Think Like an Editor blog by Steve Davis and Emilie Davis, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

April 26: In poor taste? You decide!

By · Saturday, April 26th, 2014

For the month of April, our blog will be devoted to polishing
your professional skills.
Everything you need to know about courtesy, manners and common sense.
And we do mean “need” to know.

APRIL 26

The expression “in poor taste” can apply to many things, including matters of etiquette. Life offers us opportunities galore for all kinds of missteps regarding taste. In the professional world, communicators have an incentive and a greater level of responsibility to decide what is tasteful.

We can direct our destiny in a positive way if we keep in mind some key questions before we make decisions, publish content or share anything with others. Questions about taste are not whether content will “cause trouble” and whether it would be easier to simply excise the content, but rather what is the right thing to do and what is the right way to decide.

  1. What would others think? Matters of taste always benefit from discussion among a group — just as with ethics — given that taste varies so much from person to person. So, when it is possible, ask a few others for their reactions to issues of taste that concern you. Make sure you choose people who are diverse and who have different specialties. There is a better chance of getting a range of opinions that way. You don’t want to hear only from people who share the same experiences, beliefs and interests.
  2. How important is this detail, picture or quote to the story? Does it add vital content or perspective? How “damaged” would the presentation be without it?
  3. What are my own instincts? If you are on your own, or on deadline and don’t have time to solicit opinions, return to the “When in doubt, take it out” standard. Err on the side of caution. If you have a question, then others will. There are times you will be second-guessed, teased or perhaps even ridiculed for being cautious. But your responsibility is to the readers — all of them — and to the product.
  4. Who is my audience? The answer to this question can make a difference in how you decide matters of taste. Just remember the caution not to generalize about what you know — or think you know — about your readers, viewers and followers.

Read it. Learn it. Live it.
Be that person.

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