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Editorial: Language use leaves much to be desired

August 1, 2014

in Local

SWO-webThere seems to be a trend developing, a somewhat disturbing one: Some newspapers, TV networks and radio stations evidently have lost their regard for the proper and decent use of language in their publications and broadcasts.

Increasingly, words we usually associate with swearing are finding their way into print and broadcasts. A recent local letter to the editor served as a prime example when the “d” and “h” words were allowed to be used.

There was a time when that would not have occurred, nor will it in the pages of The Sedalia Weekly Observer.

One of the key principles of a good newspaper, according to Lee Enterprises, based in Davenport, Iowa, and which operates 46 daily newspapers, is “to be interesting, amusing, entertaining and surprising.”

I doubt very much that the “surprising” portion of that principle includes the use of swear words.

Not long ago, I saw or read something that claimed that the use of such words was a lazy person’s excuse for self-expression. In other words, rather than using proper language, a swear word is substituted because it’s easier.

In the infancy of my career in journalism, it was impressed on me that the lauguage used in print had to be handled carefully because there was a chance that children could be exposed to that language.

Unfortunately, these days youngsters are likely to use language that in days gone by might have made a sailor blush.

Again quoting the Lee Enterprises folks, a newspaper’s job should be to “play a leadership role and be a force for change in the community through coverage, editorials and civic involvement.” It also says that newspapers should “set and meet high standards for quality reporting, writing, editing, photos, graphics and design.”

There is, of course, much more, but the overall gist is placed on the word “quality.” That would seem to exclude the use of language that might be deemed offensive to some readers.

In the instance mentioned above, the editor, in my view, should have contacted the author of the letter to inform him that certain word usage was not allowed by the newspaper, if that were the case.

That would give the writer the opportunity to either withdraw the letter or allow the changes. Letters to newspapers are usually subject to editing unless, of course, such editing chanages the meaning or content of the letter.

At any rate, what we are seeing these days seems to be an abdication of editorial responsibility, at least in some areas. If you wish, you can blame Twitter, Tweets, blogging and the like. The content you find there certainly isn’t edited or supervised by anyone and that has opened the floodgates to the use of poor language.

The Observer staff certainly isn’t claiming to be above and beyond error. We are promising you, however, that the language we use in our pages will not offend you. For us, the words “good taste” still have meaning.

It’s unfortunate, most would agree, that the sloppy use of language has become so ordinary. And it’s difficult to assign blame to any one source, but certain contributors to this tendency can be found on the Internet. If you have the know-how and the skill, you can create your own web page, blog, twitter account or whatever and then proceed to write whatever you want. In many cases you can do so anonymously, and therein lies the danger.

When there is no accountability, anything goes. And that simply isn’t a good thing.

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If you have an opinion on these topics, or any other, please contact us at sedaliaobserver@gmail.com, write to us at Sedalia Weekly Observer, 2700 West Broadway, Suite 10, Sedalia, Mo., 65301, including your name, address and telephone number so that we may verify you are the author. Or, just drop by for a visit. We’ll make time for you.

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