Can a ‘Clusterf––k’ Become One?

Recently, editors for the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill’s student newspaper The Daily Tar Heel decided to use profanity in an editorial critical of the university’s handing of COVID-19 on campus (see above). Not long after in-person classes resumed at UNC, editors for its student paper wanted to express their concerns for clusters of COVID-19 springing up on campus, and how the university was handling the reporting of them. In an interview with the Journalism Institute of the National Press Club, Tar Heel editor-in-chief Anna Porgarcic explained that the newspaper felt that it shouldn’t mince words about how the COVID-19 spread was being handled and reported to members of the university community. “My opinion editor suggested [the word] to me, and I thought it was the perfect way to describe what’s happening,” she said. “There were so many questions surrounding the announcement of the clusters […] which wasn’t helped by the University’s lack of transparency about exact numbers, that we felt [the] editorial warranted something outside of our usual style. I mean, people’s literal lives — our safety, our health — are at stake because of the decisions this institution and the UNC System are making. I was unsure at first if it perhaps was too unprofessional, but it’s not our job as journalists to sugarcoat what’s going on.”

The different sides to this case are interesting. On one hand, the word might have accurately described how UNC was handling the reporting of virus numbers, if not the spread of COVID-19 on campus itself. If nothing else, the editors clearly felt that the word accurately expressed how they felt about the university managing the situation and that the word play was appropriate. On the other hand, the use of the word begs the question if the use of profanity is ever warranted in journalistic practice. This was, of course, an editorial, not a straight news story; so perhaps the use of the word fittingly tapped into the views and emotions shared among the paper’s editorial staff. If the headline was part of a news item, then the use of the word might seem more outwardly inappropriate, unless it was expressed by a source used for a story and not a term used by a journalist covering a story.

Though it may seem trivial, this case brings to mind discussion of best practices. Is it ever appropriate to use profanity in a headline or in the body of a news story? Or in a news editorial? Under what circumstances may it be done? Or should it never be done? Thus far journalism organizations such as the Poynter Institute and the Society for Professional Journalists have yet to weigh in on the case.

What do you think?

Sources: Journalism Institute; Washington Post

When Radio is Used to Foment Hate

[OPINION] Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN radio host Bob Davis expressed his hatred of Sandy Hook victims during a recent broadcast, telling them to “go to hell.” According to The Huffington Post, Davis made his comment while expressing his concern that the victims of the tragedy were being used as political tools to in some way curb Second Amendment rights. Davis apparently felt personally threatened, claiming that the victims were being used to take away his liberty. You can hear the segment in the clip above.

Telling families whose children were senselessly killed––who are now dedicating themselves to putting into place legislation that would make it harder for those with criminal backgrounds or mental disabilities to obtain firearms––that they “can go to hell” is itself senseless. Davis demonstrating a complete lack of sympathy and an utter disrespect of the victims (publicly, over the air mind you) is incomprehensible and mind-boggling. Davis, of course, is entitled to his opinion. But when his opinion––in response to violence––is itself expressive of violence, that’s where his First Amendment rights begin to blur.

But here’s where it gets more insidious: “Davis & Emmer in the Morning,” like all radio shows, is dependent upon advertising revenue in order to remain economically viable. In other words, without advertisers willing to pay to air ads on their program, the program wouldn’t exist. That is, of course, how the mass media generally works. So either Davis was trying to boost his ratings by being intentionally inhumane and controversial, or he his genuinely an inhumane and insensitive person. Either way, he shouldn’t be placed in front of a microphone. That his radio station,  Twin Cities News Talk AM 1130, continues to allow him on the air should be troubling to everyone.

Thanks to Christina Moore for the tip.

Sources:, Twin Cities News Talk AM 1130