Sunday, February 25, 2007

Risky Business

Sometimes when I interview people, they are fond of cursing. They do so out of passion for the subject of which they are speaking or out of habit. My journalism professors have told us to just take out the four letter words unless we feel the word is ABSOLUTELY necessary to add life to a story. On the other hand, my English professors (esp. my creative writing professor) was fine, even encouraged, the use of curses. In short, what is the general rule about using obscenities? Are there set ways to spell certain words, i.e. f*#!ing v. f*#!in' v. some other way, or is it at the discretion of the writer and editor?


Pat said...

I don't think there are set ways to spell curse words—or I'm not aware of any, I should say.

There are many differences between creative writing and journalism, and the use of cursing is one of them. If you want to go into newspaper publishing, I would say to listen to your journalism professors.

I think I'll ask my friend George Beetham, a newspaper editor, to respond to your question too.

Pat said...

Here is what George Beetham Jr., editor of a Philadelphia newspaper, had to say:

It depends on the newspaper where one is employed. In general, larger papers employ use of some off-color words but use substitutes for words that are not generally accepted. Newspapers with smaller readerships will generally avoid using any off-color language on the theory they cannot afford to offend readers (my own publication, being a weekly community paper, harbors the latter philosophy).

Meanwhile, one can walk the streets of a major city and hear school kids using language that appears in few, if any, newspapers.

My personal philosophy is to avoid upsetting readers if it's in my control. There are times when we have no choice but to offend, and those cases seem less egregious if we avoid doing it when it's not necessary.