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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    From the newsroom: When does profanity have its place in newspapers?

    At some point in history, profanities slipped their way into our everyday language. We’ll say, “What the fuck happened?” instead of “What happened?”

    I’m guilty of treating “fuck” like an adjective instead of the verb it’s meant to be. I, like many of you, sometimes use profanities to add “color” to my sentences instead of thinking of other adjectives that could work just as well.

    The Arizona Daily Wildcat has used words like these, mostly in its Arts and Life and Opinions sections. Some professional papers have set style guidelines for using profanities — The New York Times pretty much never uses them — but the Daily Wildcat doesn’t have a formal policy on profanity.

    When writers use a particular word that might be considered obscene or vulgar, we often leave it. But when is it too much? Are words like “fuck” and “shit” obscene? How do we gauge what is obscene and profane? What offends one group of people might not offend another. Do certain words devalue a story?

    At the Wildcat, stories are edited by at least three people and each person has their own opinion about whether profanity belongs. I’ve been told by journalism professors that using profanities weakens writing and is often used as a crutch when a writer can’t find a strong enough word.

    The News Manual, an online resource for journalists and the media, says that deciding on vulgarity is dependent on taste: “Your question as a journalist should not only be ‘Is this legal?’ You should also ask yourself ‘Is this going to offend my readers, listeners or viewers unnecessarily?’ If it is, perhaps you should think about leaving it out.”

    But language is always changing, and the line between journalistic writing and colloquial writing is thin.

    These are case-by-case situations and the solution is common sense. Wildcat editors should be looking at audience, context and the story as a whole to decide if vulgarity is really going to add to the piece. If it’s one word in a quote, censoring seems useless. If it’s used multiple times and the editor feels it’s too much, maybe paraphrasing is more appropriate.

    Maybe instead of spelling out the word, we could use “f***” or “s—-.” But none of you are idiots, you know what that spells. Also, it’s aesthetically ugly. No one wants to see a bunch of asterisks or dashes where there should be letters.

    Every newspaper has a different policy when it comes to vulgarity because there is no universal standard. At the Wildcat, we don’t want to restrict ourselves with a zero-tolerance policy’s like The New York Times, but we also have to be aware of our audience and what could be considered offensive.

    We have to rely on our editors to choose language that is both interesting and strong without being offensive. The language we choose to use matters.

    — Lynley Price is the readers’ representative for the Arizona Daily Wildcat. She can be reached at or on Twitter via @WildcatOpinions.

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