Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Journalism 101

As someone who has worked in journalism since high school, I like to keep track of how the field of journalism functions, and how different it operates from how I was taught during my years in Y-Press and in the IU School of Journalism at IUPUI.

One particular nitpick I've had in recent months is the use of formal titles, specifically the term "Doctor", often shortened to "Dr." According to the Associated Press Stylebook (which is basically The Bible for journalists), the term "Dr." should only be used for those in the medical or dental professions that hold the proper qualifications. In recent years, as alternate treatment such as osteopathic and chiropractic have become more acceptable, it's become appropriate to even use the "Dr." term for those in alternate medical fields as well.

But people with a doctorate of philosophy degree should fall under a different title. There is a bit of a differing viewpoint as to what the proper view is, but it's generally accepted that "Dr." shouldn't be used.

Writing, of course, differs based on who you're writing for. The Department of Health and Human Services have posted how their web writing and press release writing differs from the AP Stylebook here. But when writing as a journalist for a news source, let's stick with identifying what the PhD is in rather than using the term "Dr."

One of the more humorous examples of this abuse of the term "Dr." comes from Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert. In the regular segment "Cheating Death", Colbert identifies himself as "Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA", then reminds the audience (humorously) that he isn't a medical doctor. The DFA stands for Doctorate in Fine Arts, which is an honorary degree he received a few years ago. With the amount of honorary degrees some people receive, you could stretch their title probably for a paragraph or two.

And what originally pushed this to the front of my mind so much so that I had to write about it?

When is the local media going to stop using the "Dr." title when referring to Public Safety Director Frank Straub?


  1. I have a doctorate, a JD. If Straub gets to use Dr., I get to use Dr.

    Dr. Ogden...yes I like that.

  2. Dr. Paul K. Ogden Esquire, J.D. That's one hell of a name on a business card.

  3. Then ignore how I use Dr. tomorrow in front of his name in my blog post.

  4. Actually, I think you use either Dr. before the name, or the actual degree after the name. So, even with medical practitioners, it would be either Dr. So N. So, or, So N. So, M.D. That, I do believe, is true of any advanced degree. Or, in another example, Paul K. Ogden, J.D., Paul K. Ogden, Esq., or, (Dr.) Paul K. Ogden. And Frank Straub, Ph.D., or, Dr. Frank Straub.

  5. I might have to swing by a library to look up what the AP Stylebook says, Pat. But writing as a journalist often means writing in ways people would understand. People aren't as familiar with the term "Esquire" or J.D./Juris Doctorate, but they do know what a lawyer is. So you identify someone with a law degree as a lawyer, unless they aren't working as a lawyer.

  6. Ho, ho, ho. Many people spend plenty of money so they can call themselves "doctor". Some, even go through the whole process of writing and defending a thesis.

    I have found that the more demanding a person is about having others address them as "doctor" (non-medical/dental, of course), usually the less deserving they are of the title.

  7. I certainly agree, varangianguard. I think some room should be made for academic settings, though I've never encountered a doctorate holder who insisted on it. I always opted for the term "Professor" anyway when I am faced with that situation But in a strict journalistic sense, when working for a news agency and your job is to report the news, the term "Dr." should be avoided when referring to those with PhDs.


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