We ran a story in our 7:55/8:05 newscasts fed to affiliates this morning that used the word “fag” as a reference to homosexuals. We also used the story in our 8:30 capsule that some of our stations run instead of one of the longer newscasts.
Sometimes the use of disparaging words or phrases is a ticklish thing for reporters to address. Do we use it so our readers or listeners understand precisely what someone said? Or do we use a safer phrase such as “n-word”? Or do we even go beyond saying “slur for homosexuals” or “racial slur?”
Here’s how we decided to use the word “fag” in our story this morning:
In our morning review of about 20 Missouri newspapers online, we came across a story that a member of the Missouri Southern State University (Joplin) Board of Governor had resigned after using a homosexual slur at last Saturday’s board meeting. We went to the Joplin Globe’s website to read the original article about the resignation and saw that the Globe reported board member David Ansley commented on the athletic department’s new logo, “We went from the f– lion to the ferocious lion.”
Print media stories can do that. But some readers might want to know exactly what was said and broadcasters have trouble dealing with an “f” and then two blanks. How do we say that?
The story noted that the Globe’s reporter last weekend had been twittering during the meeting and had written the exact quote. So we went to the Globe’s Twitter page and found the exact quote. Because the spoken word in news reporting is perceived differently from the spoken word in written reporting, we decided to use the word that was spoken at the meeting.
We are aware that opinion can be divided on the use of such a word in courteous speech as well as in reporting news. But when someone quickly resigns after blurting out such a word and says in his resignation statement that he always thought of himself as tolerant until realizing to his own dismay that he must deal with his own prejudices, the issue easily reaches the level where we felt it appropriate to use the word he used so listeners would understand why a man who had been regarded by board contemporaries as a “good” and “valued” governor.
Reporters sometimes in reporting the news have to decide whether their reporting of the insensitive remarks of others makes them appear insensitive too. Sometimes it is more insensitive not to be specific. Somebody has to make that editorial decision, often in a matter of seconds when writing the story. We are not saying those in the print media were wrong in how they addressed the word in their stories. It just made more sense to us to write the story the way we did.