Jonathan Higbee's picture

The New York Times Grapples With Reporting On Chelsea Manning

Many complaints were lobbed the New York Times' way when earlier today a report appearing on the publication's website continued to use masculine pronouns when referring to Pfc. Chelsea Manning. In an attempt at transparency, the Gray Lady has gone public with its editorial handling of Manning's latest headlines. 

Margaret Sullivan writes in the Times' Opinion section: 

Susan Wessling, the deputy editor who supervises The Times’s copy editors, told me that there are two important considerations. “We want to respect the preferences of the subject,” she said, “and we want to provide clarity for readers.”

Toward that end, she said, “We’ll probably use more words than less.” In other words, The Times will explain the change in stories.

“We can’t just spring a new name and a new pronoun” on readers with no explanation, she said. She noted the importance in the stylebook entry of the words “unless a former name is newsworthy or pertinent,” which certainly applies here.

An article on The Times’s Web site on Thursday morning on the gender issue continued to use the masculine pronoun and courtesy title. That, said the associate managing editor Philip B. Corbett, will evolve over time.

It’s tricky, no doubt. But given Ms. Manning’s preference, it may be best to quickly change to the feminine and to explain that — rather than the other way around.