Public editor

Should ‘mom’ refer to abuser?

Updated: 2014-01-08T23:22:30Z

By Derek Donovan

The Kansas City Star

I’ve heard from a few readers this morning who questioned the word choice of the lead headline on today’s Page A1 story in the print edition.

About Jacole Prince’s guilty plea in the horrific starvation and abuse of her daughter known as “LP,” the headline read, “LP’s mom pleads guilty.”

“To me, the word ‘mom’ is not a neutral word,” said one caller. “I consider that a term of endearment, and it should not be used to refer to this woman.”

Another reader correctly pointed out an important consideration in writing headlines: “I know there are issues with the (size of) the font used, so you can’t fit anything in the space that you want.” He suggested that the whole thing should have been phrased a different way entirely, as the word “mother” wouldn’t fit in the space with the rest of the headline.

I know I’ve discussed questions about how headlines are phrased many times through the years, and it remains true that writing headlines especially for the highly-constrictive requirements in the print medium. I do think people often underestimate how hard it is to communicate the essence of a story clearly and succinctly in a headline.

But there’s no denying that some words have strong emotional connotations for many people. It’s hard to think of many topics that stir more emotions than motherhood, and I certainly understand those who don’t consider Jacole Prince a “mom” to LP.

To reach Derek Donovan, call 816-234-4487 weekday mornings or send email to Follow him at

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