The Bollard’s View


The editors at the Portland Press Herald should spend less time making up words no one uses, like “glocal” and “plog,” and more time printing words everyone uses, like “pissed off” – as in, “The Press Herald’s decision to refer to the League of Pissed Off Voters as the ‘League of P—– Off Voters’ really pisses me off.”

A local chapter of the League of Pissed Off Voters formed in Portland last year. It’s part of a national political organization, based in New York City, whose formal and legal name is the League of Independent Voters (see But both the local and national leagues refer to themselves using the more aggressive – and accurate — moniker. 

According to the league’s site, it exists to “engage pissed off 17-35 year olds in the democratic process to build a progressive governing majority in our lifetime.” The group’s official credo contains blather like “Bring all voices into the public dialogue,” and “Make real opportunity available to all,” but it’s also clear the league is pro-choice and pro-cheap rent. All well and good. 

Except it seems the editors of Maine’s largest daily, who are courting the same pissed-off demographic of young readers, consider the word “piss” an expletive unworthy of inclusion in a family newspaper. Thus young staff writer Justin Ellis’ Sept. 26 Monday Magazine piece on the group had that ridiculous dash thing going on. Like people don’t know what the f— that is. What bull—-.

Ellis didn’t write it like that. The dashes were imposed from further up the editorial digestive tract. That’s also where, according to local league organizer Justin Alfond, word has come down that the ridiculous P—– thing is also verboten from now on, to be replaced with the group’s legal name in all future references: the League of Independent Voters. 

The local League of Pissed of Voters is, naturally, pissed off about this, but given the choice between no press from the daily and press that misrepresents the nature of their group and confuses potential members, they’ll take the latter.

It’s worth noting that this editorial policy is inconsistently enforced. There are a dozen or so examples of the word leaking into print over the past 10 years – the period searchable in the paper’s online archive. It’s mostly stuff like the 1999 Night Notes entertainment column penned by Scott Sutherland: “It’s a raw record,” Sutherland quotes from the band Orgy’s press bio. “It’s all five-in-the-morning, pissed-off, fighting-with-each-other, kill-each-other kinda stuff” (emphasis added). This review was remarkable as well for its inclusion of that album’s name, “Candyass.”

Which begs the question: Will the Press Herald publish the name of the political group I’m forming tomorrow, the Orgy of Candyass Voters? 

On a more serious note, the most recent example of the “p-word” in print was last December, in an article about a woman’s struggle to cope with her husband’s extended National Guard service in Iraq (“Alone with six kids, mom feels strain,” Dec. 26). Staff writer Kelley Bouchard quoted the mom saying “I was pretty pissed” about her husband’s reactivation.

(This, by the way, was a “glocal” story, according to Press Herald editor and vice president Jeannine Guttman’s definition, in that it linked a local story to an issue of global significance. The term is apparently in vogue exclusively in newsrooms like the Press Herald’s: “Hey, chief, you’re gonna love this story! It’s so glocal you’ll piss yourself!”)

As last December’s article shows, the decision whether or not to use the p-word is a judgment call, not a matter of policy. And in the Press Herald’s judgment, military moms have a right to be “pissed” in print every once in a while, but young people interested in politics don’t. And they wonder why no one under 40 reads their paper?

I’ve seen the mainstream media’s aversion to this word before. A few years ago, when I was working as a reporter back in Rochester, NY, Mayor Bill Johnson let it fly that the city’s high crime rate made him “pissed off.” There was much public poo-poohing over both the mayor’s choice of words and the Gannett-ownedDemocrat & Chronicle’s decision to print those words. 

Of course, everyone was wrong. The high homicide rate in Rochester’s poverty-stricken inner-city neighborhoods makes people “scared shitless” and “fucking outraged.” “Pissed off” is a gross understatement. 

This is typical of the mainstream media’s predicament: How does a responsible, civic-minded, family newspaper accurately report on subjects that provoke profanity, like war and political disenfranchisement? How can readers get a sense of what the subjects of news articles really think and say if the actual language they use is forbidden from appearing on the page?

The short answers to both questions: they don’t and they can’t. That’s why there’s an alternative press in this country. And that’s why younger readers, in particular, couldn’t care less about the Herald and its ilk. Reading the daily paper, they recognize the same pedantic tone droned at them by the lamest teachers in school. 

In an effort to reach out to disaffected readers, especially the young, the daily has introduced a new “interactive” feature called iHerald. This misbegotten idea is meant to bridge the gap between its print and online audiences (many of whom, in the latter group, are under 40). Good luck.

I held off finishing this week’s editorial until today so I could see the latest “plog” in Monday’s iHerald section of the print edition, by “ploggist” Victoria Stefanakos. A plog is supposedly a blog that is rewritten for print.

Stefanakos treats her new, hip, Web-savvy readers to a nagging lecture on the evils of tobacco titled “Smoking’s a nuisance, like dog poop or loud music.” Poop!

Typical of blog writers, she deliberately misrepresents the facts and twists logic into nonsense. 

“It’s now illegal to smoke on the walking trails along the city’s Eastern and Western Promenades and the Back Cove, too,” she wrote.

Except it’s not, if by illegal you mean to describe an activity that is against the law, that people can be compelled by law to stop doing. That’s not the case here. “[S]mokers will have to obey the new ordinance, voluntarily,” she adds. In other words, smokers must obey the ordinance, unless they don’t want to, in which case that’s fine, too. Got it?

Here’s an iMessage for Ms. Stefanakos: Shut yer ploghole. And here’s another for her sanctimonious editors: Go piss up an iRope. 

— Chris Busby

Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard.