Archive for March, 2011

The Spinnaker at the University of North Florida continues to be ensnarled in controversy.  Amid a brouhaha about a recent “racy” cover image, the student newspaper is also facing a temporary funding freeze approved by a portion of the UNF student senate.

The sudden action– ostensibly a response to a recent slight publication delay that caused a senate ad to be out of date by the time it appeared in print– is being sold as unconnected to the “sex cover.”  But the timing and extreme nature of the freeze cannot help but raise suspicions related to one main question: Is this an indirect punishment for a cover image deemed too provocative by some on campus?

In an email to CMM, Spinnaker editor in chief Josh Gore provides some background and an update on the funding freeze:

Today, the UNF student judiciary ruled against an appeal of Monday’s vote that froze Spinnaker funds for three days. Student Senate President Carlo Fassi had filed the appeal on behalf of the Spinnaker. Fassi has publicly supported the Spinnaker during this freeze.

The senate’s Budget and Allocations committee had voted 5-1 Monday to freeze the account. According to the UNF Student Government constitution, a three-fourths vote of the committee is all that’s needed to freeze the account of any student government-funded organization.

The reason given for the freeze was that an ad ran a day late in last week’s Spinnaker. The SG judiciary took out the ad about Crime Awareness Day (which was Wednesday), and it did not run until Thursday. The Spinnaker held the paper an extra day to cover the SG elections. This paper also was the edition that generated comment nationally because of its provocative cover.  Because the ad ran a day late, the Spinnaker never invoiced SG Judiciary, the same group who has a vested interest in the outcome of the ruling because it was their ad.

There are no checks and balances with the Budget & Allocations committee in this case, nor their ability to freeze an index. This is frightening.  The Spinnaker meets all the requirements in the constitution’s finance code to be in good financial standing. Some senators are currently working on language to fix the amount of latitude the B&A committee has when making such a ruling.

Today is the last day of the freeze. SG funding makes up about half of the salaries for the Spinnaker staff. The rest of the salaries and printing are paid through advertising.  At this point, I have reached out to university general counsel to see if this process was legal.

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The sexual explicitness of The Spinnaker‘s current cover image is causing controversy at the University of North Florida.

The provocative depiction of student sexual activity aims to hype a story on the link between oral sex and HPV, which can lead to throat cancer.  Critics, including UNF’s president, say the photo illustration was not needed to tell the story and that it “crossed a decency line.”

In an exclusive interview, Spinnaker editor in chief Josh Gore outlines the rationale behind running the story and cover, the campus reaction, and a sudden funding freeze for the newspaper that reeks of indirect censorship.

COLLEGE MEDIA MATTERS PODCAST: JOSH GORE

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NextGen Journal began with 800 words and $20 trillion.

In early 2009, Connor Toohill, a 17-year-old high school senior in San Diego, came across a slew of politicians and pundits debating the impact of the growing national debt.  Many of them were repeatedly imploring lawmakers and the public to think of “the next generation” when deciding what economic recovery tactics to take.

Toohill noticed one important set of voices missing from the debate.  “I was kind of frustrated about the fact that everyone was talking about the next generation and what we should do for the next generation,” he said, “but there were no voices of the next generation, my generation, in the conversation.”

So Toohill spoke up.  In an 800-word community essay published in The San Diego Union-Tribune, he discussed the need for federal government “fiscal responsibility” to help stave off “a crushing and unsustainable national debt.”

“At this moment, our nation is in a deep financial hole,” he wrote.  “We must stop digging, making the decision to leave some aspects of energy, education and health care reform to future administrations or to the private sector. . . . As a member of the generation that will be tasked with solving these issues and paying for these proposals, I know one thing for certain: I would much rather inherit difficult policy problems than a $20 trillion national debt.”

For weeks after the essay’s premiere, Toohill dealt with a separate indebtedness.  He felt he owed it to himself and his peers to do more.  “Basically, I wanted the conversation to continue,” he said.  “My dream was to have many voices of our generation in the conversation– different voices, with different perspectives, on all sorts of different topics.”

The difference between Toohill and many others with similar dreams: He made his come true.

With the help of friends, he launched NextGen Journal, a student-run news and commentary site, writ large.  Contributors are currently enrolled at colleges and universities across the country and into Canada.

NextGen’s standout niche is its international scope.  It covers matters of interest and importance to students outside the bubble of their own colleges– “from dorm life to Darfur, and from climate change to Kid Cudi.”  Current topics under investigation and discussion on the homepage range from Libya, net neutrality, and health care reform to college graduation rates, the deficit, and Rebecca Black.

“Up until now, campus media, especially in the opinion sense, has just been localized,” said Toohill, now 19, a freshman at the University of Notre Dame.  “There’s nothing from our generation that is influential in the national sphere.  We wanted to do something that can have influence nationally, that can bring our generation into the conversation.  Not intending that to rhyme, but it did.  Oh well.”

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A student newspaper op-ed arguing citizenship status should not be granted to children of illegal immigrantshas spurred an outcry from some students and faculty” at Florida’s Rollins College.

At the start of the piece, published late last week in The Sandspur, freshman student writer Jamie Pizzi compares illegal aliens to home intruders.  An accompanying image sticks with the metaphor, showing a green alien creature wearing someone else’s clothes, relaxing and channel-surfing in someone else’s home.

In Pizzi’s words, “‘[A]nchor babies,’ as they are commonly referred, gain full citizenship from simply being born on American soil, and they are entitled to all the same benefits as you and I, including: free public school educations, financial aid for college and even Medicaid. . . . When our own citizens are struggling to afford adequate health care and public schools become more and more crowded, we should not even consider keeping birthright citizenship. . . . America has a crucial decision to make: continue to attract those who want a free ride, or return to a time where America attracted only the best and the brightest to its golden shores.”

Angry emails, online story comments, and letters to the editor abounded immediately after publication.  A campus-wide email sent by a professor in the piece’s wake declared “this kind of media contributes to a climate of hate and intolerance in our community.”  The Sandspur staffer who oversaw the section in which the piece was printed separately said critics were charging her with “being a Nazi and supporting genocide.”

Others declared the article and image misinformed, misguided, xenophobic, and “hateful rhetoric.”  As one student wrote, “[I]t is important to remember that ‘anchor babies’ and ‘aliens’ are, in fact, people– human beings just like you and I, with families. Let us not define them based solely by their immigration status.”

Additionally, according to the Orlando Sentinel, “The strong reaction from faculty, students and others prompted a big gathering [late last week].  An estimated 200 to 300 people turned out— a significant crowd for the small private college [roughly 2,700 students] . . . Everyone took turns expressing themselves and sharing their views on free press and the role of a school newspaper.”

In a letter to readers responding to the controversy, Pizzi noted, “My opinion on the 14th Amendment concerns only the law and the effect of undocumented and untaxed individuals on our country’s finances. I have no hatred for people of any race or ethnic group, or for immigrants in general; I actually find other cultures fascinating!  I never intended to hurt people or come across in a hateful manner.”

The student artist responsible for the alien image: “By my understanding, the image concept that the Sandspur had given me was meant to be a satire on the double meaning of the word alien within our language, and nothing more.  I did not take into account that paired together the article and image could come off as xenophobic or demonizing to any individual, and if I had, or I’m sure if the staff had, I’m positive it wouldn’t have been published.”

The student who oversaw the opinion section: “It is preposterous that there are people at Rollins who requested that [Pizzi] be banned from writing again. . . . You cannot take away a person’s right to write or state what they wish. You may disagree, but by banning a school newspaper’s right to publish student opinions, you are starting a chain reaction you can never stop.”

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A student newspaper at an Arizona community college is criticizing administrators for keeping “a tight noose around release of information,” including remaining silent about the school’s connection to infamous shooter Jared Lee Loughner.

In a recent editorial, The Aztec Press described a “misguided and counterproductive” culture of secrecy at Tucson’s Pima Community College.  In the newspaper’s view, PCC’s free press and free speech violations run long.

As the piece charges, “When a media outlet, including the Aztec Press, requests an interview or even a comment from any college employee, PCC’s marketing department insists on first granting ‘permission.’ Further, the marketing department consistently requests a list of advance questions.  More often than not, a marketing department spokesperson answers the questions via e-mail instead of allowing a reply from the appropriate source. . . . In the rare case when a face-to-face interview is approved, a public relations person sits in.  That can intimidate both the reporter and the interviewee.

Apparently, the noose has been pulled so tight by officials that PCC faculty and staff decline to speak about even non-sensitive topics.  According to the Press, “They’ve been cowed by pressure from the top.”

Additionally, while maintaining an in-house PR team, the school has been outsourcing some of its “marketing and advertising services” to a firm “which has gained notoriety for refusing interview requests.”

The editorial follows public charges of stonewalling by other news media, specifically PCC’s recent refusal to discuss Loughner’s allegedly noticeable mental health issues and campus security run-ins while a student at the school.

As reporters for local television news outlet KGUN9 shared, “9 On Your Side has been trying to ask questions about how the college responded to Jared Lee Loughner’s documented outbursts and frightening behavior on campus, and about what programs, if any, the college has in place for handling students with mental health issues.  The college refused KGUN9’s interview requests, declined to answer a written list of questions, and ejected a KGUN9 News crew from the public building housing the college’s administrative offices.”

As the Press reports, “Loughner was enrolled at PCC until he was suspended in September 2010.  He had multiple run-ins with campus police and faculty during 2010, and PCC police officers requested backup when they delivered a formal suspension letter to Loughner’s residence on Sept. 29.  The letter informed Loughner that he would not be allowed back on campus without a cleared mental-health examination. . . . College officials suspended Loughner after they discovered he had posted a bizarre YouTube video claiming he was at war with the college and that students were being tortured.”

In an interview with KGUN9, the Press news editor said the stonewalling was in place long before the Loughner saga started.  “We’ve been having problems in the past getting statements from the chancellor and getting statements from the PR firm,” she said, “but we decided for this issue to run an editorial, just letting the students and faculty members know that we are going to cover this regardless of what’s going on.”

The university’s response to the editorial: No comment.  Amusingly, when contacted by KGUN9, the university’s response to its no comment was also no comment.

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A student newspaper at California State University, Long Beach, is apologizing for running a negative commentary on an American Indian campus event that was “construed by many as an assault” on Native American culture.

In the article, headlined “Pow Wow Wow Yippee Yo Yippy Yay,” the campus editor of The Union Weekly espoused an “unflattering view” toward a recent campus Pow Wow.  He equated the annual cultural event staged by the school’s American Indian Studies program and American Indian Student Council with a “large, Native American themed flea market.”

The student writer specifically mocked the food– at one point comparing frybread to “a Mexican pizza from Taco Bell, but sh*ttier”– and a traditional dance that involved some spectators throwing money to the performers.  As he noted about the latter, “The entire scene felt disingenuous and cheap.  Donations are great, and necessary, tossing them unceremoniously on the ground is crass and borderline obscene.  Even the homeless have hats and cups.”

Critics, including the CSULB president, deemed the article insensitive, “derogatory, racist, and ignorant.”  According to The Daily 49er, a separate CSULB student newspaper, concerns have been expressed that the piece makes the entire university “look bad to the American Indian community.”  The writer has even received death threats.

In a letter to readers published in the current issue (see pages 2-3), he explained, “What originally was meant as an unflattering view of the event itself has been construed by many as an assault on an entire culture.  That was never my intention and I meant no malice towards Native Americans.  What occurred was nothing less than a lapse in fact-finding, cultural awareness, and sensitivity on my part.”

In a separate letter, top editors noted, “It is clear that the article in question contains language that triggers strong emotional response with those familiar with Native American culture.  It was a lack of knowledge of these triggers that produced an article that many found fault with.”

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The student government of Canada’s Queen’s University has ordered a review of all content published over the past year in The Queen’s Journal, the QU campus newspaper.  According to editors, the audit is “a direct threat to the editorial autonomy” of the paper.

In a motion approved by an overwhelming majority earlier this month, the university’s student-run Alma Mater Society (AMS) specifically “directs the Media Services Director to conduct an analysis of the content of the Queen’s Journal during the current academic year and to subsequently report on the percentage of content that directly addresses student activities and events.”

Translation: Student government members do not think the Journal is reporting enough on student life, and they want to prove it.  The motion offers no information on what actions AMS might consider once the results are compiled.

In reply, newspaper staffers declare the motion mean-spirited and misguided on multiple counts.  Most disturbingly, according to a Journal editorial, the review subverts AMS’s own bylaws, which state the paper should remain “free from the influence of student government and outside institutions with regards to its editorial integrity.”

In addition, Journal staffers argue, the findings will not offer any meaningful new insights.  Editors are well aware the paper does not cover even close to everything going down at QU.  It’s not laziness.  It’s news judgment, and the reality of working with a small staff balancing schoolwork and social lives along with sources and scoops.

As the editorial notes, “Ideally, the Journal would possess sufficient resources and staff to provide comprehensive coverage— reporting on every event of any relevance to the Queen’s community.  This is not the case.  For this reason, the editorial staff must decide what material appears in the Journal— and consequently, what material is not covered or published. This decision is directly based on the editors’ perception of how accessible the story is to the Queen’s community as a whole— in other words, its relevance.”

The words relevance and relevant appear a combined 11 times in the editorial.  The strong hint the newspaper seems to be sending to the AMS through their repeated appearances: A student newspaper’s value to its campus goes far beyond “directly address[ing] student activities and events.”

As the editorial explains, “The community of this university is composed of a diverse group of individuals with an equally diverse range of interests. In order to reach as much of the student body as possible, the Journal strives to cater to a variety of interests by offering news, athletic, creative and artistic content, in-depth coverage and human interest material. . . . [I]t’s crucial to recognize the distinction between relevance and comprehensiveness.  The Journal may never be entirely comprehensive, but it is always relevant.”

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