Toronto Star readers have spoken: The majority do not want to see swear words spelled out or more profanity in print, writes public editor Kathy English. 

 By Kathy English, public editor for the Toronto Star

“Call me old-fashioned but I don’t want to see foul language printed in full in news media,” wrote reader Barbara Dietrich.

“Swear words don’t add anything to a story. In the same vein, not spelling out the word does not diminish the story,” said Marc Petruccelli.

“Proper speech is under daily assault, so anything that can hold the line against further abuse is welcome,” said Susan Sterling. “Using dashes doesn’t hide the meaning of the word; it’s a courtesy, and one that I hope the Star will continue to extend.”

“Please maintain your high level of integrity by not changing what isn’t broken,” wrote Sandy Borradaile.

Readers have spoken and the message is clear: the Star should not spell out swear words in full or alter its long-standing policy to allow more profanity in print.

In my last column I asked you to weigh in on whether the Star’s practice of using dashes in swear words — in the rare instances when those words are even deemed newsworthy — is a coy standard of the past or an ongoing mark of respect for readers. More than 200 readers weighed in on this matter via email, online comments, Facebook and handwritten letters. The majority told me they neither want to see swear words spelled out in full nor think the time has come for a more liberal policy. Of 75 emails, only nine argued for the Star to reconsider its policy. The dozen or so letters readers sent all made the case to keep offensive language out of the Star.

Among those who responded on my Star Facebook page, a majority support the Star’s current policy. Not surprisingly, more vigorous debate occurred within the Star’s online comments, with commenters about evenly split in their opinions on profanity in the Star.

The Star’s current policy states that “swear words and sexually charged terms should be handled with extreme care and in consultation with a senior editor.

“Unless they are in direct quotations, they should never be used. Even in quotes, they should be used sparingly (i.e. only when the words — and the speaker — are central to the story). In publishing swear words, the Star uses short dashes following the first letter.”

Many readers told me while they understand profanity is increasingly part of common parlance, they still don’t want to see it spelled out in the pages of the Toronto Star. They expect a higher standard from us.

To continue reading this column, please go thestar.com where it was originally published. 


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Tamara Baluja is an award-winning journalist with CBC Vancouver and the 2018 Michener-Deacon fellow for journalism education. She was the associate editor for J-Source from 2013-2014.