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Changing names

Carlos Carmonamedina for NPR Public Editor

Soon after it was launched in 2006, Twitter began to have an outsized role in the news. It was a place journalists both scoured for and floated ideas, and where news consumers argued about the significance of recent developments. Hashtags like #MeToo grew into movements that eventually permeated American culture.

Since Elon Musk purchased Twitter in 2022 and changed its name to X in 2023, much is different. Journalists have documented these developments, lamented them and accused Musk of ruining a good thing.

Now, when news media refer to the platform, they often write "X, formerly known as Twitter." That prompted one NPR listener to wonder when journalists will stop doing that and just call it "X." After all, there is a well-accepted principle in journalism that one should refer to people and countries and organizations in the manner they request.

Similarly, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has asked that people not refer to their church as the Mormon church or the LDS church. In 2019, The Associated Press Stylebook updated its entry to note that request; however, AP Style encourages writers to connect the more formal name to the familiar reference, "When using the church's full name, include a short explanation such as, the church, widely known as the Mormon church ..."

With both X and the church, clarity drives the language that journalists use. When the terms come up in a news story, journalists want to make sure the audience knows exactly what organization they are talking about.

It could be that the verbal nod to the past is really a form of slow-walking a requested language change. Read on to see what we learned about NPR's language around X.

We also spotlight a story about the impact spotty telecommunications in Gaza have on the ability to deliver aid to those who need it.

FROM THE INBOX

Here are a few quotes from the Public Editor's inbox that resonated with us. Letters are edited for length and clarity. You can share your questions and concerns with us through the NPR Contact page.

When will NPR just say 'X'?

Maren Gimpel wrote on Jan. 8: What does the Style Guide say about companies that change their names? Twitter changed its name to X over six months ago and I still hear folks say versions of "X, formerly known as Twitter." Don't we all know at this point what X is? How long do news outlets plan to keep this explanation?

After Elon Musk rebranded Twitter to X last summer, NPR standards editor Tony Cavin sent out a guidance memo to the newsroom.

"As we all know Elon Musk has decided to change the name of the social media platform he owns from 'Twitter' to 'X,'" Cavin said in the early August email. "We will follow AP's guidelines as outlined below and refer to the platform going forward as 'X, formerly known as Twitter.' We can still refer to posts on that platform as 'tweets' the verb form of which is 'to tweet.'"

AP notes that this guidance is specifically on first reference to the platform. "Also acceptable is phrasing such as posted on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter. On later references to the platform: the X platform or X," the guidance reads.

Since then, NPR journalists have referred to X in this way, as have many other newsrooms like The New York Times and The Washington Post. We found many examples on NPR's website.

In an email, Cavin told us the recommendation to say "X, formerly known as Twitter," still holds.

"At some point we'll stop. I can't tell you when that will be but it's likely not far off," he said. "While the person who wrote you seems to think it's no longer necessary, I think many people still refer to the company as Twitter and benefit from the clarification. I am not aware of any discussions on this, and suspect as people become more used to referring to the company as X it may wither and die on its own. If I need to put out guidance at some point I will."

This decision is made with the listeners in mind. Audience members who spend a lot of time online or who use X are likely to be accustomed to the new name. But it still takes many people a beat or two to remember that Twitter is now X, a single letter that requires context. For their sake, the reminder is helpful. As long as the platform is still widely referred to as Twitter, it will make sense for the former name to be noted in close proximity to its replacement. In fact, even X does this. Their email notifications come from "X (formerly Twitter)." When a journalist says "X, formerly known as Twitter," they are trying to be both precise and helpful to their audience. — Amaris Castillo

SPOTLIGHT ON

The Public Editor spends a lot of time examining moments where NPR fell short. Yet we also learn a lot about NPR by looking at work that we find to be compelling and excellent journalism. Here we share a line or two about the pieces where NPR shines.

Gaza's communication blackout

NPR journalists have worked to tell numerous stories about the human impact of the Israel-Hamas war, particularly in Gaza, where many people remain without basic necessities. For Morning Edition, senior editor and correspondent Geoff Brumfiel reported on an issue making matters worse for aid agencies trying to communicate with those in need: the lack of internet or cellphone service. The piece has both audio and written components, and NPR's Becky Sullivan, Eve Guterman and Abu Bakr Bashir contributed reporting. At the time the story aired on Jan. 18, Gaza had gone nearly a week without internet and cellphone service. The story explained the toll of the conflict through the lens of a serious ongoing problem. — Emily Barske Wood

The Office of the Public Editor is a team. Editor Kayla Randall, reporters Amaris Castillo and Emily Barske Wood, and copy editor Merrill Perlman make this newsletter possible. Illustrations are by Carlos Carmonamedina. We are still reading all of your messages on Facebook, Twitter and from our inbox. As always, keep them coming.

Kelly McBride
NPR Public Editor
Chair,
Craig Newmark Center for Ethics & Leadership at the Poynter Institute

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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