Wick Communications

Courtesy takes a hit

In journalism on March 4, 2011 at 9:30 am

Last week the venerable Wall Street Journal announced it would no longer use courtesy titles on second reference in sports stories. The seas roiled, the heavens thundered, the earth moved.

OK, people pretty much took the change in stride. But I nonetheless think the change is worth noting.

The newspaper will continue to use the titles “Mr.” and “Mrs.” in the rest of the paper. Just not in sports. I think that is partially because this courtesy titles can be really clunky in sports coverage. Picture a five-four-three double play by the Yankees.

Mr. Rodriguez threw to Mr. Cano, who hit Mr. Montero at first to complete the play…

In his column noting the change, WSJ writer Jason Gay says that even the extra effort to be courteous rubbed some sports readers the wrong way. “… There was the agitated Alabama reader who wrote to The Journal, offended that the paper referred to Alabama football coach Nick Saban as ‘Mr. Saban’ and not ‘Coach Saban.’” And none other than Mr. Frank Deford, perhaps the dean of sports reporters, chided the newspaper for all that courtesy.

You can’t please everyone…

For what it’s worth, Frank DeFord went off on the topic last year.

I kind of like the “honorifics” in the Wall Street Journal (and they will continue in the rest of the paper.) I don’t think we should all run out and start adding courtesy titles, but they do seem to convey a level of respect for all of the paper’s sources. Mr. Obama is on equal footing with Mr. Madoff, and that feels pretty even-handed in a newspaper.

What do you think?

Clay

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