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To Bleep or Not to Bleep: Cursing in Corporate Podcasts

I’m faced with something of a conundrum. When is it okay for a corporate podcast to leave profanity in an interview?

While in Nuremberg, one of the interviews that Erin and I did was with Kurt Garloff and Hannes Reinecke who explain new scaling features in the Linux kernel, including hot-swappable CPU’s and memory. (That’s right…it is possible to hot swap CPU’s…remember back when that was a far out new thing for disk arrays?) It’s about time that we finally get this one online.

But there’s this problem…at one point Hannes casually uses a common interjection of surprise when explaining a hypothetical scenario. The expression contains a term that some would say is inappropriate in a professional setting.

Then, a few minutes later, Kurt uses the exact same expression in exactly the same way. Neither of them deliberately used the phrase to be offensive, abusive or course. It flows perfectly naturally in coversation.

That’s my conundrum. Is “Oh, shit,” acceptable to leave in a production that represents a global software company? For that matter, what’s more offensive: leaving in a not-uncommonly-heard curse word that is used in this case as a regular way of speaking, or assuming that one’s listeners should not hear a certain word that was hardly even used as a curse word in the first place? Then there’s the whole matter of whether we should bleep it out in order to keep our iTunes listing from saying “explicit,” which really doesn’t even apply to this particular show, let alone our tens of other episodes. Dare we risk it?

When I first proposed Novell Open Audio [originally as “Radio Free Novell”] to Novell’s senior management, my proposal included a statement to the effect that the program’s credibility rested on our ability to allow people to speak as much like they normally do as possible. Faced with my first use of what some may consider profanity, I now have to decide: do we bleep the “oh, shits” or not?

Advice appreciated, and tune in to Novell Open Audio tomorrow to find out what we finally decided.


29 Responses

  1. You could do two recordings – a rated ‘G’ version, and an ‘uncensored director’s cut’…

    As far as the censoring, you do what you have to do… corporate/professional media and all, but really, do you have to ‘bleep’? If you’re going to filter it, scramble it, or overlay Erin saying ‘poop’ (his voice is girly like his name so it’s funnier), or something. Just don’t BLEEP it.

  2. The concept of “bleeping”, in my mind, exists to provide a level of self-censorship and get around FCC rules.

    The FCC rules exist to provide a level of “common decency” and to “protect the community”. In effect, they are using the lowest common denominator to ensure that the content on a freely-available broadcast medium is acceptable to all.

    A podcast, on the other hand, has a different concept of both “community” and “decency”. Unlike traditional broadcast media, a user must choose to listen to (subscribe or download) a specific “channel”. This microcosm creates it’s own set of community standards, in effect redefining “decency” to mean “that which this particular community finds acceptable”.

    Since you are in the position of creating the community, you are also in the position of setting the decency standard. With that view in mind, it seems to me that your choices are:

    1) Censor the audio and create a community that expects Novell to protect them by withholding truths that Novell does not think that the community wants to hear.


    2) Leave the language as is, and preface the podcast with a warning. In effect, shifting the burden of the determination of “decency” to your listeners. This would create a community of adults who are capable of making their own decisions. It also puts Novell in the position of just providing the data that their users need and letting them decide for themselves.

    I leave it up to you to determine which is most consistent with Novell’s brand and principles.

  3. What would the TV censors do? Is this a 7:00 or 9:00 show?

  4. While I am sensitive to the feelings of those who would prefer to not be exposed to certain choice words, I am compelled to suggest that you leave the interview unaltered. For your interviews to maintain a high cred. factor with both your listeners and those contributing by being interviewed, there must continue to be the sensation that the content is pure and not being washed through a Novell PR filter.

    -Jonathan Lee

  5. So do two versions one clean and one mean 🙂

  6. I think it is important to ask the question and I understand this is still a corp podcast.

    But when do you decide things need censor? Would you censor dog shit? And what else would you need to censor if dog shit is not allowed? The next thing could be you remove sections because it might upset someone somewhere on this earth.

    Anyway, I think all sort of censor is bad and bleeping it would only make people aware there is something that needed bleeping.

    Unless it would be illegal it would not bleep the “O shit”.

    Keep up the good work and I will find out what you decided on the next show.


  7. Nice one Ted. I am not sure what to recommend. Of course, corporate-heads will presumably prefer the bleep, and community members will probably find that …amusing.

    I think it would be funny to have a corporate podcast labelled as explicit in iTunes. Probably you want to explain the conundrum to speakers in the future, and avoid being put in this place to begin with. If you explain the iTunes problem, it is not even a corporate matter, it is just a common-sense issue 😉

  8. I think the safe choice is to bleep it. Something along the lines of sh-bleep conveys what was said without the entire thing being there. That way you have some cover if someone gets worked up. On a related note, I dunno if you saw that there was a mild sh-bleep-storm when Tim Bray dropped an F-bomb to describe how cool the Sun datacentre in a box thingy was to him on his personal blog.


  9. The audience comprises enlightened adults, so…

  10. I’d only beep them if you were worried about your iTunes rating. As a ‘corporate’ podcast your audience is not 8 year olds and I am sure everyone listening has seen, heard and thought far worse (especially in the situations being described). Plus by not censoring (unless in extreme circumstances) you are ‘keeping it real’ which for the message you personally are trying to get across is pretty important.

  11. Well my vote is that as long as it’s not a show targeted to kids, you’re okay leaving it in no matter how particular words are used.

    On a personal level, I don’t mind the ‘four letter’ words dropped in by the guest in a conversational way. As the host representing the show I think you should refrain from those phrases.

    As a general rule of thumb, due to this being a corporate podcast, I would edit out the word.

    At the end of the day I think you really have to make the decision as to what you want for your show. After all, the choices are reflected on you as the host.

  12. At the end of the day Ted I would imagine 90% of your listners are adults, and the remainder are certainly in Secondary/High school. That last 10% could probably teach us a few new terms!

    As long as no offence was meant or caused I can’t see a problem. Do you really care what rating iTunes gives NOA? It’s not them that rate you but your listners, peers and importantly the community.

  13. I’d go for editing the content. The reason why is that while most people listening to the podcasts will have no problem with the language used, there will be some who will either take offense. I really like the NPR program This American Life. I think they address a similar audiance as Novell OpenAudio and a similar goal of having people talk as they normally do. Yet they handle language that could be seen by some as offensive (most notably the FCC in their case) very well. Bleeping doesn’t offend the listeners who have no issue with the words used yet protects the others who might care.

  14. Leave it as recorded. (unless there was an error – as before) We are all grown ups. Sh*t (oopps..) there is a lot worse on TV at any given time.

  15. I vote no bleep. For me, hearing the bleep in any TV/Radio/Podcast just jarrs me. It makes my brain immediately think “what the hell did they beep?”, and I momentarily lose concentration on what they’re actually saying. Yeah, I’m *that* easily distrac… oooh shiny things..

  16. I guess your asking two questions one is about profanity the other about expectations.

    In regards to expectations are you running a corporate professional podcast whose content is considered and measured and may aspire to BBC news quality delivery of content and clarity. Or are you offering a Community still just as professional podcast which you might expect the content to be more Tube meets Old Grey Whistle test and in that case “live” and “real” is what people are expecting.

    As for profaniety on any level I would hope that your peers in Novell would enable you to make a choice and then support you in your decisions without requiring listener moderation or feedback.

    Wasnt it an fellow American who said “You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time” — Abraham Lincoln

    I say go with what you want to do with the show.

  17. I vote no bleep! I agree with Joe 🙂

  18. I recommend that you bleep everything out. I understand that some of us talk differently and in other countries our languages differ but this is not what I see coming from Novell Open Audio. You have used words that trip me out and make me laugh but I have never been offended or heard anyone curse. It may be strange but my oldest son (10) enjoys listening every now and then and he wears his NOA shirt to school….BTW The HECC show is in Indianapolis today! 725 attendees to see SLE and all of the other GREAT products from Novell!

  19. I vote no bleep. Who among your listeners hasn’t said that same phrase or something worse when they’ve lost a file (that they’d been working on for hours but never saved) because the PC froze or lost power?

  20. It is what it is. Just leave it.:)

  21. It’s far more disrupting to the flow of the interview to have a beep. It detracts from the content. You present some difficult concepts; I have enough trouble following the conversation without having my train of thought derailed by a a beep.

    And where do you draw the line? The mores of the United States? What about other cultures that have different standards of decency?

    There’s South Pacific island on which technology is revered as a symbol of their deity — do you beep out all references to technology to appease their cultural norms?

    However, if you DO censor your podcast don’t use a beep. Just blank out the offensive word. I listen to podcasts with earbuds — a beep in the middle of conversation actually hurts (the sound pressure level is concentrated a a single frequency; could cause hearing damage).


    (BTW, I like the full-width text format — can this textbox form be made full-width too?)

  22. If you are who you claim to be, “Reverend” Ted, bleep it out. Casual interviews can still be that professional.

  23. If you don’t censor I may have to censor who I share it with. This is not appropriate in all friend and customer forums.

  24. You will loose the enthousiasm and spontaneousness of the show when your going to bleep. Stay who you are and let the show be what it is right now.

  25. Just in case anyone pooh-poohs the idea of hearing damage, have a look what the BBC has to say about “Acoustic Shock” :

    Acoustic shocks are defined as “any temporary or permanent disturbance of the functioning of the ear, or of the nervous system, which may be caused to the user of a telephone earphone by a sudden sharp rise in the acoustic pressure produced by it”.

    The sound could be a whistle, a bleep – or any unexpected noise.

    Experts suggest there are many more people who have experienced acoustic shock but do not realise it


    So, no beeps, please.


  26. Coming hear a bit late after hearing the show, I am glad that there was no censorship, and I would have thought that if you had not mentioned it, there would have been no complaints.

    The interview was with two Germans in Germany, where “shit” is a bog standard word and one would not be thought of as unprofessional for using it. I have even heard it on a (scripted) children’s television programme.

    I would also prefer that if you do feel the need to censor your contributors in future, you do not use a beep but drop the sound to make it inaudible. And as for leaving an “Oh sh”, if your listeners need to be protected from such horrible words, you should do it properly and protect them, not get rid of half of it like some seven year old who thinks that he is being daring by using half a word he shouldn’t.


  27. After hearing the show the only complaint that I have about the whole situation is that you did not up front announce that there would be language that some would find offensive.

    Luckily I listened in the car. Had I listened at work as I do at times I could have had a problem with the pointy haired ones.

  28. Summary:
    – I did not end up censoring the content. I prefer that our guests be allowed to be who they are.
    – The only time I will ever censor for language is if I think the speaker is using a term to be deliberately offensive.
    – Thanks to several insightful comments, I now agree that bleeps are bad in principle. If we ever do have to edit for language, we will simply mute potentially offensive words, leaving in phonemes to hint at what was said.
    – Apologies to all those who recommended in favor of censoring. I really never intended to censor, but I was wondering about what our listeners thought on the matter. With the feedback given, I opted to “keep it real.”
    Thanks for everyone for their feedback on this one.

  29. I’m English and f*ck is a multi-faceted part of every conversation.

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