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Friday, October 05, 2007

This week's staff ed

THE CAROLINIAN -- They call it an "F-bomb" for a reason. When you drop it in some situations, it will create a reaction. The bigger the bomb, naturally, the bigger the boom.

National headlines were recently made when the Colorado University student newspaper, The Rocky Mountain Collegian, ran a four-word editorial complete with four-letter expletive: "Taser this: F--- Bush." That particular expletive appeared uncensored at the top of a page in huge, bold font. Needless to say, it stuck out.
Full editorial here

Before penning this week's staff ed--which to save you 1,000 words says that the Collegian was wrong on its decision to run the editorial, but there are still times cursing is called for--I took a look at some other college editorials weighing in on the same topic.

Part of me just wanted to see what every other college paper in the nation that seemed to have something to say actually had to say, but another part of me wanted to make sure we weren't just repeating something some student daily had beaten us to. Since we were writing specifically about The Carolinian's occasional tendency to include what I'll call saucy material I wasn't too worried about the latter, and lucky for me I disagreed with almost all of the ones I read, so the former didn't stifle me either.

Editor-in-chief of the OSU paper, The Lantern, got pretty close, though like a lot of people he brings up the advertising budget argument, which if put in the wrong wording can easily be a horrible point to make.

As editor you have the biggest responsibility, and in some cases - like this one - you fall the hardest when the fire is hot. Not to mention the tremendous responsibility you have to your staff. Because of this foolish action businesses have pulled tens of thousands of dollars in ad revenue from the paper, which is how independent papers make their money, and staff members are facing pay cuts because of the loss.

Aside from whatever the hell "you fall the hardest when the fire is hot" means, he's approaching it from the right angle. The paper proved itself to be capable of foolish actions, so advertisers decided to pull their money and the staff had to take a pay cut. This is not, however, an argument against making controversial decisions for the right reasons. Sometimes making the right call will still piss off advertisers, so you can't factor money into a decision like that. It can't be completely ignored that you have to pay your employees, either.

My personal favorite, The Daily Tar Heel, seems to agree with our point that the Collegian wasted their opportunity, even if they included a choice moment of irony with their editorial:

The most ironic thing is that the words used are not at all indicative of the purpose of the right to free speech: to be able to present a dignified argument without fear of persecution.

In fact, it's a type of logical fallacy called an ad hominem, in which the writer, in this case, attacks some irrelevant aspect of the person behind the argument instead of the claims of the argument itself.

Indeed, it would be an ad hominem if a writer attacked some irrelevant and made-up point--how dignified a statement is, for instance--instead of your opponent's actual argument. Calling their argument undignified couldn't get farther from the point, because free speech has nothing to do with being dignified. The courts have defended that fact time and again.

Adding "dignified" to the description of free speech sounds oddly regal for a newspaper. Surely the Tar Heel has run a letter to the editor or two it did not think matched the Queen's English, but was still free speech and therefore printable.

The University of Alabama paper was just all kinds of wrong. In addition to defending the editor's job, they coined this little ditty:

The editorial board thinks McSwane should publish an apology, because in printing the entire word - and not dashing it out - some community standards were violated.

Now, in the context of what the Collegian editorial board claims they were trying to accomplish, how would one go about making a statement on free speech by censoring yourself? The argument is nonsensical.

One thing The Carolinian's staff ed didn't touch on (simply because we didn't discuss it when talking about the editorial) was the big question everyone has been asking, whether the Collegian's editor-in-chief should keep his job or be fired. A board voted last night to let him keep his job, choosing to "admonish" the editor rather than fire him.

Admonish is defined in the BSC Manual as a reminder to the editor of his responsibilities and an encouragement to "modify" his behavior.

The board wagged their collective finger at him. Even if the members of the board thought this was the proper course of action, how can they defend it when also ruling, "It is our judgment that your decision was unprofessional and unethical." If they ruled his decision was unethical, and he still defends that decision, how can they trust him to continue holding the position?

Part of me can't blame the guy for standing his ground. He has the backing of the whole editorial board, and that speaks volumes. Another, larger part of me wonders how a group of people could get behind a decision so stupid and clearly not worth defending.

My cousin who goes to CSU says he supports the paper's decision. Apparently a lot of students up there do. The two areas of fallout that matter now are the paper getting advertisers and the much more important issue of readers trusting them in the future. If my cousin is in the majority, they might be alright.


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