Print Columns   |   Web Chats   |   Blog Archives   |  

You Be The Editor: Does Neiman Get His Marcus?

The story in yesterday's Post detailed the arrest of a man in the shooting death last fall of a man before the eyes of his wife. The article introduced the accused man like this:

Police charged Neiman M. Edmonds, 19, with second-degree murder yesterday in connection with the fatal shooting of [Raymond] Brown, a well-known music engineer who was killed last year after his car was stolen by men in a tow truck.

Every other news organization I could find that reported on the same arrest described the arrested man a bit differently:

"Washington police arrested Neiman Marcus Edmonds, 19, of Upper Marlboro, on a warrant from Prince George's County police," wrote The Gazette, the Maryland community news operation owned by the Post's parent company.

WTOP Radio put it this way: "Prince George's County Police believe 19-year-old Neiman Marcus Edmonds, of Upper Marlboro, is one of several people involved in Brown's death."

"Neiman Marcus Jay Edmond, 19, was arrested at his home in Northeast Washington on Tuesday, police said," was the formulation at WRC-TV (Channel 4).

And so on, throughout the reports by broadcast and print outlets.

In the news business, if the subject of the story has an especially cool, bizarre, funny or strange name, you can bet a good dinner that the story will get an extra boost--more time, better play, a more clever headline. Reporters and editors love a good name, and Neiman Marcus Edmonds, whose parents apparently enjoy a fine shopping experience, certainly qualifies.

So why did the Post go with a demure middle initial? Interestingly, in the early version of the story posted here on the big web site, Edmonds was granted the honor of his full moniker, including middle name--a tradition that the news industry has traditionally reserved for presidents, assassins, and select really bad guys. By later in the day, however, editors at the newspaper decided that as entertaining as the accused man's name might be, the proper and right thing to do was to follow the paper's standard style and publish the guy's first and last names, plus that classic, if archaic, journalese standby, the middle initial.

You will have figured out by now that I respectfully disagree, that both for entertainment value and to honor the obvious wishes of his parents, who gave him the full name of the department store with the intention that it be understood exactly as that homage, the Post should have gone with the name in all its glory.

The counterargument, of course, is that this is not a light feature, but a serious report about a development in an especially horrifying and ghastly murder case--hardly the place for any consideration of entertainment value.

The Associated Press Stylebook instructs editors that middle initials "are an integral part of a person's name." The wire service concludes: "In general, use them."

But there's a growing resistance to that old rule; broadcasters almost never include people's initials when identifying them, and newspapers are increasingly seeking a less formal tone.

So what's your call? You Be The Editor: Full name or stick with the standard middle initial policy? Or do you have another solution?

By Marc Fisher |  April 12, 2007; 7:40 AM ET
Previous: The Phrase That Pays? | Next: Imus Not in the Morning: Why and What Next?

Comments

Please email us to report offensive comments.



I clearly won't notice either way. Even after reading the headline, I had gone back and reread the quotes looking for substantive differences before reading on and discovering the post really is about the arrested man's name.

Posted by: Fee | April 12, 2007 8:49 AM

An accused murderer is nothing more than an accused murderer. Don't give the accused any more press than necessary.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 12, 2007 9:11 AM

I think the Post was right - I started giggling when I saw his name was "Neiman Marcus", and that's really not appropriate to the story.

Now, if it had been a nonviolent crime, or something highly ironic like shoplifting from Macy's, go for it. But for murder, I think the focus should be on the crime, not on if he has a brother named Marshall Field.

Posted by: MB | April 12, 2007 9:26 AM

The issue of using the full names of accused criminals came up a few years ago with newspapers in Utah. A man named Dale Moroni Gibbons, I believe it was, had been accused of embezzlement, and several other salacious details of his lifestyle (sex parties, etc.) trickled out over time, making for a lengthy string of articles. Several readers complained about the repeated use of his full name, seeing it as a subtle slant against Mormons (Moroni is the name of a central figure in LDS theology, so obviously he or at least his parents had Mormon roots). The newspaper eventually issued a formal statement, saying that their policy was to always use full middle names in order to be more exact in their identification of accused criminals, in order to limit the possibility of others with the same names and initials being incorrectly associated with the crime.

Posted by: JJ | April 12, 2007 9:50 AM

I think they should print it. It just shows how relentlessly stupid this guy and his life have been since Day one. Besides it will also expose us to the the other colorful combinations and spellings that certain subgroups of citizens come up with for naming their children. Always good for a laugh.

Posted by: Stick | April 12, 2007 9:56 AM

I would think it was more respectful to worry about the dead mans middle initial. How was he introduced earlier in the story? I am assuming it was his introduction with the First name in brackets and no middle initial.

Posted by: hillnat | April 12, 2007 11:33 AM

The Rule: Only accused serial murderers may have middle names cited, and only if the middle name is Wayne.

Posted by: Mike | April 12, 2007 11:34 AM

I meant not his introduction and after reading the whole article see they used first and last names for Mr Brown but why no middle initial?

Posted by: hillnat | April 12, 2007 11:39 AM

Some of these postings really make you shake your head. I don't think many people would agrue that we need entertainment value in a news story about a murder. Follow the AP Stylebook, and keep these discussions internal so only your colleagues will know how your thought process works.

You did a disservice to bring up what may be a legitimate newsroom issue in such a silly, flippant, and disrespectful context. The story of this young woman's murder didn't need to be trivialized by your posting.

Posted by: CW | April 12, 2007 11:41 AM

Hmm. Here's a thought. Print the name following the standard procedure in the paper, and then get someone on staff to share the joke on the website.

...Waaaaait a minute.

Posted by: fs | April 12, 2007 11:44 AM

I would have gone with:

Washington police arrested Neiman Marcus Edmonds, 19, of Upper Marlboro, on a warrant from Prince George's County police yesterday. When asked the reason for the expedited arrest, a police spokesman said, "The warrant was a one-time only Easter weekend warrant."

Posted by: Goofy | April 12, 2007 12:01 PM

As someone whose parents deemed a first and last name sufficient unto one human being, I find this highly amusing.
Of course, their reasoning was that, as a female child, my "maiden" name would eventually become my middle name. Through a couple of marriages, however, I stuck with the tried and true. Oddly enough, that preference kept me out of trouble a couple of times when someone with my first/last name AND a middle one had trouble with the law/debtors.
Glad to be just me!

Posted by: tc | April 12, 2007 12:36 PM

I'm the only one on my block who isn't a lawyer, but perhaps defense counsel will cite the Edmonds family's naming choices as a mitigating factor.

Posted by: Mike Licht | April 12, 2007 12:59 PM

I'm not sure which way I would come down on this, though I think the Post should adopt a style and stick with it. But I believe the use of middle initials is to help distinguish Neiman M. Edmonds the accused felon from Neiman G. Edmonds the plumbing contractor and Neiman X. Edmonds the retired Etruscan scholar. When a Google search for Neiman Edmonds might turn up thousands of hits (might - I didn't actually try), it's more necessary than ever to be as unambiguous as possible.

Posted by: Tirebiter | April 12, 2007 1:03 PM

Many newspapers use full names when referring to people arrested or convicted of crimes. I had assumed this was to prevent confusion if someone else had a similar name. Now, if the Post used the initial because it was afraid of losing Neiman Marcus' advertising, then that would be an act of cowardice.

Posted by: Tonio | April 12, 2007 1:21 PM

It really isn't a big deal as long as what you print is true.
I have to say, though, that excessive pursuit of the cutesy-poo is, for me, TWP's biggest stylistic shortcoming.
There's a case for using whatever form of the name a person commonly uses in their own formal writing. So if the fellow has his full middle name printed on his checks, for example, I can't fault anyone for using it. Some principle like this presumably explains why we don't see references to American J. Miedusiewski or John E. Hoover.
Neiman Marcus is going to be recognized as the name of a business, and that business has nothing to do with the story, which, after all, is about something they're hardly likely to want to be associated with. So I think the preference should be to not use that form without a solid, serious reason.

Posted by: WW | April 12, 2007 1:24 PM

Some people include their middle name as part of thier identity, this should be taken into consideration.

I think that the "more exact in their identification" argument is a valid one and would pertain when, without the additional information, a misunderstanding could occur.

Personally, if the question is middle initial OR middle name, I abhor when institutions, such as banks, do not allow the use of the middle name but insist on only allowing the middle initial.

My middle name is part of my name, I made the decision to drop my maiden name and keep my middle name as part of my legal entity. Of course, I do not plan to be in any newspaper as an accused criminal.

Posted by: Patricia Jean | April 12, 2007 1:30 PM

Actually, I would prefer the news to be just that: the news.

Stop trying to use whatever tactic you can hype a story with to sell a few more papers.

I find this part of your post very interesting: 'The Associated Press Stylebook instructs editors that middle initials "are an integral part of a person's name." The wire service concludes: "In general, use them."'

And yet, that guideline is no longer being followed. Why is that? Not enough sensationalism to the stories that way?

It is obvious to me that within my lifetime you reporters will be printing rape victims' names on the front page. It won't matter to you who you hurt, just as long as you sell more papers and advertising.

As far as you reporters are concerned - the only thing you care about is the money.

Posted by: SoMD | April 12, 2007 1:35 PM

Thanks to Chicago's late great Mayor Daley, Chicagoans drive on the "Martin L. King Jr." Freeway.

Posted by: Loudoun Voter | April 12, 2007 2:52 PM

In contrast to the AP Stylebook (is that really relevant? doesn't the Post have it's own stylebook? I think I had to buy a copy for a class way back when...), I don't consider my middle initial an integral part of my name. In general, unless one's name is John Smith or something similar, using a middle initial strikes me as pretentious.

In fact, I don't consider the final 2 syllables of my first name to be integral to my identity, and I only use them for legal purposes. Even in that form my name is pretty uncommon in this country, so I think my middle initial is superfluous. I even made sure my company didn't use my full first name in my email address, as per policy--I don't want to be called by that name, and as a protection against identity theft, I want it published as little as possible.

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that Mr. Marcus has a street name--"Shop" perhaps?-- that he considers more integral to his identity than his legal name. So there is a question where to draw the line.

Posted by: paleface | April 12, 2007 2:53 PM

Maybe the WP has an obsession with initials. After all, they keep referring to the President of the United States as POTUS or W. Now W is emblazoned all on those Nat hats at RFK.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 12, 2007 4:15 PM

I think it's a no-brainer: gotta use the full name in this case. Too entertaining not to.

Posted by: NYC | April 12, 2007 5:34 PM

I'll only be concerned about full names when I see a report stating that Kay Mart Big-Lots robbed a Dollar Store.

Posted by: Hype | April 12, 2007 8:58 PM

Any relation to Rayful?

Posted by: Say my name, say my name | April 13, 2007 12:51 PM

Wouldn't a better use of space in the Post be to inform the citizens of Prince George's County that they should be concerned about where they will receive emergency health care in the future with three major facilities on the verge of closing. Someone being murdered is waaaay too serious for the Post to make a story out of the accused's name, no matter what it is. And for those reading the stories about the murder, REMEMBER that Neiman Marcus is "accused" and has not been found guilty of anything. And as to the underlying racial slur "subgroup" mentioned by Stick, you should find something more positive to do with your time than to show how STUPID you think.

Posted by: tell-it-like-it-is | April 16, 2007 10:18 AM

FORGET THE ARTICLE THIS IS FOR STICK: YOU ARE A B**** AND YOU ARE INDEED WHITE TRASH...HOW DARE YOU TRY AND SUGAR COAT A RACIAL SLUR? "...Besides it will also expose us to the the other colorful combinations and spellings that certain subgroups of citizens come up with for naming their children." BOY U AIN'T SLICK. HOW WOULD YOU LIKE IF I POSTED AN ARICLE SAYING STICK IS A POOR WHITE B**** WHO SMELLS LIKE DOG S*** AND BOLOGNA????

Posted by: TheBigPicture | April 16, 2007 10:41 AM

No wonder people are getting murdered...one who could be a witness is too busy posting dumb a$$ articles like this in the paper.

Posted by: no name | April 16, 2007 10:44 AM

I agree about Stick, but he may not be white.

Posted by: Chris | April 16, 2007 12:37 PM

ur right, he may not be white...and if he's not i apologize about that..not about his ignorance

Posted by: TheBigPicture | April 16, 2007 2:13 PM

thThis is someone's life you are joking about imagine how this child's mother feels and put yourself in her position. we have the right to name our children whatever we like if they say they're were more suspects why did it take them this long to charge this one child ,i guess they were just frustrated nad wanted to make a mockery of this child's name just remember everyone is innocent until proven guilty it is easy to joke about it when you are not the one going through it . be careful next time it may be you or your loved one , how many innocent people are in jail as we speak. just something to think about none of us have the right to judge no sin is greater than the next. and i'm pretty sure we all have sinned one time or another.

Posted by: mad as hell | April 16, 2007 4:38 PM

How sad and how low some of us have stooped. Every victim and accuser has a family with feelings. If you cannot say anything constructive or positive, then say nothing. Those of you that are saying how stupid this person or that person is, only justified your own ignorance. You are as intelligent as a genius until you open your mouth or write it down on paper. This society has become so opinionated and judgmental. Remember the news said the "suspect". All the facts have not been presented. If nothing more, learn that in life, "believe none of what you hear, half of what you read and all of what you say."

Posted by: Sapphire | April 27, 2007 1:04 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 

© 2010 The Washington Post Company