WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Dog Breeds & Semantics

Feb 21, 2017

Macomb police recently shot a dog after it charged and apparently attacked an officer.  The detective who discussed the case with reporters said the animal was a "pit bull," but Shop Talk panelist Jasmine Crighton said pit bull is a common name used to describe at least four formal breeds of dogs.  She questioned whether it's correct to use the term pit bull.

Crighton said reporters should double check information, even when it comes from official sources because they sometimes make mistakes.

Crighton said her reporter ended up simply referring to the animal as a dog.   She said her reporter did not want to sensationalize the story by calling the dog a pit bull.

Panelist Rich Egger disagreed with that decision.  He said the word “dog” could imply anything from a Chihuahua to a Great Dane.  He suggested attributing the pit bull description to police and following that with an explanation of how “pit bull” can encompass several different breeds.  He said that would help give the audience a better mental picture of the animal while acknowledging that “pit bull” is a general term.

Panelist Will Buss said semantics are important, especially during an era when journalists have come under attack from the White House. He said it’s important to be as specific as possible in news reports, and he said greater detail about the dog would have helped the audience.

Buss also said reporters have access to more information than ever before – and so do audiences.  He said it’s imperative for journalists to check their work before making it public.

Jasmine Crighton is News Director of NEWS3 at Western Illinois University and Will Buss is the Director of Student Publications at WIU.