Blogs, Profanity and Editorial Integrity

by: Mick Weinstein

By Mick Weinstein, Editor in Chief of Seeking Alpha

One of the most compelling aspects of blogs is the direct and candid voice of the author. While most traditional journalists maintain the convention of 'objective voice', bloggers tend to talk straight, which is one of the main reasons why many of us now rely on smart, informed bloggers to get to the bottom of any given news story.

Curating and amplifying this direct, candid, real voice of the market blogger is central to what we're doing at Seeking Alpha. But at times this raises some difficult editorial questions. Here's one that's been on my mind a lot recently: When a blogger uses profanity in a post we're republishing, or in a directly submitted article, should we include the bad words, or should we fall in line with traditional media outlets' prohibition from publishing certain bad words (surely you remember George Carlin's 7) - even when simply quoting a source? Letterman shows just how absurd this seemed last week in coverage of the Illinois governor's taped conversations:

A couple of weeks ago SA contributor Paul Kedrosky wrote what I thought was a terrific post on the Citi bailout that used the f-word to define a new category of bank as per the government deal. We put up one of these - F#*& - in the headline, but otherwise published it verbatim, and immediately (I mean immediately) received multiple complaints from both SA readers and contributors who believed that for us to allow such 'gutter language' in the text of an SA article undermined the integrity of the site and our community. Next step, the cesspool that is Yahoo Finance message boards.

This left me questioning our decision. After some internal debate, we decided to pull the article, but I'm left wondering if we would have performed a better service to our readers if we had left the article up, since as I said, I thought Paul made a great point about the bailout that just could not have been conveyed nearly as well with mainstream-media-approved clean language.

We do have a general prohibition against profanity in our terms of use, and we generally delete comments that use profanity, but it seems to me that there are many contexts in which the very words themselves (as opposed to their use as a weapon in a verbal attack) are not at all problematic. Cases in point:

  • About a year ago we published a transcript of a trainwreck of a Sallie Mae conference call that ended with CEO Albert Lord saying "Steve, let’s go. There’s no -- no questions. Let’s get the f-ck out of here." We published the full word, as we were simply documentating the event, and to not do so would have been overly aggressive editing. It was actually an important line for SLM investors to hear - in the original.
  • When the bad word is used not with sexual or scatological connotations, but rather as an all purpose intensifier (as it most often is in conversational English today), should that remain beyond the pale? Fund manager 'Cassandra' had a fascinating post on the Madoff affair Friday that used profanity in this way - we published it as is and I found myself defending that decision.
  • What about inclusion of this mock ad embedded in a post on the automakers?

Do most serious people today find these examples objectionable? Should profanity still be considered over the line in every situation in print? Not at all clear to me.

What are your thoughts on this issue in general, and the use of bad words - in situations such as those mentioned here - on Seeking Alpha?

Update: Ad hominem attacks on the author or another commenter, with or without bad words, will always be deleted. That goes for comments below this post as well.

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