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Of asses and asterisks

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When is an asshole an a**hole? The answer is: whenever said orifice or person is mentioned in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette — most of the time.

Which made it all the more interesting the other day when the Dem-Gaz — almost fanatically prudish when it comes to the dirty words you can't say on television (and some that you can) — actually printed the word “asshole” several times, in two different stories. The paper usually substitutes several letters in a printed curse word with asterisks.

The stories, one on April 5 and another on April 10, gave details on the recent troubles of Springdale District Court Judge Stanley Ludwig, who was reprimanded for “lapses in demeanor” by the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission for calling a man who had come before his bench a “controlling asshole.” The man had married a woman from Honduras, and claimed she had beat him. In finding the woman innocent, Ludwig called the man the name.

While Dem-Gaz deputy editor Frank Fellone said he didn't edit the stories in question, he agreed that it was odd for the D-G to run with a spelled-out profanity. So odd, in fact, that he said he expected to get calls or letters from readers about the story. “It is unusual, especially for a newspaper that is as careful with its language as we try to be,” he said.

Fellone said the D-G generally follows the Associated Press style book when deciding how to handle profanities, but also takes into account factors such as who said the curse word, whether it will add to the story or not, and whether it is relevant to the story.

“This is a family newspaper and we should have good reason for using such a word,” Fellone said. “As an example, cursing by the governor is more newsworthy than cursing by me or you.”

Beyond that, Fellone said, whether or not to include profanities is largely a judgment call by the reporter and editor handling the story. “If a reporter and an editor think that the impact of a quote is more meaningful in its most raw form, then they'll go with it,” he said. “I think that in this case, the fact that the guy was the district judge was surely part of the reasoning. It's unusual to get that kind of language or behavior from a guy in robes.” Then again, our thinking around here has always been: Sometimes you've just got to call an a**hole an asshole.

And speaking of… the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, word comes that D-G publisher Walter Hussman Jr. has been named Editor & Publisher magazine's Publisher of the Year. Hussman is the CEO and president of WEHCO Media, Inc., which also owns The El Dorado News Times, The Northwest Arkansas Times, and The Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Among the factors in naming Hussman publisher of the year, E&P cited his unwillingness to cut staff, circulation and newshole, even as papers nationwide slash all three for cost-cutting reasons; his controversial policy of refusing to “give away” news content on the Internet or the D-G website, and that the D-G was one of the few papers in the country to make gains in circulation last year.

You've got to give the guy props for making it work in this day and age, and I do. That said, I've never quite been able to square myself with his crotchety-old-man stubbornness over web access and “free content.” While I tend to agree — after a few drinks — with his stance on limiting access by non-subscribers as a way of driving local eyeballs to the print edition, I always have to note that it's a policy that leaves the rest of the world — anyone outside Arkansas, without a reason to subscribe — out of the loop. To folks trying to access the Dem-Gaz from Dublin or New York or Frankfurt, that's bound to look rather isolationist. And if there's one thing that Arkansas doesn't need, it's to look any more closed off and isolationist than we already do to the rest of the world (it should also be noted that WEHCO's Northwest Arkansas Times, currently locked in a newspaper war with The Morning News, allows unrestricted Internet access to their daily content. Amazing what a little competition in the market will do for you.)

My biggest fear with Hussman winning the award from E&P: it'll help him find an even larger audience for his neo-Luddite views concerning the rise of the Internet and how newspapers should handle online content.

Mail me.

david@arktimes.com

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