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Profanity in quotes

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Versatile, Feb 20, 2013.

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  1. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    What is your newsroom policy on it?

    What do you think the best policy would be for it?

    Where do you draw lines?

    Is the treatment different if it's an elected official or prominent public figure? Should it be?

    Who is served by censoring profanity?
  2. Starman

    Starman Well-Known Member

    Our "policies" are all over the place.

    Supposedly you're still never supposed to use any of Carlin's 'seven magic words' in print, but all but a couple of them have run at one time or another. It seems to be a matter of "do whatever you want and if nobody bitches about it, you're fine." Although it also seems to vary wildly on the part of who bitches and who wrote the story as to how much blowback results. Some people seem to get away with stuff forever and nobody says a word, then some old lady calls and pitches a bitch and suddenly everybody's called into closed-door meetings with Mr. Publisher.

    Of the 'magic 7," 'shit', 'piss' and 'tits' seem to have slipped to Tier 2 obscenities: almost usable in everyday speech (see "hell" and "damn" from about the early 1970s).

    In blogs and online it seems to be Katy-bar-the-door.

    As much of a bone of contention is how obscenities are supposed to be obscured: do you say, "(expletive)" or get into the guessing game: "Snakes on the m**********g plane."

    My policy is:

    1) Don't paraphrase. Quote accurately or don't quote at all. Write around it if possible.

    2) Only use direct quotes with obscenities if the quote is utterly crucial to the story -- if it cannot be understood otherwise.

    3) If the quote contains one of the Really Bad Four, just use (expletive). Readers can figure it out.

    Is it different for a prominent public figure? Yeah, if he made the obscene statement in a widely disseminated public forum. If it's already out in the world and everybody knows about it, there's probably no point in pretending it didn't happen. (Except of course the Really Bad Four.)

    Who is served by censoring profanity? I suppose parents who want to decide when their kids will start using those words (probably a doomed mission from the start) or excessively-sheltered adults.
  3. Mark2010

    Mark2010 Active Member

    What is to be gained by it, other than embarrassing the source?

    Broadcast stations bleep it out when they can. I don't think I've used it in print or on the air. Serves no purpose.
  4. Spartan Squad

    Spartan Squad Well-Known Member

    No real policy, other than I once told a stringer that the seven words you can't say on TV, you can't use in print. Most of the time, there's no reason to use the quote. The only exceptions might be a public official who drops a bomb in public or if your story involves the fact some guy was swearing in a rant or statement. It basically has to actually need to be relevant to the story to the point that it is the story or something is lost by not referencing it for me to put it in, even with *** in place.

    I once got politely asked by a principal to stop quoting the football coach saying "helluva," but I think that might be the boundary of where I'll go on swearing.
  5. Starman

    Starman Well-Known Member

    If the source is going to be embarrassed, they need to quit using those words.

    One time a coach I had covered for years was quoted in a story somebody else wrote, peppering in the very-thinly-disgused G-----mns, S----'s, F----'s, Sons-of-B------'s and M-----------'s.

    The quotes were utterly accurate. Anybody who ever covered the guy knew damn well that was how he talked. All the time. All his players knew it too.

    So the next morning Mr. Publisher's phone rings and it's the school superintendent. Hotter than a pistol. He's been on the phone all night with irate -- and SHOCKED, yes shocked --- parents scorching his ear off.

    Ole Coach Pottymouth of course swears he's a churchgoing guy (he always made a big deal out of that too) and could not possibly have uttered all those godless obscenities.

    Mr. Superintendent is going to back his man all the way. "Maybe he got excited for a second or so but the writer made all the rest of it up."

    Of course we get called into the office to argue about, 1) are the quotes legit, 2) were they necessary to the story, 3) who approved the page with the quotes in question.

    Happily I had been off that night so I could beg out of the inquisition on count 3). As it turned out, our writer did have tape on which the coach did spew out all the obscenities, and of course everybody else who ever covered the guy confirmed that yes, he does swear like a trooper and always has. In fact one of our prep guys had SEVERAL interviews from him on tape, all splattered with GD-bombs, F-bombs, S-bombs and all the other bombs.

    So Mr. Publisher calls Mr. Superintendent. "I suggest you drop the story that the quotes were all made up," and Mr. S says, "Why would I do that," and Mr. P responds, "we have tapes. Lots of tapes. "

    Mr. Superintendent decided to change his story to "Coach Pottymouth gets excited sometimes. I told him he should tone it down."

    However, we reassessed our policy and decided not to use obscenity unless absolutely crucial to the story.
  6. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    I find that disingenuous. It's serving the source in the name of serving the reader. He said what he said. He should live with it.

    I don't buy that real readers are served by censorship. There would be people up in arms and canceling subscriptions, so it makes sense to censor the words for that reason. But those people just want a reason to be up in arms, at least in an urban community. If you live in a major city and send your kids to school (yes, even private school), they will hear fuck, shit, bitch, dick, slut, nigger, spic, cracker, faggot, whore, asshole and every other obscenity many times over before they grow their first pubic hairs. That's the world. It's not the world today, either. It's the world as it has been for decades, as far as I can tell. Certainly, that was the case 15 years ago.

    Moreover, getting squeamish about words only gives them more power. And editing them (as my newsroom policy states) to the point where the word is obvious simply, as Louis C.K. points out, makes everyone imagine the word. How is that any different? Could you really read "That n----- better get off my f------ lawn," and not immediately insert the "igger" and "ucking"? What do we gain?

    Again, practically I understand why we censor. It's a business decision. But it's bullshit.

    And don't even get me started on the censorship of message boards.
  7. ColdCat

    ColdCat Well-Known Member

    apples to oranges since broadcast stations get a $250,000 fine from the FCC is one slips through
  8. Starman

    Starman Well-Known Member

    I've had a few coaches who were customarily so foulmouthed in interviews the only thing you could use out of it was, "we played well" or "we didn't play well." So that's all we used. (It wasn't like most of their other pissing and moaning bullshit was anything really insightful either.)

    I had one once ask me, "how come you never quote me more than one sentence? Other guys go on for five minutes and you run every word, then I go on for five minutes and all you use is, 'we played real bad tonight.' "

    I said, "well if half the words out of your fuckin' mouth weren't 'shit,' 'piss,' 'fuck' and 'motherfucker,' maybe we could use more of your fuckin' quotes.'

  9. Doc Holliday

    Doc Holliday Well-Known Member

    Nothing wrong with using a good "Damn it" or "Hell" in a quote if it gives the intended effect.

    Other than that, I can't see the point in printing any other expletives other than for the sake of shock value, which you can obtain in most any Larry Flint publication.
  10. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    Why bother using direct quotes at all?
  11. SnarkShark

    SnarkShark Well-Known Member

    I recently had a coach curse in an interview I did after a game and I fought for it to be included in the story, because I felt he was justified in his reason to be angry. It spoke to the passionate way he felt about the issue at hand, because this guy never curses and is one of the most composed coaches in the area.

    All that being said, none of that made it into print or online, so a lot of good that did.
  12. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    In quoting players in a locker room after a game, I would treat the profanity as if it was never said, unless it was used in some specific way directed at someone.

    Then I might put a (bleep) in the quote.

    If it's a quote from a coach it depends on the context.

    If it's someone who just cusses a lot, I'd probably ignore it. If it's someone who's angry, I'd probably paraphrase it.
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