Anyone who goes to J-school knows that the Associated Press Stylebook is considered the news industry’s bible for grammar and language. When AP makes revisions to reflect evolving cultural norms, people listen.

Julie Drizin, director of the Journalism Center on Children and Families (JCCF), contacted AP Stylebook editors to request a new entry cautioning against using the term “illegitimate child.” Some in the media have used this expression when describing babies born to famous people who are unmarried or caught having extramarital affairs.

“My own personal (and journalistic) ethics tell me this term is not only outdated, but damaging to kids who are branded with a negative identity label for something beyond their control,” Drizin wrote in an email to AP.

David Minthorn of AP’s Stylebook team replied, “It’s a good point. We’re planning an entry in the 2012 edition of the AP Stylebook to discourage use of the term for a child of unmarried parents.”

AP has already updated its online stylebook to reflect the change. Both the New York Times and Washington Post already tell their reporters not to call children “illegitimate.”

“I’m hoping this small change inspires sensitivity and awareness in newsrooms across the country, especially in broadcast media. Children are listening,” added Drizin, a veteran public radio producer and editor.

A growing number of children in the U.S. are born to unmarried parents. The Centers for Disease Control reports 40 percent of newborns fit that category.


American Journalism Review