Hello friends,

Happy spring (if you’re reading this from the Northern Hemisphere). It’s been an eventful week, as usual, and we’ll try to tackle a few key stories in this here newsletter. First up: this week saw multiple days of hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson and the coverage was… something. Plus: as war continues in Ukraine, we must take a look at both the individual stories being told and the larger picture they compose.

Wishing you warmth and light today, wherever you are.

Talk soon,
Aubrey Nagle
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Headline Check ✅

Here we analyze and reframe a news headline to demonstrate how this important real estate can be optimized for user experience.

A hearing for a U.S. Supreme Court nominee — which literally has two partisan sides and entails a lot of one-on-one conversation — can quite easily be framed by headlines as a head-to-head battle. That makes any bias pretty clear when comparing different framings side by side. That this week’s hearing has been that of Ketanji Brown Jackson who, if confirmed, will be the first Black woman to serve as a Supreme Court justice, makes it even more important to get right.

Cruz presses Jackson on critical race theory in tense questioning

The headline above, from The Hill, describes Sen. Ted Cruz’s part in the hearing. The word “presses” connotes seeking hidden information, like an interrogator might, implying Jackson has something to hide. Emphasizing “critical race theory” (without quotes) implies it was a legitimate thing for Cruz to be asking about — with CRT being a legal framework to begin with that might have been the case if not for the bastardization of the phrase I’ve described in previous issues. And finally calling the whole endeavor “tense,” a vague assessment of the environs, puts culpability for that tension on both Cruz’s and Jackson’s shoulders.

Ketanji Brown Jackson faces renewed Republican attacks in Senate grilling

In reality, any tension or agitation during the hearings has been the fault of the GOP who, by many accounts, raised the temperature in the room while Jackson remained calm and patient. The Guardian headline above frames those events in a much more straight-forward and honest way. This construction places Jackson squarely as the recipient of the “attacks” perpetuated by Senate Republicans without equivocating.

One Good Tweet 🐥

It’s just what it sounds like: a good Tweet that we think everyone should see!

NYT: racial overtone CNN: racial undertone Politico: racially charged WaPo: racially tinged

Reporter Christopher Ingraham helpfully gathered some examples of evasive language from major media orgs this week regarding the tenor of the GOP’s questioning of Jackson. Let’s tease out the hypothetical decision-making here. If the parts of these hearings in question were overtly about race more broadly, the newsrooms would not use phrases like “racially tinged” as they’d be justified in directly referring to them as “about race” or some such. So they clearly mean something else.

What they mean is some of those questioning Jackson did so in a way that was clearly antagonistic toward Jackson because of her race. That’s quite literally the definition of racism. So, why not use “racist” instead?

Some excuses you might hear in a newsroom are that it’s a “strong word” or even that it describes a kind of intent that journalists can’t know. But if your newsroom policy relies on someone admitting they are being racist before calling their actions racist, you’ll be waiting a long time — while denying what everyone else can see with their own eyes. For the record, even the Associated Press Stylebook advises against such euphemisms.

A Link to Make You Think 🤔

Our must-read of the week.

20 days in Mariupol: The team that documented the city’s agony

Bearing witness to tragedy so that we can act collectively to end and prevent further harm is part of our responsibility as global citizens. This Associated Press photography team’s up close and personal photo essay of their time in Mariupol as Russia continued attacking Ukraine is deeply important. Warning: as documentation of war, it does include graphic images.

Read the Story

Questions with Answers 📫

Each week we’ll seek to answer a question facing the news industry about language, style, or framing — including answering questions sent to our inbox! Need advice? Send a note to and your question could be featured in a future issue.

Question: Can or should journalists and those writing on Russia’s attacks on Ukraine use terms like “war crimes” or “genocide” to describe them?

Answer: This question has been raised since Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described Russia’s attacks on his country as genocide earlier this month. Terms like “genocide” and even “insurrection” or “coup” have both colloquial definitions (what the public understands the term to mean) and legal definitions. Due to their duty to accuracy and also legal liability, news organizations will often only use such terms as their legal definition rather than wade into a grey area.

Thus, despite what the court of public opinion may deem Russia’s attacks, you’ll likely see news organizations only use “genocide” or “war crimes” in the context of quotes from world leaders until direct declarations or charges are made. For instance, yesterday the U.S. formally declared that Russian troops have committed war crimes.

The legal definition of genocide originates in international law, and if the U.S.’s recent acknowledgement of Myanmar's genocide of the Rohingya — nearly five years later — is any indication, its application to Ukraine may be far away. Philip Gourevitch at the New Yorker, however, recently made the case that calling Russia’s actions anything else, like “atrocities,” diminishes the enormity of Putin’s goals when time is of the essence to save lives.

It’s crucial that newsrooms use language that meets the moment and helps audiences understand our collective problems. That requires serious consideration of alternatives that both preserve journalistic ethics and accuracy and respect the urgency of the challenges ahead.