MUST-READ: When Offensive Language Is Involved, These Steps Are Not Optional : Memmos They must be taken before offensive language is heard (and even if it's bleeped) on the air.
NPR logo MUST-READ: When Offensive Language Is Involved, These Steps Are Not Optional

MUST-READ: When Offensive Language Is Involved, These Steps Are Not Optional

As with previous notes about offensive language, what follows focuses on radio reports.

But it's worth noting that we also do not put f-bombs, s-bombs, slurs and other offensive language on digital platforms without senior editors' approval.

These are mandatary steps:

1. Reporter/editor/producer (from desks and shows): As soon as you think there's even a chance you may need to include such language in a radio piece, put an ALL CAPS message in the "Notes" field of your story's Newsflex collection.

It should say "THIS STORY CONTAINS OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE."

Do not wait to do it later. You may forget. Do not worry about whether the word may end up being cut or bleeped. You can delete the note if that happens or change the language.

Editor: make sure that note gets written or do it yourself.

Again, do not wait. Days or weeks may go by and things do get forgotten.

2. Reporter/editor/producer: Put a similar note at the top of the script, in red. Like so:

THIS STORY CONTAINS OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE

Again, do not wait. Do not worry about whether the language will end up in the piece at the end. The note can be deleted, but forgetting to put it there may end up being a big mistake.

Editor: make sure that note gets written or do it yourself.

3. Reporter/editor/producer: As far as possible before the story is due to air, you must get approval from either the Standards & Practices editor (Mark Memmott) or a Deputy Managing Editor.

Remember, Legal may be called in as well. Time must be allowed. Unless it's breaking news, we should not be having these discussions on deadline.

4. Reporter/editor/producer: Once the S&P editor or a DME has signed off on either airing the word or bleeping it, and it's been determined how listeners should be warned, you must notify the show line producer or line editor about what's coming.

Do not wait.

5. Then, depending on what's been decided, change the message in the story's "Notes" field to either:

THIS STORY CONTAINS OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE (WORD OR WORDS) AND HAS BEEN APPROVED BY MARK MEMMOTT OR NEWSROOM DME (name)

or

THIS STORY CONTAINS OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE THAT HAS BEEN BLEEPED (WORD) AND HAS BEEN APPROVED BY MARK MEMMOTT OR NEWSROOM DME (name)

And, depending on what's been decided, change the ALL CAPS note at the top of the script to either:

THIS STORY CONTAINS OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE (WORD OR WORDS) AND HAS BEEN APPROVED BY MARK MEMMOTT OR NEWSROOM DME (name)

or

THIS STORY CONTAINS OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE THAT HAS BEEN BLEEPED (WORD) AND HAS BEEN APPROVED BY MARK MEMMOTT OR NEWSROOM DME (name)

As for what is and isn't offensive, we've said before that "overall, NPR is conservative about potentially offensive language – not permissive." And while it's true that we don't keep a definitive list of words that shouldn't be heard, if you reread this Memmo, or this one, or this one, or this one you'll find lots of guidance and links about our thinking.

If it isn't clear by now, this is serious stuff. Treat it that way and follow the steps above.