The Toronto Star normally doesn’t identify the “race, colour or religion” of a person “unless it is pertinent to the story.” So, in two recent cases where race was made apparent to readers, Toronto Star public editor, Kathy English, was asked what was going on.
Those cases fit into the Star‘s exception to the rule category, English explained.
The Star‘s “Newsroom Policy and Journalist Standards Guide” from 2011 dictates, in its “racial references” section:
“Generally, as stated in the Star ’s policy on fairness, no reference, direct or indirect, should be made to a person’s race, colour or religion unless it is pertinent to the story.
“However, in the case of a missing person or a criminal suspect at large, there may be justification for identifying race or colour as part of a full description that provides as many details as possible. Avoid vague descriptions that serve no purpose.
“At times, a group may make race a public issue. If a person is shot by police while committing a crime, for example, the group may claim that the shooting was racially motivated. In such cases, the person’s race is relevant to the news.”
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In one case, the Star included a photo of a man suspected of sexual assault but didn’t include his race. In another case, the Star included the race of a man suspected of a shooting in its story but didn’t publish a photo, which English said was “likely because it was a blurry, poor quality image.”
“Our policy on racial references makes some exception in the case of a missing person or a criminal suspect at large,” English explained. “In such cases, the policy states, ‘there may be justification for identifying race or colour as part of a full description that provides as many details as possible. Avoid vague descriptions that serve no purpose.'”
Typically, the Star gets this type of information from police releases, with the Toronto police providing descriptions, including race, if there are no photos available.
For comparison’s sake, the Associated Press’ stylebook dictates, concerning race: