Monday, October 24, 2005

Age Beat Online takes language survey

Paul Kleyman of the Journalists Exchange on Aging emailed a survey to many folks this week: “Seniors,” “senior citizens,” “elders,” “aging boomers,” “50 and older,” “midlifers,” “older people,” “old folks,” the “chronologically gifted”—what terms for those we write about in coving issues in aging do reporters prefer? What do your readers and audio/video audiences favor—or dislike? The Journalists Exchange on Aging hopes to enlist your help in developing the first national Journalists Language Guide on Aging. Unlike most such usage guides, though, ABO guide not only will reflect the thoughts of experts but also will incorporate the feedback of those who discuss and describe older people and issues in aging on a regular basis—you, the writers who cover aging.

HOW ABOUT THEM BOOMERS? The last JEoA survey on media uses of language was in 1997. What has changed since then is that the boomers are eight years older, and more within the age-beat sphere than ever. For the first time, in the year 2005, a majority of boomers edged past 50. And in January 2006, the first boomers will turn 60. So what will become the terms of art for the ageless generation—and for their longevous parents? This concern especially animated the JEoA meeting during the 2005 ASA-NCOA Joint Conference in Philadelphia, and we decided to see what ABO readers have to say. And with the increasing interest in the age boom, we decided to use your responses as the basis of a guide for all reporters. This will not be written in granite but will be a working document open to discussion and updating over time.

Please take a few minutes by our OCT. 31 DEADLINE (Halloween) to answer the short list of questions below. Just paste the survey below in an email and send to Paul Kleyman.

Thank you for participating,

Paul Kleyman, Editor, Age Beat Online
Steve Slon, Editor, AARP the Magazine


1. In the past year, have you participated in a discussion about terms preferred or not preferred for middle-aged or older people? Yes / No: ______

Indicate which entity or entities you discussed this with: colleagues at your news organizations, colleagues elsewhere in journalism, friends, family members, members of your audience.

2. What one or two terms for midlife or older people do your readers or audience members seem to prefer to others?

3. What one or two terms do you use for midlife or older people do your readers or audience members seem to dislike the most?

4. In the past two years has any reader/audience member formally or informally objected to a term or terms your news organization has applied to middle-aged or older people?

If so, briefly note the word or phrase in question and note the nature of the objection.

5a. FOR STAFF JOURNALISTS ONLY: Does your news organization include references to preferred usage of terms related to the age of those in articles in its official style sheet? Please recall these rules and quote them if you can.

5b. FOR FREELANCERS: Have you had to heed style variations among your clients? Yes / No: _______

Briefly cite key differences among them in preferred or abjured terminology, and note whether the media outlet was national or local/regional (names of outlets are optional).

6. Have you noted any words or phrases that indirectly convey positive or negative connotations or stereotypes related to aging, such as “feisty?” What are these words and usages?

Have you or your news organization noted (or plan to note in the coming year) these connotative or stereotyping words in its style guide or acted in any way to avoid such usages in your copy or that of the news outlet? Yes / No: ___


7. Briefly, please add any observations comments about what journalists should consider in their word choices about age.

8. If you could recommend one word to replace ‘senior’ in the journalism vocabulary, it would be ___________. ” (If you don’t have a problem with “senior,” please indicate this.

9. If you could recommend one word to replace “boomer” or “baby boomer” in the journalism vocabulary, it would be ___________. ” (If you don’t have a problem with “senior,” please indicate this.)

10. Please add any additional comments you would like to offer.

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