Digital Publishing Guidelines

Taste, Tone, Profanity

Common sense, rather than a rigid set of rules, applies to the use of profanity in published content. In general, however, Post journalists should not publish stories, blog entries, videos or photos that contain profanities on any platform of The Washington Post without the approval of top-level editors.

For content aggregated by Post journalists, editors should always be involved in the decision to publish material that contains profanities or material that some audiences may find inappropriate or offensive, including text, visuals and even links to third-party content. Reporters and bloggers should always consult their editors or the appropriate content supervisors, and preferably two or more editors, if they have a concern that the content might be objectionable to some readers or viewers.

As news professionals, we should weigh the content of any possibly offensive or objectionable material against the news value that it provides. We should consider how offensive the material may be to different audiences (including children), and how central the potentially offensive material is to a full understanding of the news that is being reported. These factors should be considered when the material is graphic (i.e., violent or upsetting in nature); contains nudity or sexual situations; contains the use of obscenities or racial slurs; or could be otherwise inappropriate for some audiences.

If editors decide that content containing potentially offensive material has a legitimate news value, editors should use visual and/or text warnings about such material. For example, we may link to a Web page that contains material that does not meet standards for Post original content, but we let users know what they might see before they click the link by including a warning, such as “Warning: Some images on this site contain graphic images of war.”

EXAMPLE: Offensive words in YouTube video

A Post blogger found an entertaining YouTube video that appears to be shot aboard a commercial airline cabin, during which many passengers engage in a pillow fight while seated in their seats and the plane is aloft. Toward the end of the video, a passenger is overheard shouting, “Who started this s--t?"

Question: Should we embed this video on a blog even though it contains an offensive word?

Decision: The blogger should have a conversation with his or her editor before embedding the video, and the editor should view the video in its entirety before making a decision about whether to publish. In this case, The Post should not publish the YouTube video because its value as a legitimate news event seems minor. This area of news judgment can take into account the degree to which the content is the subject of conversation, comment, controversy or criticism on social media, but all that should be weighed against the value that The Post has to add to this kind of entertainment.

Finally, we do not link to sites that aid or abet illegal activity. Consult with the Legal Department if you have a question about whether a site falls under this rule.