In case you decided to read this post purely to find out why the hell an American woman stole candy from a blind baby, sorry to disappoint you. This post actually has nothing to do with that. But, if said woman had indeed stole candy from a blind baby…or any baby for that matter… would her nationality be relevant to the story? That’s what this post is about – the relevance or lack thereof of mentioning nationalities in news headlines. Check out these actual headlines from various papers here in South Africa:
These are real headlines from real newspaper articles. I mention only South Africa articles simply because I live here but this is common practice worldwide. Every time I see a report like this, be it in print media, digital media, or on TV, it makes me cringe. Why is it necessary to mention people’s nationalities in such reports? What does the perpetrator being Zimbabwean have to do with the fraudulent act he committed? Am I the only one who finds this kind of reporting to be more harmful than it is helpful? And the thing is, it’s never the nationalities of locals that’s mentioned, it’s always the nationality of foreigners…as if to say “hey, look what they’re coming to our country to do.”
I’ve had this discussion with some friends in the past and their argument is usually that the report is mentioning nationality simply for descriptive purposes. But if you are mentioning the nationality as a mere description, why stop there? Why not mention religion, qualifications, height, or even sexual orientation? Why don’t the above headlines read:
“Tall, dark, Nigerian Muslim drug dealers released on bail” or “Short, gay Zimbabwean Christian in court for fraud”
Tall and gay are descriptive right? But they are never mentioned. Why? Because they are irrelevant to the story. I’m not saying let’s not mention nationality in news reports. I’m saying let’s stick to information that is relevant. If the article is talking about immigration, then nationality is very relevant. If the article is talking about athletes at the Olympic Games who have been busted for using performance enhancing drugs, then nationality is very relevant.
Maybe journalists have a good reason why they are so eager to mention nationalities of foreigners in their stories. Is it something that’s taught in journalism school? Is there some sort of journalistic or scientific reason for doing it? Do tell because, from where I’m sat, it just looks like subtle fodder for the xenophobic inclined folks among us.
**** Just scribbling my Zimbabwean thoughts ****