June 20, 2006

Does Profanity Have a Place in Pro or Semi-Pro Journalism?

This past semester, when I began both this blog and The Bottom Line's blog, we had a debate in the office about the use of profanity in articles and editorials both in print and electronically. Many of the columnists were for lifting the ban on profanity, citing The Village Voice and Rolling Stone as examples. I was mildly accused of censorship, an accusation I wholeheartedly accepted. I am censoring my staff.

Here's why:
  • Professional newspapers and magazines do not allow any form of profanity, especially from the reporter or editor themselves.
  • There are far better ways to embellish and enforce your argument, like hard evidence, quotes and citations.
  • Though it may seem hard to believe, certain readers do not want to read profanity and may even be shocked by such content. Readership would decrease.
  • Our goal is to be respected not only by students, but also by faculty and administrators, and the inclusion of such language would render the paper irrelevant to them; i.e. they could not publically support a newspaper with such content.
  • Understanding audience is perhaps the most important aspect of journalism. Our audience is not composed entirely of students. We have to consider visiting families and parents as well.
With that said, I feel that articles that quoting someone using profanity is acceptable, but only if the profanity gives the reader a better impression of the person and subsequently a better read of the article's main idea(s).

Even as a blogger I embrace these guidelines. I run across too many blogs tackling serious subjects like politics and philosophy that use profanity liberally, as adjective, verb and noun. It is hard to take their subject material seriously if their only point emphasis is the f-word.

The best arguments are controversial because of the author's skills of manipulating content - organization, sources, human elements, relevence and rhetorical devices - not because profanity is rife throughout.

What do you think? When is profanity appropriate in journalism? When is it not?


  1. I believe profanity is part of what columnist Thomas Sowell calls "hip snideness" that so many today mistake for sophistication.

  2. We do not use any profanity ourselves, nor do we use it on our websites or blogs. I tolerate profanity in a well written piece, particularly if it seems appropriate for the character.

    I am very offended by bloggers, particularly, who use profanity just for its shock value and coolness.

  3. i'll go with Slim's general rule.
    only if it's really hilarious, or really angry.

  4. Ha. Slim... He's such a Buddhist.


  5. Thanks for commenting, all.

    Shock value has really no value at all except among the inept.

  6. I think using profanity to express yourself is lazy. It's so much easier to use the "f" word than to come up with a well thought out sentence. I don't read newspapers that find that acceptable nor do I read blogs that rely on excessive profanity to make points. There are some political blogs with multiple authors I like to hit every one in a while, and won't read any with profanity in the titles--not because I find it offensive, but because I think those sorts of titles are indicative of lazy minds. That may not be correct, but that's my take! I guess sometimes such posts are effective because of shock value, but I'd rather read something that is shocking because of vivid details.