Name-checking the New York Times

June 24, 2008

jay-z.jpgThe Columbia Journalism Review’s Chris Faraone would like to see more justice for hip-hop artists in the pages of the New York Times: While musicians from Iggy Pop to Marilyn Manson to Sid Vicious get the standard Grey Lady treatment for their assumed stage names (“Mr. Pop” on second reference, for example), rappers like Jay-Z get different treatment.

“At the Times, the penalty for being a rapper is twofold: you are routinely called out on your birth name (no matter how nerdy and ironic it might be), and you rarely are addressed as ‘Mr,’” Faraone argues.

Setting aside the question of whether Jay-Z (real name: Sean Carter) would really like to be called “Mr. Z” in the pages of the Times (would it be “Mr. Zed” in the Times of London?) there’s clearly something important at stake here. Should the newspaper of record call people by the names on their birth certificate, or use the names they have chosen for themselves? Shouldn’t the policy be applied across the board regardless of music genre? Isn’t that why they call them “standards”?

Times culture editor Sam Sifton attempts to thread the needle by distinguishing between a “stage name” like Tony Bennett (real name: Anthony Dominick Benedetto) and an “alias” like Houston rapper Bun B (Bernard Freeman).

“Tony Bennett took a stage name, which I think is a little different from taking an alias,” he told the CJR. “Someone like Jay-Z can be Mr. Carter, certainly, or he can just be Jay-Z, but he’s never going to be Mr. Z.”

You can also see the potential problem here, which we will almost certainly have to deal with at some point: What if Tony Bennett became a rapper, or if Jay Z gave up hip-hop for lounge singing? How would the Times refer to the creators of the duet album by MC Tony B and Mr. Z?

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