Back when I was on the night copy desk, my boss would cringe a bit when I told a green new hire that one of the copy editor’s jobs is to “think dirty before the readers do.”
But seriously, that is part of the job, and I was well-trained for that by growing up with three older brothers (most especially storyteller Corey, RIP, though most of his stories were usually repeatable in mixed company). Sometimes life doesn’t help with that, like when a writer used as his lede in a feature obit that a coach “fathered” hundreds on the football field (it was fixed to something like mentored or served as a father figure, if I remember correctly) or when the sports guys would have to get creative to avoid using former Razorback quarterback Casey Dick’s last name in a headline, or use it in a way that wouldn’t be thought “dirty.”
There’s a joke I could use here, but I won’t, and for just that reason.
Occasionally I get submissions that don’t make it into the paper for the same reasons; I still recall having to argue with a guy who kept submitting jokes involving Viagra, sex and/or bathroom activities, and I don’t think he ever recognized that it’s because the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is a family newspaper, so that’s not acceptable. (He would often tell me the jokes killed with his friends down at the bar, which really should have been his first clue.)
When I say family, I don’t mean the Hussman family (which owns the Democrat-Gazette and employs me), though one might think that. The paper is read by school-age kids up to young adults, Gen-Xers like me who’ve read the paper since they could read, baby boomers and nonagenarians (though I’m sure there are also a few centenarians as well). Because of that, we tend to not intentionally use prurient content in what is produced by the newsroom. Tell us, please, if you find something like that, but don’t expect that your letter will be printed. It might just be you having that dirty thought associated with Peyronie’s disease or bestiality (seriously … that’s what you get from “fur-baby” and “fur-nephew”??? I really wish I were kidding.).
What is the freakin’ deal with this preoccupation with sex, for God’s sake (don’t get me started on the whole “grooming” idea, please; I want to retain what sanity I have)? Is it possible that you are the one sexualizing things, not others?
I might remind you of this bit from the policy box that appears on the Voices page every day (emphasis mine): “Clarity, brevity and originality are particularly valued, and letters must be suitable for publication in a family newspaper.”
Not only does that mean no obscenity (you have no idea how many letters are rejected for that; that doesn’t include words like “damn” or “hell”), but mentions of genitalia and the physical act of sex, sexual diseases, etc., are likely non-starters except in the most clinical sense (and who but a doctor does that?). Add to that things that might make you toss your morning eggs and bacon; that would be the breakfast test that precludes use of certain words and overly explicit descriptions of body functions.
But isn’t that an infringement of your First Amendment rights? Nope. For one thing, the Constitution enjoins the government, not newspapers, from doing things that might interfere with your rights to free speech, etc. Newspapers are nongovernmental entities that can determine what they will and will not publish (this applies whether they’re owned publicly, meaning shares are sold to the public, or privately, meaning held by a private entity).
You’re free to spout those things on social media platforms, but as nongovernmental entities as well, those platforms can determine what is and isn’t allowable, spelled out in their terms of service (TOS). If you violate the TOS, you shouldn’t be surprised if you’re kicked off or at least suspended; that’s when it would be handy to have your very own platform, and possibly your own Internet service provider since they too have TOS and may opt to boot you for failing to follow the rules everyone else is expected to.
But that’s not fair, I hear some of you say (with some not-so-creative obscenities thrown in; c’mon, at least put some Southern in it!). Maybe not, but life isn’t fair. You have the right to free speech, but like all the other rights in the Constitution (yep, including the Second), it isn’t absolute, and can still be subject to government regulation; libel/slander, incitement of lawless action, etc., are not protected. Newspapers also have First Amendment rights, and to protect themselves and readers, the responsible ones put some things off-limits for publication. They are under no obligation to print something that they believe is false, dangerous, or inappropriate for its audience as a whole.
I might also suggest another test when it comes to writing a letter to the editor: If it’s something that would make your grandma smack you upside the head, or something that would make a dirty-minded 12-year-old boy guffaw and snicker, perhaps you might want to leave that for a night at the bar.
I’d like to thank everyone who has contacted me about my recent covid infection and my car accident. The outpouring of positivity and support means the world to me in what turned out to be a very dark time.
I’m still not completely out of the woods on covid yet; I’m now testing negative again, but I’m still a bit weak and brain-foggy, and dealing with the last bits of stuff in my lungs (I had been weaning myself off the Mucinex, but apparently too soon, so had to get a new bottle of it Tuesday to attack what’s left). It will take a few weeks, probably, for me to feel as normal as a weirdo like me can feel, and I’m not taking any chances. I got a little lax on a few recent outside shopping trips, so that’s probably when I got infected; it’s back to delivery, and the kindness of friends who’ll pick up the occasional item from Trader Joe’s for me.
The car situation is coming to (sort of) an end, though I still have to try to find a newer car with not a lot of money. Now’s when I really wish I were wealthy, not because having money would make me happy (it wouldn’t), but because I wouldn’t be dealing with stomach-churning worry every time something with major monetary complications happens, especially when it’s not the consequences of my own actions.
Good thing I’m stocked up on my famotidine prescription.