Archived Opinion

Just what is ‘appropriate' for a newspaper?

Just what is ‘appropriate' for a newspaper?

Our readers have spoken. You won’t find a single case of the F-word in this article, and perhaps never again in this newspaper. 

If even using that reference — F-word — offends you, please stop reading. This column discusses a serious issue, but to do so we’ve got to slide into places where some people may not be comfortable. If so, again, just stop, turn the page, or toss this issue into your kindling pail for the fires that this cool weather calls for. It burns well, as many of our readers have told me.

The discussion, though, is important. It seems as though in a very short time we’ve become a society where the First Amendment is not only used as a defense for language or arguments some might find offensive — flag burning, kneeling during the national anthem, the right of the KKK to hold rallies — but rather as a shield to protect vile language used in an off-handed way and coming at us from many different places. 

In this case, we have to look beyond what we have the “right” to say, and so the debate gets more nuanced: what language should we use in certain forums and in different types of situations and media? Really, this is about how far our society will go in defining some speech as acceptable, and in what forums we believe such words should be used. This is always an ongoing, evolving debate.

If you are a subscriber to our Friday Xtra e-newsletter, you know of what I speak (if you don’t get our email Friday Xtra, go to and sign up to get the newsletter delivered to your inbox every Friday morning). Last week, after hearing from a reader offended by our use of the word in a direct quote from a story published in the print edition of The Smoky Mountain News, here’s what I wrote:


… Should a newspaper ever use that word? I usually tend to be a realist, to think it is OK to occasionally allow that kind of language in our paper. But I’d be interested to hear your thoughts, so email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I’ll explore the topic further in next week’s newspaper.


I got written responses from 22 readers, heard from several staff members and friends, and the overwhelming response was no, don’t use that word in print. I won’t name anyone, but I do want to share a couple of the responses with you. Their thoughts say it better than I could.


• “When reporting on a news story accuracy is the truth. If you quote a source, cleaning it up, or omitting words, alters the truth. So, I am of the opinion that when quoting, the nasty word(s) should be part of the report. It is imperative too that the reporting in any journal be exactingly accurate and use commonly understandable words to describe what’s happening to tell the story. 

Should young eyes see the nasty words in a quote it is the job of the parents to explain the word, it’s meaning, and to help the child understand the story.”


• “The funny thing was the first time I read through it I missed the word in question! I’ve become so accustomed to seeing, hearing and saying words like it (or worse). I laughed in spite of myself as I realized that it didn’t faze me.

But it got me thinking, just because I’m used to it, doesn’t mean I should like it. Just as I need to ‘be the change I seek,’ you too, as a publication, must ask yourself — what type of literature are you? Do you connect and educate? Do you shock and muck rake? Are you a little of both? As we all strive to mercilessly reveal unkindness in 2020, maybe right now is the time to be taking the proverbial higher road.”


• “I did feel a personal kick in the teeth when I read the part that included the F-bomb. I really feel it looked bad, caused a lot of ‘in-person negative talks’ in the community, and as a whole put SMN into a bad light. SMN is better than this.”


• “… because of a general break down of social norms today, I would say maintain a level of respect for your readers in the face of this onslaught. I would suspect there will be a small percentage that approve of colorful language in your newspaper. But remember, your newspaper is read by all of your community and such language is not common. Hopefully this era will be short lived, yet we are all affected, especially news organizations, but we are not required to acquiesce.”


And I’ll end with my personal favorite. In speech, sometimes it feels good; in print, no way. I mean, how can you argue with a grandma? I dare you.


• “As a 52-year-old mother of one, a grandmother of two and an about-to-be grandmother of twins, I’m hardly a prude and the “F word” is, and has always been, one of my favorite words. Nothing quite relieves pain, frustration, anger, etc. like loudly exclaiming, ‘F***!’ I use variations of the word in reference to our current POTUS on a daily basis. It’s quite versatile and occasionally, very effective.

“However, (sorry ... you might have known this was coming) I don’t think it’s appropriate for a widely circulated news publication to use it, even when quoting a source. I also wouldn’t want to hear it in my daily news broadcasts. In print, I think we all recognize something like, “F#@%” as a substitute for the F bomb and that all too familiar “bleep!” as an audible cover of a potential F bomb.  

Our POTUS is a vile, vulgar piece of work. It’s everything good parents and grandparents can do to undo the damage that he’s doing to our youth on a daily basis. Let’s at least publicly, be better than him.

Thanks for reading this entire f#@$*#! email and for considering my f#@$*#!<span< a=""> class="Apple-converted-space">  opinion.”



(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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