Here are more answers to frequently asked questions.
Why doesn't The Post regularly publish the transcripts of speeches, presidential news conferences, etc.? "If the business of Washington is government, should not a reader of The Washington Post be able to read a transcript or a fairly full summary?" a reader asked.
In the past The Post did carry such transcripts, but Leonard Downie Jr., the executive editor, said that the practice "consumes a lot of very expensive newsprint." Now The Post routinely places transcripts on its Internet site, www.washingtonpost.com. The majority of Post readers have access to the Internet at home or at work, Downie said. The printed version of The Post will carry excerpts only of especially newsworthy speeches and news conferences.
Why does The Post permit irreverence in headlines -- even on stories about serious subjects? This one from the first edition on Dec. 9 set off some readers: "Mother Died, but Boy, 9, Kept Mum." The story was about a child who for a month was too afraid to tell anyone that his mother had died for fear of being placed in foster care. One irate reader said that the headline writer "should be chewed out, fired, punched, then kicked in the [rear end] on their way out the building."
"Headlines are the toughest thing to do in the newspaper," said Downie, who explained that the copy editors who write the headlines must "sum up the story in a few words" while also trying to "catch readers' attention through humor, puns, satire." They may have anywhere from three to 10 minutes to do this before moving on to other stories. Still, said Downie, "It is very important to exercise good taste." The "Mother Died" headline, he agreed, "crossed over the line." In later editions, "Mum" was changed to "Silent."
According to Vincent Rinehart, the chief copy editor for the national news section, which was responsible for the story, an alert copy editor spotted the offensive headline and brought it to Rinehart's attention. "It was changed for the second edition, so the horror was confined to about 70,000 papers of the 700,000-plus that day."
Are vulgarities becoming more acceptable, e.g., sucks or "sux," as it was rendered in a Dec. 14 story about the new vernacular of the Internet? A reader, recalling a May 21 editorial lamenting that this particular word "seems to be making its way into the language of what passes for polite society these days," asked: "Who decides when a vulgarity becomes acceptable in ye olde family newspaper? . . . I know that a lot of readers aren't happy with the new-found respectability of this slimey little word."
This is an example of where The Post trips over itself in its twin urges to be a conservator of that which is respectable in language and culture and to be au courant. "Society obviously has changed in its use of language," Downie said, but newspapers, thought of as guests in the reader's home, should be suitable for "everyone in a household." Thus, vulgarities, racial slurs, blasphemous words and the like should only appear in The Post when they are "necessary" for the news story and have been given the green light by Downie or one of his senior deputies. In the case of "sucks," which is synonymous with "stinks," he said that teenagers and their parents know that the term has "a more innocent meaning" than it originally had. Still, editors and reporters should be vigilant in their roles as guardians of language and more sensitive to the fact that vulgarities, however "hip," are just not acceptable to many readers.
If you have questions about the content of The Post, contact me at email@example.com or (202) 334-7582.