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The Oxford Blue: Reporting guidelines

This document is a guide to sensitive and balanced reporting at The Oxford Blue and all of its subsidiaries. This document should be used as a tool by writers and editorial staff to improve and inform their writing and editing.

Our role as a student newspaper is to support writers and editors to practice and hone their journalism skills, which is why we have developed these reporting guidelines. 

If you are ever unsure about the style or content of an article, please speak to the Editor-in-chief or a member of the Senior Editorial team.

This is a living document and written collaboratively, consulting relevant stakeholders and representative organisations. The section on avoiding transphobia has been developed by the Oxford LGBTQ+ Society Trans reps and External Publicity Officer. The section on anti-Semitism has been developed by Jewish journalists, using UNESCO and OSCE advice.The document is available to download as a pdf here. A plaintext version is below.

This document covers:

Content Warnings

Racism & anti-Semitism

Transphobia

Sexual assault

Student deaths

Disability

Medical advice

News vs opinion

Content Warnings

The Oxford Blue uses content warnings (CW:) where appropriate. The newspaper must not overuse content warnings where they are not necessary (e.g CW: toys, games) or trivialise them.

Racism & Anti-Semitism

Source: IPSO Editors’ Code

UNESCO and OSCE: Addressing anti-Semitism through Education: a guide for policymakers. 

The Oxford Blue does not publish articles where the author expresses racist or anti-Semitic views, including but not exclusive to Holocaust denial, use of anti-Semitic or racist tropes, consideration of Jewish conspiracy theories, and colonialism.

Details of an individual’s race or religion must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Avoid giving racists and anti-Semites publicity. If you are covering an event in which an racist or anti-Semitic speaker is involved, do not quote their arguments at length. If the individual or organisation is small, do not report on their business if it is not explicitly relevant to an Oxford audience as it will give them unwarranted publicity. Do report on protests against such speakers or organisations if they are happening within Oxford. 

Specifics to anti-Semitism:

United Kingdom adopted definition of anti-Semitism:

“Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” (United Kingdom FCO, 2016)

“Anti-Semitic ideologies, paradoxically, portray Jews as all-powerful, conspiring and duplicitous; as an eliminatory hatred towards “the Jews”, conceived as a symbol for something that they are not. In all cases, anti-Semitism has been rooted in historical allegations of Jewish cunning, conspiracy, immorality, wealth, power and hostility to others, dating back to tropes popularized in medieval religious texts.” (UNESCO and OSCE, 2018)

Transphobia

These guidelines were developed by Oxford LGBTQ+ Society Trans reps and the External Publicity Officer. 

  • Use of term “sex” instead of “gender” (ie “sex discrimination”, “sex-based rights”, etc). This technique is commonly used to exclude trans people from discussion, and to deny the discrimination faced by trans people. It also implies that trans women aren’t women, as they are not biologically female. Solution: replace “sex” with “gender” wherever possible.
  • Biological sex. A simple fact-check will show that there is an incredible level of complexity and subjectivity in defining ‘biological sex’. Solution: extensive fact-check to take into account the nuances of such definitions.
  • “Most people are cis, so this article will focus on cis experiences“ and similar reasoning. While this may be well-intentioned, it comes off as excluding minorities simply because they are a minority. Solution: find a different reason (eg the author’s lived experience is that of a cis person, and so they will write from that perspective, etc).
  • Lack of clarity regarding accusations of transphobia (or other prejudice). This is especially common when referring to organisations that advocate for “women’s sex based rights”. Frequently, newspapers will say something along the lines of “this organisation claims it is simply advocating for a debate about sex-based rights; critics say they are transphobic” but do not explain how or why they are considered to be transphobic. This form of writing can give the appearance of bias in favour of such organisations, even when none is present, due to the lack of justification for the criticism. Solution: add a phrase of similar length explaining the justification for the criticism; eg “critics say that such debate is used to disguise transphobic narratives”, etc.
  • Use of “female” and “male”. These generally refer to biological sex, and therefore are sometimes used to exclude trans people from consideration. The implied binary also excludes intersex individuals. Solution: where possible, replace with gender-related terms (women/men, cis/trans, etc). Most specific are phrases such as “people with vaginas” or “people with penises”. These terms are gender- and sex- neutral, instead referring only to the anatomical feature whose function is being discussed, making them highly applicable to situations that would otherwise reference biological sex, such as use of toilets.
  • Use of “he/she” or gendered pronouns when someone’s gender is unknown. Whenever possible, ask for someone’s pronouns and honorifics, or use the ones they refer to themselves as. When in doubt, “Mx” is the gender-neutral honorific, and “they” the gender neutral pronoun.

Sexual assault

Source: IPSO: Guidance for reporting on sexual offences

The Oxford Blue believes that all survivors of sexual assault and sexual violence have a right to be heard.

Legally, the newspaper must consider avoidance of libel and contempt of court, which are particularly important if there is an ongoing police investigation or an arrest or charge has been made. The Blue supports all survivors if they make the choice to pursue legal justice, and must not interfere with court proceedings.

“All victims of sexual offences, including children, are automatically guaranteed anonymity for life from the moment they make an allegation that they are the victim of a sexual offence. A victim is guaranteed anonymity even when someone else accuses the defendant of the offence. Victims can choose to waive their right to anonymity, without the consent of the court, so long as they are over 16. The consent must be in writing. Victims under 16 cannot waive their right to anonymity.” (IPSO, 2018)

The Blue will publish pieces written by survivors of first person accounts of personal experiences. All authors writing on similar topics shall have the choice of anonymity. 

An incident of rape or sexual assault may be reported on if it is in the public interest and important to hold individuals or institutions to account. Each story will be deliberated on a case-by-case basis. The anonymity of the victim must be protected at all costs, unless the victim has waived their right to anonymity.

Any article involving discussion of sexual assault should provide relevant end-links for organisations that help those affected by sexual assault and sexual violence.

Student deaths

Source: Samaritans Media Guidelines

The Oxford Blue does not report on student deaths as a general rule, unless specifically requested by their family. The Blue does report on vigils, memorials and commemorative events. Such articles must always be approved by the Editor-in-chief and include appropriate content warnings.

Links should always be provided for relevant counselling services. If the death is related to mental health, relevant end-links should also be provided for this.

Research shows links between media coverage of suicide and increases in suicidal behaviour.If an article must make reference to a suicide or a family member has requested an article be run, the Samaritans provide the following advice to reporters:

  1. Leave out technical details about the method of suicide. 
  2. Language matters. Avoid dramatic headlines and terms such as ‘suicide epidemic’ or ‘hot spot’. 
  3. Include references to support groups and places where suicidal people can find help.
  4. Avoid dramatic or sensationalist pictures or video. Refrain from including content from suicide notes. 
  5. Treat social media with particular caution and refrain from mentioning websites or networks that promote or glamorise suicide.
  6. Young people are especially vulnerable to negative suicide coverage. Do not give undue prominence to photographs of a young person who has died and avoid repeated use of images such as galleries. 
  7. Avoid speculation about the ‘trigger’ for a suicide.
  8. Try not to give a story undue prominence, for example as a front page splash.
  9. Don’t brush over the complex realities of suicide and its impact on those left behind. Remember that people bereaved by suicide are often vulnerable and are more likely to take their own lives than the general population. 
  10. Use statistics with caution. Check with Samaritans or the relevant national statistical agency to make sure you have the most recent data and are comparing like with like.

Disability

Source: Government Office for Disability Issues

  • The word ‘disabled’ is a description not a group of people. Use ‘disabled people’ not ‘the disabled’ as the collective term.
  • When possible, ask the source how he or she would like to be described. If the source is not available or unable, ask a trusted family member or relevant organization that represents people with disabilities.
  • Refer to a disability only when it’s relevant to the story and when the diagnosis comes from a reputable source, such as a medical professional or other licensed professional.
  • Avoid made-up words like “diversability” and “handicapable” unless using them in direct quotes or to refer to a movement or organization.
  • Include people with disabilities in stories that aren’t explicitly about disability.  
  • Broaden your coverage of stories about disability. 

Online accessibility

Source: Oxford SU Disabilities Campaign Accessibility Guidelines

Images on The Oxford Blue website should:

  • Should include an image description written in the caption for the image
  • Should have appropriate alt text where the website capabilities allow or the image should be marked as decorative
  • Where images include extensive text, a plain text version should be provided

Videos on The Oxford Blue should:

  • Ensure that they have accurate captions (automatically generated captions are often inaccurate, but can be overwritten/edited)
  • You may want to include an audio description if appropriate
  • You may also wish to provide a plain-text transcript of the video

Medical advice

Source: Reuters Institute paper Improving the Quality of Health Journalism: When Reliability meets Engagement.

Health journalism has an impact on people’s behaviour and health, and in the worst cases it is a matter of life and death. Health journalists bear a responsibility to focus on scientific accuracy — or in many cases, on its absence.

The Blue strives to report on the latest evidence-based medical research, especially that coming from laboratories at the University of Oxford. References should be given to the published paper or source.

However, The Oxford Blue is not in a position to give medical advice. Writers should not give guidelines for dealing with medical conditions or mental health disorders unless they are a qualified medical specialist working in the field. They should instead reflect on their own experiences and refer and link to NHS guidelines.

The Reuters Institute suggests the following:

  • Good health journalism takes a rigorous look at existing research. Put the facts into context, look at the evidence, and evaluate the scientific validity.
  • Combining reliable and engaging health journalism. A mixture of good storytelling and evidence-based reporting works best — it does not have to be boring, but avoid confusing headlines such as “this food causes cancer.”

News vs opinion

Source: New York Times

News is news and opinion is opinion. Do not report quotes or opinions as statements of fact. The Oxford Blue has no political slant, and we do not publish news articles with a bias. Be aware of implicit biases and potential libel. All potentially contentious news must go through the Editor-in-chief before publication. 

If there is an opinion expressed within a news article, for example within a quote from a senior government minister, the author should also seek to publish the other side of the argument if there is any contention with the basis of the opinion. The Oxford Blue should not publish factually incorrect statements. If incorrect information is published, the author should seek to remedy the mistake immediately, publish a notice of correction when appropriate, and notify the Editor-in-chief if the incorrect report is potentially libellous.