Thursday, January 26, 2006

What's up doc?

This story in today's Star generated a few e-mails accusing us of not giving female professionals proper respect. Namely, readers questioned why Dr. Catherine Betor was referred to as "Mrs. Betor" on second reference. Here is the e-mail response I sent out (the comment about my wife, a district court judge, comes from her questioning me on this point when she was referred to as Mrs. Foster on second reference in a story in The Star):

Your question is valid and comes up from time to time.
Our policy on using courtesy titles exists mainly to distinguish between men and women.
We do not refer to Drs. -- either men or women -- on second reference.
If there had been a second reference to Dr. Hamrick, it would have been "Hamrick said ..." etc.
Here's the first file story I came up with on a search to illustrate that point --
As you can see Dr. Fortkort is simply "Fortkort" on second reference. This is consistent with Associated Press style.
So, to refer to Catherine on second reference as a Dr., and then not to use that designation for male doctors, would be confusing.
Instead, we refer to female doctors as Dr. on first reference -- so their professional status is clear -- then as "Mrs." on second reference so people know we are talking about a women not a man. This is also consistent with our overall policy of using courtesy titles for women.
Is it perfect? Hardly. But we think it's the best way to convey information to readers. I think there should be no doubt that Catherine is a doctor and a "she" from this story, which is the main point.
This rule, ahem, also applies to women judges (if it seems like I've had to make this case before, maybe even in my own home, you're right!!!)
Bottom line: Women doctors and other professionals DO receive the same amount of respect as male counterparts by using this policy.
Take care,


Anonymous said...

Readers need to question why this law passed in the first place.

LLB said...

All organizations, especially communication organizations, have the infamous "style books" or "style rules" whether written or not, that address just such matters so that everyone within the organization will be consistent, each and every time. "Style" addresses the handling of titles, times, dates, abbreviations, etc., to ensure consistentcy and professionalism.

Anonymous said...

I've just seen this blog entry. Although it is over a year old, I have to comment. I am presently doing research for an article, pertaining to courtesy titles. Most newspapers that use courtesy titles for women, use professional titles, such as Dr. or Judge for women only. Male doctors or judges are referred to by last name only. Using courtesy titles for women not only not only makes it clear that the person to whom you are referring is a woman; courtesy titles for women show respect toward the woman.