You may have noticed the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's new style in the news section: Quotation marks around "gay marriage" or gay "marriage," and, referring to the San Francisco same sex unions, "weddings," "married," "marriage licenses," and "newlywed." Well, put on your copy editor's hat kiddies, because there's going to be a quiz.
Q: In the following set of headlines, taken from recent editions of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, why is the phrase "gay marriage" sometimes in quotes (single quotes when in headlines), and other times not?
A) Gay marriage ban faces 'high hurdle'
B) California judge won't stop 'gay marriage'
C) Gay 'marriage' foes file California suit
D) Democrats weigh death penalty, gay marriage at debate
E) Justices deny state's request to immediately halt gay 'marriages'
If you're like us, you might have thought 1) stylebook use at the D-G is as intermittent as President Bush's National Guard service or 2) editors at the D-G have put a whooooole lot more thought into this than we first suspected.
We called D-G Deputy Editor Frank Fellone. After an initial chat and a later, I-mulled-it-over callback, he said this:
Answer: Headlines A and D deal with the "issue" of gay marriage, while the others refer to the gay marriages currently being conducted in San Francisco.
Said Fellone: "They [the marriages in San Francisco] should be in quotes in the news section, because after all, they're not marriages."
As far as we know, the Democrat-Gazette is the only newspaper in the country currently working to insulate its readers from an unwitting acceptance of San Francisco's "gay marriages," corralling them safely behind quotation marks where they belong.
"You do understand that in California for instance, there is a legal question as to whether the marriages are legal or not," Fellone said. "So to our knowledge in this country, there is nowhere - at least to my knowledge- there is nowhere in America that same sex unions are legally considered to be marriages." (It was an answer he repeated when asked if the quotation marks amounted to editorializing on the news pages).
The issue could get more complicated, however. The Supreme Court of Massachusetts has ordered the state legislature to allow same-sex marriages by May.
Fellone wouldn't identify the creator of the new rule. He said only that the change edict came from within the newsroom. As to why the D-G news side insists on quotes when most other large-circulation newspapers don't, Fellone said that every newspaper has its own particular view of current events. "Well, gosh," Fellone said. "If every other newspaper jumped off a bridge - but you know what I mean."
By the way, this style policy hasn't crept onto the editorial pages of the Democrat-Gazette. Don't style rules apply in editorial and news departments alike? According to D-G editorial page editor Paul Greenberg, not necessarily. While the style of the news side and the editorial page are "usually pretty much the same," Greenberg said, they occasionally diverge, as in this case.
"When we last used 'gay marriage,'" Greenberg said, "we used them with capitol letters G and M, which in effect made it clear that it was homosexual marriage as opposed to a gay marriage, [as in] a happy marriage."
Unlike Fellone and the news department, Greenberg said he hadn't given "the least thought" about the legality of same sex unions when dictating the style, only to making the words themselves clear to readers. "While we would generally prefer a term like homosexual marriage, which strikes us as neutral or descriptive, sometimes in the context of a sentence when you're writing a piece," Greenberg said, "a term like gay marriage might be more appropriate. … At the same time, I think we capitalize the G and the M to indicate that this was a relatively new title."
You've heard about this: On Ash Wednesday, after a viewing of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," KABZ FM 103.7 ("The Buzz") morning show producer Phlip (pronounced "Flip") Satchel went to the West Little Rock Home Depot, purchased and nailed together a pair of two-by-sixes into the shape of a cross, and then carried them across town to Signal Media Radio HQ. Outrage! Dropped advertising! Satchel was forced to read an on-air apology and suspended for a day.
The most amazing thing about the incident, however - especially given all the publicity it has generated for the station - was that the punishment was apparently the real deal, as opposed to garden variety radio stunt. Buzz morning jock Stanley Knox says Satchel was indeed suspended without pay, and that the on-air apology was a do-it-or-else decree handed down by Signal president Philip Jonsson after at least one major advertiser dropped its account with the station for joking about Jesus.
"I'll be totally honest," Knox said. "The only reason they're suspending him is to try and get that sponsor back, and that's a bunch of crap."