We know what you call us behind our backs. And sometimes to our faces.
Every town has a nickname for its local newspaper, not all of them fit for publication in said local newspaper. Most involve puns, creating a cruel irony where wordsmiths are victims of word play.
Locals call my paper, the Baraboo News Republic, the Baraboo News or, when prickly, the “Baraboo Snooze.” You see, what they’re doing there is using a rhyme to suggest there’s nothing interesting in the paper. Get it? Har dee har har.
It’s OK, we can take a joke. We who work for newspapers don’t take ourselves too seriously: If we did, we’d stop wearing leisure suits. Besides, being teased thickens our skins. These nicknames help cub reporters learn early on that working in the public eye is hardly Xanadu — or even Rockford — and that if they want to be liked, they should choose another line of work.
Truth be told, we employ these sobriquets, too. We relish denigrating competitors with derogatory monikers. It’s the thing we love most, other than showing off our vocabularies.
Some nicknames are more imaginative than others. Any paper with “Journal” in its name is predictably dubbed the “Urinal.” And “The Sun” becomes “The Scum.”
Others are more inventive, such as Phoenix readers who call the Arizona Republic the “Arizona Repugnant” or the “Arizona Repulsive.” In North Carolina, the Raleigh News and Observer is sometimes labeled the “Noise and Disturber.” In Milwaukee, some readers have made the tired “Urinal” nickname flush, calling the Journal Sentinel the “Urine Sample.”
Many nicknames strike at editorial boards’ politics. In England, the Daily Mail is punished for supporting Fascists in the 1930s through its nickname, the “Daily Heil.” The Oregon Register-Guard is known to conservative readers as the “Red Guard.” More bluntly, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s student paper, the Daily Cardinal, is dubbed the “Daily Communist.”
College campuses are breeding grounds for memorable newspaper nicknames. At the University of California-Santa Barbara, they call the Daily Nexus the “Noxious.” The University of Chicago Maroon is dubbed the “Moron.” In Austin, you might hear the Daily Texan called the “Daily Toxin.” My personal favorite comes from the University of New Mexico, where the Daily Lobo is also known as the “Daily Lobotomy.”
There are plenty of creative nicknames off campus, too. Some call the San Francisco Chronicle the “Comical.” In England, the Telegraph is labeled the “Tell-a-Lie.” The staff of the Richmond Times-Dispatch is might not like to hear their publication sometimes is called the “Times-Disgrace.” But they probably already know.
Notable negative newspaper nicknames are nothing new. (We enjoy using alliteration almost as much as using big words.) The venerable New York Times has been known for decades as “the Gray Lady” for its front pages covered with long columns of text rather than pictures. Sure, the Times started publishing color photographs years ago, but nicknames can be hard to shake. Your skin may clear up after middle school, but that won’t stop classmates from calling you “Crater Face.”
Enduring a measure of ridicule comes with working in the public eye. When you work for a community institution, familiarity can breed contempt. Some readers don’t care for their local paper’s politics. Some are still upset their name was misspelled 40 years ago in an article about the third-grade spelling bee. Some can’t understand why we stopped publishing Beetle Bailey. So they give us nasty nicknames. It’s the same reason a fiery kindergarten teacher named Ms. Darren gets labeled “Ms. Dragon.”
It’s OK, the nicknames are part of the job. At least we know, because you say them to our faces, what you call us behind our backs. We just might have nicknames for some of you, too. But we’re keeping those off the record.