I've spoken to many readers about The Star's recent investigation Beef's Raw Edges. Opinions have varied, and I've heard several good criticisms and questions.
I just received email from Janet M. Riley, Senior Vice President, Public Affairs and Member Services with the American Meat Institute. She brought up a point that I had considered myself while reading the series:
There is much we could say about the series you recently published “Beef’s Raw Edges,” but we will limit our comments to one central question from which all other concerns flow.
When did it become appropriate to refer to an entire industry and thousands of people who work within it as simply “Big Beef”? That is neither in the Associated Press Style Book nor does it comport with basic standards of journalism ethics. Does the Kansas City Star permit reporters to create monikers for other industries about whom it writes or was that special treatment you gave us alone? Would you permit reporters to refer to your grain industry as “Giant Grain?” or to greeting card companies as “Commercial Cheer?” Was it, perhaps, that such a short, punchy and negative moniker as “Big Beef” suited your social media strategy because it could easily convert it to #bigbeef?
I refer you the following words from the nearby University of Missouri, that authored this journalist’s creed, and ask you to please inform us how the use of “Big Beef” repeatedly, including in a subsequent self-congratulatory editorial, comports with these rules:
“I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of a lesser service than the public service is betrayal of this trust. I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.”
So what do you think? "Big Oil" is the nearest analog, of course, and I can see how that industry might have similar objections. I'd agree there's something connotatively pejorative about the term, even though it's a bit difficult to explain exactly why.