Political Perspectives is produced by the students and faculty of Carleton University's School of Journalism and Communication, Canada's oldest journalism school.


Journalists and “off-colour” jokes

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Media commentary

Paul Adams

Notice the journalists squirming just a little with the Gerry Ritz story? Death by a thousand cold-cuts etc…

On Mansbridge’s At-Issue panel last night, Andrew Coyne asked who can say honestly they haven’t made a tasteless joke themselves, and everyone sagely nodded agreement.

Newsrooms are the original home of the tasteless joke, of course. When I was little, my aunt Madeleine, who was one of the few women in the Winnipeg Free Press newsroom would regale us over Sunday dinner with a joke whose meaning had clearly passed her entirely by. My Dad would take her aside and give a brief explanation, which would bring an appalled look to her face and a vow never to repeat such a story again — until the next Sunday dinner.

In the years since, the influx of women, and people of colour into newsrooms has reduced the number of explicitly sexual and racist jokes — and even homophobic jokes are probably in decline as more and more reporters are “out”. But there are no dead people in newsrooms, and usually no grieving relatives, and I think it is somewhere in the media stylebook that dead people are pretty much fair game — so long as none of this gets into the newspaper or on air.

If you collected all the newsroom September 11 jokes and published them, the whole profession would probably have to resign in disgrace. There goes the entire MSM — whoosh. Bloggers, with your gentle sensibilities: fill the vacuum.

The fact is, not everyone does make a habit of joking about dead people. Maybe you can say journos do it as a psychological release because of the stress of their jobs — I’m sure medical residents do it too. Or maybe we’re just jerks.

But I know my mother never makes jokes like that. I know my aunt would never knowingly do so. Who knows? The world may be filled with these people. Journalists just don’t include any of them in their circle of close friends.

Maybe that’s why we’ve never had a journalist appointed as Minister of Agriculture. 

Paul Adams is a former political reporter with the CBC and the Globe and Mail, and is now a member of Carleton’s journalism faculty, and executive director of EKOS Research Associates.


Mike Miner writes:

I just had to check:

Joseph-Aldric Ouimet, Minister of Agriculture July 13, 1895 – December 20, 1895

“After being educated in a seminary, and a brief career as a journalist, Ouimet became a lawyer. He was first elected to the House of Commons at the age of 25.”

Carleton, BJ 2000


I note his short tenure — PA