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Learning a painful lesson about use of slang in coverage | Editorial
It’s the news articles that you believe will be the least controversial that sometimes land you in the hottest of water.
Case in point, our annual “Year in Review” article published in the Jan. 1 edition of the Whidbey News-Times.
In that article, which summarized major stories from the past year, the reporter relied on the common modern slang term “haters” in place of the word “critics.”
That was a big mistake.
While younger people typically call one another “haters,” and you hear the term frequently on television these days, it is not yet common usage as determined by the English dictionary.
For relying on slang rather than commonly accepted vernacular, the reporter and newspaper have apologized to the South Whidbey group that was offended, the Old Goats — Fully Informed Voters.
Since the Year in Review was published, however, word of mouth about the article transformed the use of the word “haters” in the article to “hate group.” The newspaper received emails from people who admittedly hadn’t read the article, but were appalled the newspaper would call the Old Goats a “hate group.”
We did not use that term.
As I assured several of the group’s members, we don’t believe the Old Goats to be a hate group and would certainly never use that term when referring to them. Quite the contrary, we hold in high regard to any group that emphasizes civic involvement.
The fact is, as a newspaper, we should employ the KISS Principle — keep it simple, stupid. Our responsibility is to avoid unecessary complexity or confusion in our coverage. This means avoiding “governmentese,” which sometimes seems to be a language unto itself. It’s our job to clearly interpret information, but to avoid terms that might lead to confusion. For example, rather than a term like “revenue revision,” it likely makes sense to say in the story that a “tax increase” is in the offing.
In summarizing the news of the past year, the reporter attempted to be clear and concise, but miserably failed, offending the Old Goats in the process.
It is a lesson that we as journalists have learned the hard way and are determined to not repeat.