According to journalism’s style icon, Crimea is no longer in Ukraine nor is it in Russia. The Associated Press today changed its datelines, those first few words that preface every article with a location, to reflect Crimea’s new status. Dispatches from, say, Sevastopol will now read “SEVASTOPOL, Crimea” instead of “SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine.”
“AP datelines should reflect the facts on the ground,” Tom Kent, deputy managing editor and standards editor of the AP wrote to explain the change. Wiggling around the truly political decision of whether Crimea is now part of Russia, the AP cited a technicality – that the two regions have no land border.
Saying just the city name and “Crimea” in the dateline, even in the event of full annexation, would be consistent with how we handle geographically separate parts of other countries. For instance, we just say “Sicily” and “Sardinia” in datelines — “PALERMO, Sicily (AP)” — even though they are part of Italy, and “Guadeloupe” in datelines even though that island is part of France.
Whether or not the news service wants to admit it, words are political. As The Guardian notes, the AP has “waded into controversy before with its attempts to avoid controversy” when it banned the terms “illegal immigrant” and “illegal” to describe a person rather than an action.
The latest decision also begs the question, what would the AP do if there were a shared border or if Russia were to grab more land in Ukraine, thereby connecting the regions?
Elsewhere in Slate: Why Are We So Hung Up On Keeping Borders the Way They Are?