Once again, in my view, The New York Times’ insistence on using courtesy titles has made the paper look silly.
In this morning’s print edition, I was immediately drawn to a front-page story out of Santa Cruz, CA, about a 15-year-old boy being charged with murder, kidnapping and sexual assault in the death of 8-year-old Madyson Middleton.
The killer, to all apparent indications, is Adrian Jerry Gonzalez. After using his full name on first reference, The Times’ story refers to him as “Mr. Gonzalez” on second and subsequent references.
It was jarring when I saw the first “Mr. Gonzalez.”
I went on to finish the story, which is beautifully written and reported by Sarah Maslin Nir, but I soon began doing Google searches on The Times’ practice of bestowing courtesy titles, which most newspapers and magazines have done away with.
Except on the sports pages, The Times typically refers to people on second and subsequent references as Mr., Ms. or Mrs.
Medical doctors and dentists get to be called “Dr.” and, in some cases, people with doctorates get that title. Also, famous people who are long gone don’t get courtesy titles, so you don’t see completely ludicrous references like “Mr. Einstein.”
The 1999 edition of The Times’ style book — The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage — calls for people under 18 to be referenced by their first names after the first reference.
The style book has since been updated, and I don’t know if the book’s explanation of courtesy titles for people under 18 has changed. What the 1999 edition says is some people under 18 should receive courtesy titles and some should not.
The determining factor, that edition said, is “their role in the news.” For example, the style book says, “A teenager who achieves distinction in a normally adult field (scientific discovery…or musical composition) might well merit Ms. Miss or Mr.”
His “role in the news” doesn’t seem to be the determining factor in the case of Adrian Gonzalez.
When I went back and read the story a second time, I noticed that he has been charged “as an adult.” Almost surely, that is why the editors decided to put the “Mr.” before his name on second reference.
Still, as I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s ridiculous. As I have done here, The Times should have referred to the killer as “Adrian Gonzalez” in all subsequent references.
In 2012, Philip B. Corbett, The Times’ associate editor for standards, wrote, “In all cases, the rule of common sense should prevail.”
Well, common sense certainly didn’t prevail today…Common sense dictates that Adrian Gonzalez be referred to by first and last name every time. (I put a call in to Corbett this morning but haven’t heard back.)
…In the larger picture, and particularly in these days of increasing informality, I think The Times should drop the courtesy titles altogether.
Last December, Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune praised Crain’s magazine for dropping courtesy titles. One of the problems with courtesy titles, Zorn said, was using them “frequently confers dignity upon the despicable.” As an example, he said The Times has several times referred to serial killer John Wayne Gacy as “Mr. Gacy.”
Is that common sense? Of course not. And neither is calling a 15-year-old rapist and killer “Mr. Gonzalez.”
:: It came as no surprise when I learned today that Will Dana, managing editor of Rolling Stone magazine, is leaving the paper.
Dana was the guy with whom the buck stopped on Rolling Stone’s bogus story about a purported gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house.
In the wake of publication last year, the credibility of the story, written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, quickly began to fall apart. Erdely based the story primarily on the account of one student, a woman she called “Jackie,” who claimed to be the victim.
After Rolling Stone was forced to retract the story last December, I wrote that Jann Wenner, co-founder of the magazine and still the editor in chief, “will fire just about everyone who was involved in reporting and editing the story.”
Dana, who has been with the magazine 19 years, is the first person to lose his job over the debacle. His last day is Aug. 7.
I have not seen anything indicating that the two other main journalists involved in the story — Erdely herself and the main editor of the story, Sean Woods — are on their way out.
Dana’s departure is a good first step for Rolling Stone to try to redeem itself as a responsible publication. That’s not enough, though; Erdely and Woods also need to go.
:: Great news! Cheslor Cuthbert is staying with the Royals. That means we can continue hearing his name announced at the stadium and on radio and TV whenever he gets into a game. I thought for sure he was headed to Omaha to make room for newly acquired outfielder Ben Zobrist. But it was Paulo Orlando who got tapped to return to the minor leagues. I’d like to think Cheslor’s wonderful name was the deciding factor in whether he stayed or went. These Royals’ front-office guys are looking more and more like geniuses.