Why some papers swear by bad language while others censor words spoken by millions every day?


Newspapers covering the recent anti-gentrification protests were faced with a censorship dilemma when it came to describing the organisers,writes Graham Dudman.

The group behind the attack on the Cereal Killer Cafe calls itself The Fuck Parade.

The Guardian had no problem publishing the name in full many times over but in the Evening Standard, it appeared as ‘The F*** Parade.’

This different treatment of the F-word typifies a split between broadsheets and tabloids.

When it comes to newspapers publishing profanity, the supposed ‘posh’ papers have no qualms exposing their readership to swear words. But their more rumbustious red top and mid-market cousins take a more conservative view.

Most tabloids and local papers will stretch to running ‘bloody’ and ‘crap’ but anything stronger and more often than not asterisks are used.

The question of publishing bad language comes down to the simple issue of taste and decency.

No editor wants to risk losing readers by offending them.

If an editor thinks there’s even half a chance somebody might stop buying or picking up their paper because they contain certain words, they won’t take the risk.

There’s nothing to stop a paper serving up swearing.

Complaints from offended readers to IPSO would almost certainly be rejected on the grounds taste and decency are a matter for the editor.

Of all the papers, The Guardian appears to be least concerned about swearing.

According to a 2012 Guardian cuss count by its then readers’ editor, the F-word appeared an eye watering 808-times in a year with the C-word making 69 appearances in the same period.


Graham Dudman considers when is okay to use swear words in your journalism?

The C-word has even appeared on The Guardian’s front page in a 2009 story about Jeremy Clarkson’s description of David Cameron in a not-for broadcast conversation with the Top Gear studio audience.

If the C-word appeared in full on the front of your local paper or any national tabloid, the roof would fall in.

But when The Guardian ran it, only around 15 readers bothered to protest to the paper showing their readers really don’t give a f*** about bad language.

Papers which decide the F-word is a step too far differ on how they deal with shielding it from their readers.

This summer saw a classic silly season story featuring the horrified parents of a two-year-old who brought home a talking doll from Toys R Us only to discover it swore like a trooper.

The Daily Mail gave the story this headline: Parents horrified after £32.99 talking baby doll they bought from Toys R Us teaches their two-year-old daughter to say ‘f*** it’

In the Mail’s copy, the f-word was presented as ‘f***’.

The Metro was a little braver revealing almost all of the offending word with the headline: Two-year-old says ‘f*ck it’ to her dad…

The family’s local paper, the Milton Keynes Citizen, dispensed with the use of asterixis in its headline:  Mum horrified after ‘swearing doll’ teaches her two-year-old the F-word.

But in its copy, the paper reverted to an asterix and used capital letters to ram home the shock of it all:

A horrified mum is desperately trying to get her two-year-old daughter to forget some of her first words – after a crying doll taught her to say “F**K IT.”

Whichever way the papers censored the F-word, no reader could have been in any doubt what the word was. Each editor clearly felt their readers might have been offended had they read it uncensored.

Tastes change over time but for most papers the rule of thumb when it comes to swearing is: if in doubt, leave it out.


Richard Desmond has announced a tabloid price war by slashing the cost of the Daily Star, Saturday Star and Daily Star Sunday by 50%.

This will make the Daily Star 20p – half the price of The Sun and a third cheaper than the 60p Daily Mirror.

The Star’s circulation will enjoy a big lift at the expense of The Sun and Mirror though extra sales will never make up for the long term shortfall in circulation revenue.

The Sun or the Mirror are unlikely to follow suit as it would be commercial madness with circulation and advertising revenue on both titles under pressure.

If previous price wars are anything to go by, the Daily Star’s cover price will edge back up in stages and return to 40p early next year.

If Desmond really wanted to challenge The Sun and The Mirror, he’d take the plunge and turn the Daily Star free.

The UK-wide success of the Metro and city-centre Manchester Evening News proves people will still pick up and read a newspaper.

The London Evening Standard has changed from a loss-maker into profit since its cover price was abolished.

The Daily Star currently sells 416,000 copies a day. If it went free, the circulation could easily top one million overtaking the Daily Mirror’s 870,000 sales with The Sun’s 1.8 million in its sights.

Read other columns by Graham Dudman

What part of the BBC’s charter says the licence fee should be spent producing a magazine?

Shorthand is still the future: Why journalism’s old skills are still as relevant as all the new ones

Graham Dudman is a former Managing Editor of The Sun and Editorial Development Director at News UK, working across The Times, Sunday Times and The Sun. He is an editorial consultant at News Associates. Follow Graham on Twitter @1dudders