Our View: When a word needs to be used

DKS Editors

One of the greatest ethical tenets of journalism — conveying unaltered truth to readers — can also be one of its downfalls when used irresponsibly.

Faced with vast amounts of information to consider, Daily Kent Stater editors often encounter crises when something becomes too offensive to put in the paper — or, in other words, when to censor our own reporting.

Actual self-censorship, of course, should rarely happen if truth is to be at the forefront of our job. But a dilemma arrived in the title of a school play that led to a back-and-forth discussion that spanned the weeks prior to publication.

The title of Pan-African Community Theatre’s production includes a word that need not be repeated for the second time in today’s paper. It’s a word that causes every fiber of our beings to recoil, one of the only such words in the English language that illicits such a reaction when spoken.

Some Stater staff members initially experienced this knee-jerk reaction. They suggested we edit it out altogether. Another suggestion was to use dashes, which meant readers would have still been able to discern the word.

But as we discussed the implications of this self-censorship, we remembered our duty to all of our stakeholders. We considered the context of the title — and the fact that the play writers chose to use the word for a reason. We considered the African-American community, which is often split about when to use the word, if at all.

Ultimately, we considered our purpose as journalists. It would be a slippery slope to draw a line and designate any word — no matter how offensive — as “too offensive.” Does this mean we would have then censored slurs that offend other minority groups? If we had censored this word, a sliding scale of self-censorship would ensue.

We believe we made the right decision. The uncensored truth is the great equalizer, and in journalism, it is — most of the time, anyway — the most honest solution to let our readers decide how to define offensive.