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Obscenity & the News

by on October 2, 2011

While reading through the Post Register’s code of ethics last week I came across one standard that caused me to question my own standpoint on this issue: The use of obscenity in the news. At first I was really surprised that this was even a question–why would a newspaper print an obscene word or phrase? I thought it was a no brainer, this would clearly upset many readers and ultimately change the way they viewed the publication. The Post Register made it’s point in this way:

We do not publish street profanities unless they are germane to the story. (i.e., it’s a story about a public cussing episode.) In rare cases, we allow a gratuitous obscenity that is essential to capturing the personality of a source or the essence of a situation, but the Executive Editor must be consulted.

So, here is where I realized this was a serious ethical question, do we leave obscene words or phrases out because they are sure to leave a bad taste in readers mouths? or do we include them because omitting them would alter the readers true understanding of the situation or the person speaking?

I could see myself wincing as my eyes came across a four letter word in an article, but then if its omitted am I left with a distorted view of the situation or this person? Omit for the sake of preventing readers from being offended or leave for a genuine story….I am pretty torn here, so I decided I would throw it out and see what my classmates think.

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One Comment
  1. This is a really interesting debacle that begs for an answer. Personally, I think that this society gives too much power to words in the sense that reading “offensive” ones will somehow endanger our personal well-being. With that said, I am going to take the teleological route and choose to favor the consequence upsetting readers with the language over the hate mail that might arise as a result so that the story will be complete and accurate. It is not incredibly insightful, but I think that sacrificing a few virgin eyes will be well-worth printing an unabridged news story.

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