I was running a media skills course last week when I was asked a question which I’d never been asked before: “why does the press refer to people by their surname?”
My initial, feeble but truthful, answer was “it’s house-style. All papers have a house-style and it is usually that you use the full name on the first outing and the surname only after that.”
Feeling that this was ducking the question, I added, “I suspect this is because it preserves our journalistic neutrality. We can hardly say ‘John murdered someone’.”
Long after I got back to the office, I thought of exceptions to this approach. Saying, “Jones was murdered”, when it’s fresh news would be heartless. It would have to be “Mrs Jones…” or “baby John…”.
I guess that whether we deviate boils down to common sense.
Maybe the origins lie in saving lead or typesetter’s time. Anyone know?