Army Private Manning's request to no longer be known as "Bradley" is one NPR should respect. We allow people to decide what they want to be called. Manning asks to be called "Chelsea." (This is different from granting anonymity or using a pseudonym for a source, since Private Manning has made public his decision to change his name.)
Manning also asked to be referred to as "she," not "he." That request gets into many questions of defining an individual's gender that we feel are best left to the person in question, so long as we are telling a complete story.
Arguably, the earliest identification any of us is given is whether we're a "boy" or a "girl; a "he" or a "she." Our gender is on our birth certificate, our driver's license, countless forms, and so on.
Does an individual's sense of his or her own identity trump those designations?
Like so many of our journalism colleagues, we've had numerous newsroom conversations over the last two days about how NPR should refer to Manning. Yesterday, we decided to make clear in first reference that Bradley Manning wished to be known as "Chelsea," and we decided to use male-related pronouns on later references. Our thinking has evolved.
We are fond of saying that our style and language use is always open to challenge and subject to change. We also believe that a healthy newsroom is open to debate and reflection. In the past day, we have been challenged by listeners and readers and by colleagues at our member stations and in our newsroom, raising a chorus of views, including requests to rethink, backed up by arguments that make good sense. We have been persuaded.
Going forward, on first reference, please use "Chelsea Manning." For the near term, we should make clear that we are talking about the person who gained public notice as "Bradley Manning." (The need for that clarification will, undoubtedly, diminish as the name Chelsea Manning becomes better known – and as Private Manning fades from routine public prominence.)
On the pronoun front, the best solution is the simplest: If we're going to use a new name for a transgender person, we should change pronouns as appropriate. In this case, we should refer to Manning as a "she." This is a matter of clarity and consistency. We just can't tie ourselves in knots trying to avoid pronouns every time we tell the Manning story.
While we need to have clarity, we also have a responsibility to tell full and complete stories, whether we're reporting on an artist using a stage name or a prominent transgender person making a public request for a name change. If the person's earlier identity is relevant to a story, we have a responsibility to make that clear for our audience.
This promises to be a continuing subject of discussion, which will inevitably come up in the future as others in the public sphere make similar changes. Our internal discussions are vital to our journalism. Anyone who wishes to continue this email thread, please write to me but, as always, spare "reply all."