Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The BS Express

The daily community newspaper comes with a tacit understanding that it won't offend its readers with a lot of BS. Some readers will swear we are offensive enough, even without the BS.

It's not an easy task, upholding basic community standards for decency.

The latest case in point is the news we carried this week about a publication recently released by one of our more popular columnists, Dr. Carl Alasko. The book is titled "Emotional Bullshit: The Hidden Plague to Destroy Your Relationships — And How to Stop It."

As our deputy features editor, Mike DeGive, prepared the story for Sunday's edition, he felt obliged to ask: "Do we use the word 'bullshit' if it's in a book title? And if we don't, how should we refer to it?"

These are the sort of questions that editors dread. On the one hand, a newspaper wants to be able to provide its readers with the full and useful truth, and doing a shorthand number on a book title is not fully honest. On the other hand, we are aware that readers invite us into their homes and schools and we are expected to mind our manners. The BS word isn't the sort of language many, if not most, of our readers want to see in their daily paper.

It didn't help that the best photo we had to accompany the story depicted the author holding the book, which obviously had the BS word all over it.

Journalists are told, quite strenuously, that they are not to mess around with anything they publish with quote marks around it. We don't consciously change quotations and we shouldn't fool with book titles.

As we mulled our dilemma, we debated our options. Running the title was not an option. But how do we present the title without offending many of our readers? I argued, for a time, that we should simply change it to "Emotional BS." The handy "bullbleep" was another possibility. But others argued, and I eventually agreed, to go with "Emotional Bull***t." And we cropped the book out of the photograph, which left us with only Alasko's mug shot, essentially dropping it from consideration as the "centerpiece" story the front of Sunday's Leisure page.

We figured most readers would prefer seeing pretty pictures of Oahu than have their consciousness slapped with BS.


  1. This reminds me of something that my former boss did that caused a major ruckus at an Oregon newspaper. this was back in 1974, when such language was even more taboo. He was the city manager for the largest theater chain in the Pacific Northwest. He was good friends with the guys in the advertising department of the newspaper and he decided to play a joke on them. The ad copy he wrote for the movie "Blazing Saddles" included the phrase "Ridin' ropin', wranglin, and all that western bullshit." He expected to get a call sometime before press time, which I think was 11:00pm, and they'd all have a good laugh. But 11:00 came and went, with no call, and he went to bed that night with a very uneasy feeling. Sure enough it showed up in the paper the next morning and phones were ringing off the hook at the newspaper offices as complaints poured in from subscribers.

  2. You will never please everyone.

  3. @Mr Toy, you may not believe this but I've been searching for this quote for many years as I seemed to be the only person that remembered that that quote appeared on the posters for Blazing Saddles on the London undeground on its first release. I so recall being shocked to see the word bullshit in print on the Tube in 1974!