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Working with Words

Posted: Mar 12, 2011 10:40 AM by Sarah Hill and Robert Kessler
Updated: Mar 12, 2011 10:40 AM

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Our storytelling process involves a lot of research and when topics we cover are unfamiliar, mistakes are a possibility. As journalists, we often report on topics outside our personal expertise and no matter how detailed the fact checking, we don't always get the terminology right. A viewer named Jennifer Smith was offended by our usage of the term "alligator-infested" last week in a national story from Florida.

"Alligators and snakes, herps, are demonized a lot in society, and I feel like when things are demonized it makes it easier to do harm to them, thoughtlessly," Smith said.

When terminology comes up in our coverage, we always reference experts or guides to make sure we're using the right words and phrases. In this case we picked up the story from the NBC network database where the Today Show and MSNBC also used the same term.

"While we try not to offend anyone, animal rights activists or whomever they may be, we don't always succeed," KOMU 8 Today anchor Megan Murphy said. "We take stories from other affiliates, obviously that story wasn't in our viewing area, so we took it from another affiliate. MSNBC actually reported that story as alligator-infested, so that's what we did. And like I said, we do try to not offend anyone, sometimes it's impossible."

Journalists rely on expert sources to provide us with accurate information and deliver that to our viewers.

"I think maybe a better word to use would have been alligator-inhabited," Smith said.

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