Ethics Alert: Should the Student Press Publish the N-Word in Full & Uncensored?

Late last week, a play with an especially provocative title and set of themes premiered at Kent State University. The KSU adaptation of the show “No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs” is a serious pursuit, aimed at providing audiences an uncensored glimpse of extreme discrimination in the late-’40s South.

The racial slur featured in the name of the production — and that slur’s appearance in related campus promotional materials — has left some Kent Staters abuzz and at least a few aghast. According to an affiliated department chair supporting the play, “We acknowledge that it is a term soaked in blood.”

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To that end, it is also a term often left unsaid or unwritten. As a KSU freshman tells the Daily Kent Stater, the university’s student newspaper, “I’m not comfortable even using the n-word.”

By comparison, what should be the paper’s comfort level with the term? And how should it be handled when it is so prominently connected to a newsworthy campus event requiring coverage?

In a preview piece published a day before the show’s opening that touched on the controversy surrounding the slur, the DKS crew ran it in full — without dashes, asterisks or descriptive end-runs such as “n-word.” It was an ethical call made after “a back-and-forth discussion that spanned the weeks prior to publication.”

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As editors explained in a special note to readers run the same day as the related news report:

“It’s a word that causes every fiber of our beings to recoil, one of the only such words in the English language that elicits 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.’ … 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.”

What do you think?

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Comments
One Response to “Ethics Alert: Should the Student Press Publish the N-Word in Full & Uncensored?”
  1. I think it’s journalists job to report the news. Therefore, they must report fully. If they don’t have the courage to use the actual words that are making the item news worthy, they should not report on it. We often report things we don’t like. It’s not our job to censor.