Blogs » Your Advocate: an editor's blog » How should a newspaper change with the language and the times?



When I was editor of my high school newspaper, I had a lively discussion with my journalism teacher, Mr. Nesbitt, about my repeated use of the word "suck."

He noted this was a term of which my elders would not approve. In my teenage know-it-all-way, I countered that this was how the kids talked these days and that he just had to get with it.

I recalled this 35-year-old conversation when I saw the "Get Out" cover designed by Luis Rendon to preview a crawfish festival. The design featured a larger-than-life crustacean with a big headline: "Suck it." This actually was a tamer version than the name of the festival, whose organizers clearly were going for ribald humor.

We discussed in the newsroom whether this design went too far, but decided it fit the tone and content of our weekly entertainment section, which is aimed at a younger audience. Thirty-five years later, "suck" seems quaint compared to the terms tossed around by young people these days.

I felt like Mr. Nesbitt, though, when I first saw the word "jackass" being used so commonly, particularly in the name of a popular TV show and movies. The language's evolutionary pace had careened out of balance with my own aging. When I started in the newspaper business, I'm sure this word would not have been allowed in newspaper, television or radio advertisements. When I first saw this ugly word in a newspaper, I wanted to yell something like, "Get off my lawn!"

By 2000, the word somehow had made its way to the title of an MTV show and three subsequent movies. The popularity of the show, which features young men doing outrageously stupid stunts, is beyond me, but that's a different story.

The show is so popular that one of its stars, Steve-O, is still working as a stand-up comedian all of these years later. He is featured in the current "Get Out" because he's performing four shows at the Golden Gecko in downtown Victoria.

No reader called to complain about our use of "suck," but a retired Catholic priest did call Thursday to object to this latest term. I explained that we try in "Get Out" to walk a line between the language commonly used by our younger readers and the words traditionally considered unacceptable. We decided we had to use the name of the show if we were going to write about the comedian.

The caller was a pleasant and fascinating fellow, so we had a good chat that concluded with both of us agreeing to have coffee soon. I wish I could have such constructive conversations with all 90,000 of our readers.

We try to reflect society while still maintaining our position as a family newspaper. While walking this tightrope daily, we can get tripped by the evolution of language.

I don't know what Mr. Nesbitt would say today, but I owe him many thanks for my own evolution as a journalist. He's the best teacher I ever had. At the risk of making my two teenage children cringe, I would even say he's off da hook.

Click here to read what national design guru Charles Apple has to say about the "Get Out" covers.