What the ‘Eff’ is Wrong with Journalism?

Thanks to notables like Gordon Ramsay, Jon Stewart and the occasional flub by Stephen A. Smith (when he isn’t being a deleterious nitwit against the English vernacular), the eff word used on TV is no longer passe or subject to ridicule by another eff word — the FCC (Federal Communications Commission).

But what about the written word in journalism?

For decades, this was considered sacred ground because of AP style guardians, reporting ethics and the unparalleled genius of George Carlin. However, the equally great Jim Romensko blogs about an eff bomb that landed on the cover of a book scribed by the Columbia Journalism Review.

There it is, to the left, and somewhere buried on the cover of opinions of what “Journalism is” lies one thought that journalism is…”not effing rocket science.”

What’s wrong — or not wrong — with this is after the jump…

While I think it is easy to conclude that some kid trolling the halls in grade school won’t be picking up a copy of the Columbia Journalism Review in the library, many reporters are disturbed by the CJR’s inclusion of the eff bomb on the cover of the book. Keep in mind, flacks, this is the CJR — arguably, the most influential media publication in the country.

And the editors of that bastion for journalistic ethics think it was okey-dokey to post the eff word on a cover of one of their effing books.

So, should we be surprised? Sure, there are some adults in the media profession who take quite an offense to this practice. There are others in this profession who have been caught on camera blasting this bomb with nary the comeuppance for using the word other than a slap on the wrist in public and a gracious high-five in private. It’s no secret that profanity is about as commonly used as bad makeup on Lady Gaga, but why should that eke into journalism? Romensko asked Brent Cunningham, the interim editor of the Reviewand here is what he had to say about the truckloads of hate mail the publication received:

I think the ones we ran in the Letters section are mostly all we heard from. There probably were a couple of others, but not many. I know I went back and forth (collegially: we agreed to disagree) with two or three of email writers, and we didn’t publish those.

As far as support, we got a lot of compliments on the cover itself, but no one praised the use of the f-word specifically that I’m aware of. We discussed using asterisks, but I felt that word was in context and not gratuitous, which is my standard on this sort of thing. It came from Ira Glass’s response to the What Is Journalism For? question. We checked with our newsstand distributor who cautioned that some places might not put it out with this on it, but, I mean, we are on so few newsstands anyway.

I knew it would anger some folks, but I think the negative reaction was considerably less than I was prepared for.

“Considerably less” would either mean that people are just numb to usage of the word in writing, or that the CJR needs to review its modest subscription base. And spare us the history of the Old English etymology. I agree all curse words began as common words until some dunderhead began using them in a negative way. The point is that they are now curse words and should not be used in journalism.

At least, let’s keep that forum free from George Carlin’s list. Just as Romensko shared in the comments of his article for Dorothy Lipovenko, noted columnist for the Jewish Daily:

“I would have liked to say that the profession changed when reporters began calling themselves ‘journalists’ and no longer wanted to be the eyes and ears of the public so much as cool, edgy elites. It’s not an Ivy League education that makes a great news reporter but curiosity and streets smarts in abundance. And if the latter includes the F-word, so be it.”

Or, as I like to quote, Malcolm X:

“A man curses because he doesn’t have the intelligence to say what’s on his mind.”

Whether it is schtick, lack of intelligence, disrespect for the profession or just “who the eff cares,” what do you think? We (PR Newser) would love to do a follow-up on this big question, so please, write your thoughts in the comments below. And, if you are ever slightly more daring, let me know if you are with the press and interested in going on the record.

This should be good.