NPR, WAMU limit use of Washington football team’s name

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An NPR editor has recommended that network journalists avoid referring to the Washington Redskins by their name and should instead use “Washington” or “the team” as much as possible.

Standards & Practices Editor Mark Memmott provided the guidance Oct. 10 amid a growing backlash against a name that is a racial slur. Memmott said he is not calling for an outright ban, but that use of the name should be curtailed under the organization’s policy regarding potentially offensive language.

“The team’s name is the name and our job is to report on the world as it is, not to take a position or become part of the story,” Memmott wrote. “But, our policy on potentially offensive language states that ‘as a responsible broadcaster, NPR has always set a high bar on use of language that may be offensive to our audience. Use of such language on the air [and online] has been strictly limited to situations where it is absolutely integral to the meaning and spirit of the story being told.’”

NPR Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos, who had earlier made a similar recommendation, supported Memmott’s guidance. While NPR may not often report on the team, he said, the change in policy could have a major impact on media.

“To my mind, this is in fact a very significant change, not only for NPR, but for the mainstream media in general,” Schumacher-Matos wrote. “NPR becomes the first large national news organization to pull back on the use of a name that is a slur to many Native Americans.”

Following NPR’s decision, WAMU-FM in Washington announced Thursday that it planned to follow the guidelines and refrain from using the name whenever possible. The station said it would not ban the name altogether but limit its use only to when it would be “integral” to the story.

“[T]he name itself offends some of our listeners,” WAMU said. “Mindful of our listeners, WAMU will focus on using alternative names when we can.”

NPR and WAMU join a growing number of media outlets that have banned or limited use of the team’s name. The Washington Post’s op-ed page has banned its use, and Slate announced in August that it would abandon the term.  Other outlets avoiding the name include the Portland Oregonian, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Buffalo News and the Philadelphia Daily News.