Times' new language rules

A lot like the old L.A. Times rules, with small adjustments for the more casual lexicon of the web. The Readers Representative blog discusses a memo from Deputy Managing Editor Melissa McCoy.

"Pissed off" is among crude language regularly removed from Times coverage as part of what McCoy acknowledges is "a conservative standard" when it comes to publishing coarse or vulgar remarks. When the copy desk suggested the deletion and pointed to the guidelines (noting that "the rest of the quote is still strong and conveys the point"), the editor of the piece, Kate Aurthur, agreed to use the ellipsis but was disappointed. She says she finds the policy "infuriating": "As a media organization," she writes in an e-mail taking issue with the newly released policy, "we should certainly have high standards -- above all, to accuracy. To that end, we should reflect the world as it is, even if we don't like how people talk sometimes. I would argue that being able to quote someone in full goes to that most important goal of accuracy, rather than what is to me a slightly scolding, prudish language policy. We might pretend otherwise, but changing that quotation changed its meaning. Why would we ever do that?"

Along with Aurthur, a few other staffers also argue that the paper's role is to reflect the community and greater society. To that, the policy says this: "We acknowledge that a wide range of vulgarities are commonplace on the Internet and elsewhere, but we intend to maintain a much higher standard." And the subjective nature of editing means even those who support that goal differ -- an editor or writer who might flinch at allowing "he sucks" in a story might not hesitate at allowing the word "hell," or vice versa.


The policy for the first time takes into account the online world vs. the print world. As McCoy wrote in her cover note to staff when she distributed the updated guidelines on obscenity and taste, "A less formal voice may be appropriate in online stories and on blogs (as is often the case in feature stories too), but a conversational style is not an invitation to abandon The Times’ high standards by introducing gratuitous obscenities."

Here's a permalink to the LAT style guidelines.

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