AP: 'Damn' and 'hell' OK, but not most other profanity

Associated Press | The Economist

"I’m not sure everyone’s OK with news media keeping up with the latest vulgarities," AP standards editor Tom Kent writes in a post on the suddenly kind of hot topic of whether news organizations should publish profanity. "For instance, if our stories were as laced with things 'sucking' as common speech is, readers might find it very tedious very fast."

AP now prints "damn" and "hell" without occasioning any pearl-clutching, Kent notes. And it will usually hyphenate or bleep newsworthy profanity, like when Vice President Biden called the health-care law "a big fucking deal" (a word Kent reproduces in all its glory). So why worry so much, AP?

We believe most AP subscribers — web and mobile news sites, broadcasters and newspapers — still want certain obscenities obscured. It’s also our own opinion that loading up our services with gratuitous obscenities cheapens our work and is of service to no one.

A "newspaper’s job is not to report tasteful news," The Economist's language blog, Johnson, writes in a call for The New York Times to loosen its standards.

True slurs, such as those concerning race, sex and disability, can sear the victim. Yet reporting on the damage done no more repeats the damage than publishing a photograph of a victim of physical harm repeats that harm. It’s called journalism, and it is the New York Times’s sole reason for existence.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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