In a Friday email to subscribers listing updated entries for its style manual, the Associated Press is urging journalists to avoid making references in news stories that suggest there are only two sexes in the human race.
The term “gender,” the AP Stylebook says, is “[n]ot synonymous with sex.”
“Gender refers to a person’s social identity while sex refers to biological characteristics,” the style guide explains.
“Not all people fall under one of two categories for sex or gender, according to leading medical organizations, so avoid references to both, either or opposite sexes or genders as a way to encompass all people. When needed for clarity or in certain stories about scientific studies, alternatives include men and women, boys and girls, males and females.”
The Stylebook issued further guidance for use of pronouns under an entry named “they, them, their.” Those third-person plural pronouns are preferred by some transgender or gender fluid individuals who say they are not comfortable with traditional male or female personal pronouns.
For its part, the AP advises writers that while “[i]n most cases, a plural pronoun should agree in number with the antecedent …. when alternative wording is overly awkward and clumsy” it may be permissible to use they, them, or their to refer to an individual.
“However, rewording usually is possible and always is preferable” because “[c]larity is a top priority” in news reporting and “gender-neutral use of a singular they is unfamiliar to many readers.”
The news wire then added there is a linguistic line it’s drawn with personal pronouns. “We do not use other gender-neutral pronouns such as xe or ze.”
This is not the first time the AP has changed its style manual in light of changing cultural values on sexuality.
In 2013 the news wire added an entry for “husband, wife” in its style manual in light of the growing legal recognition of same-sex marriage. (Source)
The most up-to-date version of the Stylebook for that entry now reads, “Regardless of sexual orientation, husband for a man or wife for a woman is acceptable in all references to individuals in any legally recognized marriage. Spouse or partner may be used if requested.”
Aside from gender identity and LGBT-related matters, the AP email also alerted subscribers to a new entry related to the phenomenon of “fake news.”
“The term fake news may be used in quotes or as shorthand for the modern phenomenon of deliberate falsehoods or fiction masked as news circulating on the internet,” the AP explains. “However, do not label as fake news specific or individual news items that are disputed.”
“If fake news is used in a quote, push for specifics about what is meant. Alternative wording includes false reports, incorrect reports, unverified reports, questionable reports, disputed reports or false reporting, depending on the context.”
The new style guidelines are effective immediately, with the AP Stylebook Online already updated accordingly, the email explained.