AP Stylebook terms for covering violence
When covering violent or emotionally heightened situations, accuracy in reporting is absolutely essential to both respect the situation you are writing about and to remain a credible news source.
We compiled a list of AP Stylebook terms and rules to keep in mind when you are faced with unfortunate events.
homicide, murder, manslaughter
- “Homicide” is the legal term for slaying or killing.
- “Murder” is malicious, premeditated homicide. Some states define certain homicides as murder if the killing occurs in the course of armed robbery, rape, etc.
- Generally speaking, “manslaughter” is homicide without malice or premeditation.
- A “homicide” should not be described as murder unless a person has been convicted of that charge.
- Do not say that a victim was “murdered” until someone has been convicted in court. Instead, say that a victim was “killed” or “slain.” Do not write that X was charged with “murdering” Y. Use the formal charge – “murder” – and, if not already in the story, specify the nature of the killing – shooting, stabbing, beating, poisoning, drowning, etc.: “Doe was charged with murder in the shooting of his girlfriend.”
assassin, killer, murderer
- An “assassin” is someone who kills a politically important or prominent person.
- A “killer” is anyone who kills with a motive of any kind.
- A “murderer” is one who is convicted of murder in a court of law.
allege The word should be used with great care.
Keep in mind:
- Avoid any suggestion that the writer is making an allegation.
- Always specify the source of an allegation.
- Avoid, where possible, “alleged victim.” It is too easily construed as skepticism of a victim’s account.
- Do not use “alleged” to describe an event that is known to have occurred, when the dispute is over who participated in it. Do not say: “He attended the alleged meeting” when what you mean is: “He allegedly attended the meeting.”
- Do not use “alleged” as a routine qualifier. Instead, use a word like “apparent,” “ostensible” or “reputed.”
accused A person is “accused of,” not “with,” a crime.