particularly sensitive topics, consult your editor and the source confidentiality entry of the Style Guide.
Greater care should be given to children when explaining the purpose of an interview, the potential ramifications of a story published with their quotes and names, who might read the story and other considerations. Reporters should make sure children know they may ask for explanations of questions at any time, skip questions, decline to be interviewed or stop the interview for any reason.
Rationale: To include a complete picture of our community, we must make accommodations that give everyone a chance to convey their own story. We aim to remove any barriers that might limit the breadth of our sourcing and the stories we tell for our communities.
Rule: Avoid the use of the word ethnic to describe a person or people. Use specific descriptors for specific communities of people. See also: Race and ethnicity.
Rationale: Precise descriptions promote reader clarity and source dignity. Term centers whiteness as the norm and “ethnic” communities as secondary.
Rule: Use this term cautiously, as it can be a dog whistle with unintentional implications for some readers. It is easily misinterpreted.
Rationale: The term can be associated with practices that take a bias against conservatives. Whenever possible, choose more precise language that explains our journalistic processes, commitment to accuracy and how we use facts to hold leaders accountable. Precise descriptions promote reader clarity.
Rule: Avoid the use of the phrase human trafficking, except as it occurs in a direct quote or organization name. Use more precise words, for example, “commercial sexual exploitation,” “sex trafficking” or “labor trafficking.” We recognize that government agencies and community organizations may use “human trafficking” in their own verbiage, but, as a rule, we do not repeat jargon and we add reader context that improves clarity wherever possible.
As a rule, use the phrase “sex trafficking” when someone has been exploited and “sex work” when talking about a voluntary practice. When the situation is unknown, default to “sex work” to prevent undue stigmatization. Use of the term “prostitution” is only okay when referring to a legal criminal charge or when someone with lived experience uses it as their preferred term.
Avoid the use of the word prostitute, as it has a negative connotation, is criminalized and defines a person by this practice. The age of the person should also be considered in the language to describe them – if someone is a minor, they cannot consent. Also, see survivor/victim entry.
Rationale: The phrase human trafficking is vague and can be used as a dog whistle for many possible things. Human trafficking media sensationalism is connected with, for example, Q Anon and conspiracy theories. Precise language serves reader clarity.
Rule: We allow people to self-identify whenever possible. To describe a community of people living in the U.S. without permission, where it is impossible for them to self-identify, we use “undocumented immigrants.”
We avoid the terms “illegal immigrant” and “illegal alien,” which have negative connotations and do not reflect the complexity of individual situations or of U.S. immigration law.
We never reveal someone’s documentation status without their consent. To be as specific as possible, if it’s relevant to the story, we include precise details of immigration stories, documentation or lack thereof and explain the difficulties of obtaining authorized immigration status in the U.S.
Avoid metaphors, for example, flood language that makes immigration sound like a faceless mass invading. Also, avoid terms such as “chain migration” and “anchor baby” that have been used to mislead the public about how immigration works.
Rationale: We acknowledge the extreme complexity of the decision to migrate and of U.S. immigration law. Depending on the circumstances, being present in the U.S. without authorization may be a civil offense or a misdemeanor. It would be inconsistent to call an immigrant “illegal” due to lack of documentation when we don’t call people who commit other misdemeanors or civil offenses “illegal.” We acknowledge this community could be harmed by journalism and we protect our sources. Immigrants are historically dehumanized and we seek to treat people with dignity. We also seek to avoid terms that have been used to promote misleading narratives about immigrants or how immigration works.
See also Seeking asylum/refugees.
Rule: Use “incarcerated people” or “people in prison” when referring to the population of people who are in prisons. Use “inmate,” “convict,” or “prisoner” in direct quotes or if it’s in the name of an organization, or if it is how a person chooses to describe themselves and their experiences in an interview.
Rationale: Words like “inmate,” “prisoner,” “convict,” “felon” and “offender” reduce human beings to their crimes and further stigmatizes them, says Lawrence Bartley founder and director of “News Inside” of The Marshall Project. Incarcerated person or people is human-centered, not situation- or crime-centered.
Rule: Use the word “murder” with great care and forethought, ensuring that the scenario meets the legal definition of the term. Reporters should consult court records or other official documents. A homicide only becomes a murder after someone is convicted. Ex: Journalists initially called George Zimmerman’s fatal shooting of Travon Martin a “murder.” But until a jury decides, it may turn out to be manslaughter or self-defense, etc.
Rationale: Legal specificity requires that murder only be used if someone is convicted of murder in a court of law. To do otherwise would be libelous and inaccurate.
Rule: Latina, Latino, Latinx and Hispanic should be used when a source self-identifies as such. Specify a person’s nationality when possible and relevant. To not make other assumptions, let them self-identify their respective community. Very often, the nuances of ethnicity will need to be acknowledged in a story. Ex: She may be from Latin America, but identifies as Garifuna before Latina.
Latina, Latino or Latinx should not be used interchangeably with nationalities, regions, cultures or the term Hispanic. “Latin American” may be a gender-neutral alternative to Latinx.
“Hispanic” should be used carefully and, for example, attributed to source documents or source preference where appropriate because the term describes people of Spanish-speaking ancestry and not necessarily Latin American.
Rationale: Whenever possible, promote reader clarity and afford sources opportunities to describe themselves and their communities in distinct ways. “Hispanic” forces readers to make an assumption.
LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning +)
Rule: Use LGBTQ+ in reference to the queer community. The + will be used to represent any expansion of the acronym that includes more identities. Use as an umbrella term in reference to the queer community, not when writing about one specific demographic of people, i.e. bisexual people.
Rationale: This acronym is inclusive of all identities within the queer community.
Medical conditions – fighting/battling/beating/giving up
Rule: Avoid metaphors that present those who recover from illness as warriors and those who succumb as losers. Work with sources to let them define discussion of choices around medical treatment. Also, it may be ableist to assume all people are striving for a cure.
Rationale: These terms may project our own beliefs or societal narratives about illness on story subjects.
Rule: Avoid the use of the word minority in reference to a group of people unless directly quoting.
Rationale: Precise descriptions promote reader clarity and source dignity. Term centers whiteness as the norm and “minority” communities as secondary. The term ignores shifting demographics.
Police – use of force
Rule: Avoid passive voice that erases the accountability of agents. Ex. “An officer-involved shooting occurred” becomes “An officer shot and killed a man.” If you must use the phrase “officer-involved shooting” in a quote, use additional language to clarify what happened.
Rationale: Police use of force is not a passive incident. Passive language can be misleading and obscure an individual’s agency in violent actions. The phrase “officer-involved shooting” is not precise. The Beacon does not repeat police jargon that may be used in press releases or interviews.
Rule: Whenever possible, reporters should ask individuals which pronouns should be used to identify them in a story. If we are unable to ask, avoid pronouns altogether and refer to the individual by their last name on subsequent references.
If a source’s pronouns might not be familiar to our readers, include a sentence explaining that they use these pronouns, rather than that they prefer these pronouns. Example: “Jane Doe, who uses she/they pronouns…”
If a source changes their pronouns and requests a story update, we might go back to a previous story, update pronouns and add a note. “This story has been updated to better reflect a source’s identity.” We should also reach out to other newsrooms who may have republished a story to inform them of the update and request that they do the same.
Rationale: The Beacon uses accurate and precise language to reflect a person’s gender identity for the sake of accuracy, source dignity and reader clarity.
Race and ethnicity
Rule: Allow people to self-identify whenever possible. Only bring up race and ethnicity when it is relevant — if we are presenting a source as related to broader data or if race is a central part of the story. When quoting government data, which may include race and ethnicity, quote their terminology, which is usually based on Census terms.
Rationale: The words race and ethnicity are often misapplied. Readers are not served by imprecise language. It is not accurate to assume a person’s race or ethnicity.
Sexual and domestic violence
Rule: Do not identify people who have experienced sexual or domestic violence without their consent. Do not identify their relationship with an alleged abuser, as that may inadvertently identify who was abused.
Rationale: Identifying information can exacerbate trauma and discourage future disclosures. It does not serve dignity. Source safety is a priority.
Rule: We strive to have information on the record with full attribution to the source. Exceptions to this policy are rare, made only with the approval of the editor, and when the information is critical to the story and can be obtained in no other way or when naming them would likely result in danger, retribution or undue stigma. Further, we must know the source to be reliable and to have access to the information. The reasons for granting anonymity are made clear to the reader. We will, to the best of our ability, identify and report any bias the source may have. The anonymous source must be told that his or her name will be shared with the editor. These tips are helpful when working with a whistleblower source.
Rationale: While source names serve reader clarity, in some situations, using a source’s name without their consent may put them in danger.
Rule: Let sources self-identify as “survivor” or “victim.” If we do not know, refer to them as having experienced a crime, event or medical condition.
Rationale: We cannot prescribe a person’s mental and emotional response to a situation.
Rule: Describe it as an economic and racial dividing line in Kansas City caused by past segregationist housing policies. A description is not always needed, especially when just given as an address.
Rationale: Add context to the history of Troost Avenue by being specific about the racist and segregationist policies of the city’s past.
Rule: Avoid broad use of the word “vulnerable,” as in “vulnerable populations.” It must be paired with context that explains what the person or community is vulnerable to. Vulnerability should be treated as temporary, not something that some people have inherently at their core.
Rationale: The term is not specific. Letting the story source describe their situation in precise terms promotes reader understanding and source dignity. The Beacon aims to give voice to people most directly affected by issues.
Rule: In Kansas City, use “unhoused,” “houseless,” or “person experiencing houselessness” when referring to individuals who do not have access to stable housing. Use person-first language. For example, avoid using homeless as a noun.
Use “homeless” for SEO (because this is likely the term people use when looking for resources), if it is said in a direct quote, if it’s in the name of an organization, as government agencies and research institutions continue to use the word homeless when reporting on people experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity.
Rationale: “Unhoused” or “houseless” place the responsibility of housing on systemic realities, city officials and people in power. Unhoused or houseless also implies a temporary status and does not link a person’s housing status as inherent to their personhood. A “home” does not denote a physical space and anyone can create a home for themselves under a variety of circumstances. Unhoused and houseless instead describes someone as lacking a place to live. “Homeless” could imply that unhoused people are “lesser” for not having a home and places the personal responsibility of not having housing on them.