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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Give me full names (at first reference), please

It is important to give full names (at first reference) in a news story. Or isn't it?

I have some difficulty in persuading a few of my students that journalistic pieces should contain the full names of people mentioned in the report. So here, for these students and for those who are interested in such matters (if you want to be a journalist, you should be interested), are examples of news reports with full names and examples of stories that have used only one name for valid reasons:

1. A New York Times report from Kabul uses full names at first reference throughout, except in the 23rd paragraph when it uses a quote from a particular university lecturer — see below:
“The main problem is that some people in our city are Taliban and some are local police,” said Sighbatullah, 25, an agronomy lecturer at Kunduz University, who like many Afghans uses just one name.

2. And here's an illustration from a recent issue of Bloomberg Businessweek:


3. In this story in Mint, the reporter gives us only one name for a source, but we get an explanation for this in parentheses. Take a look:



4. Now here's another example from The New York Times, this one a news feature about how San Francisco is changing the nature of AIDS treatment:

It wasn’t his first broken condom, so Rafael didn’t worry. But three weeks later, the man he’d met in a bar called to say that he had “probably been exposed” to H.I.V.

Rafael, a muscular, affable 43-year-old, went to a clinic and within 45 minutes learned he was infected. Although it was already closing time, a counselor saw him immediately and offered him a doctor’s appointment the next day.

At Ward 86, the famous H.I.V. unit at San Francisco General Hospital, the doctor handed him pills for five days and a prescription for more. Because he was between jobs, she introduced him to a counselor who helped him file for public health insurance covering his $30,000-a-year treatment.

“They were very reassuring and very helpful,” said Rafael, who, like several other men interviewed for this article, spoke on condition that only his first name be used to protect his privacy. “They gave me the beautiful opportunity to just concentrate on my health.”

In the intro, we get only one name. And why we get one name we are told only in the fourth paragraph. That makes sense, if you think about it. The structure and the flow of the story would be badly affected if the intro was written to include that explanation:

It wasn’t his first broken condom, so Rafael, who, like several other men interviewed for this article, spoke on condition that only his first name be used to protect his privacy, didn’t worry. But three weeks later, the man he’d met in a bar called to say that he had “probably been exposed” to H.I.V.

See what I mean?

So, give me full names (at first reference), please.

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