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The April fools
April 11, 2012 11:33 AM   Subscribe

The editors of two college newspapers have stepped down after they released April Fool's Day editions that were not well-received by their respective campuses. Abby Spudich resigned as editor of the University of Missouri's Maneater (renamed the Carpeteater and filled with "highly offensive, sexist and crude" content for April Fool's) after writing an apology letter, and Chelsea Diana of the Boston University Daily Free Press was forced to resign after overseeing an ill-conceived April Fool's edition called the Disney Free Press, which included satirical articles about rape, prostitution and drug use. She also wrote an apology, as did the paper's board of directors.
posted by Clustercuss (85 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
A note: The Maneater is not affiliated with the university or the j-school. (That would be the Missourian.)

Also, a professor of mine at the j-school once opined that the Maneater was the only publication in history to actually subtract from the sum total of human knowledge.
posted by Rangeboy at 11:38 AM on April 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


This kind of thing seems to happen a lot--my alma mater had a really bad incident the year before I got there.

Here's an article by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:39 AM on April 11, 2012


These are some pretty messed up jokes. That said, I find it very interesting that both of the people to step down are women. It gets me thinking more broadly about how what we find funny (and what we find decidedly NOT funny) is often influenced by a broader cultural framework that shape our understanding of humor, and who can be funny, and in what ways.

I'm sure I'm not alone in suspecting that (due to cultural pressures and gender norms) men can be funny in ways women can't be. In fact, there was a fantastic article in the New Yorker a while back, about Anna Faris, that looked at just this issue.

/Ramble
posted by artemisia at 11:40 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised anyone was bold enough to use the Disney logo. I'm fearful of even typing it lest the lawyers descend upon me.
posted by odinsdream at 11:41 AM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was the arts editor at the Minnesota Daily, and we did an annual April Fool's issue which was, inevitably, hideously unfunny. I know everybody in a newsroom, especially a college newsroom, think they are funny, and many of them are. But there is a difference between being funny and being a comedy writer, and it's impossible to take a group of news writers and turn them, overnight, into comedy writers, even if they have been reading The Onion their entire life.

I argued against the April Fool's issue when I was at school and was ignored. Fortunately, what we produced wasn't a travesty like this -- it was just generally unfunny and embarrassing.

But I'm not surprised that this happened. It was bound to, sooner or later. Too often, "being funny" is conflated with "being shocking," but one thing that you have to give The Onion credit for -- they are typically pretty cautious about satire in which you don't know who the target of the satire is. They don't always succeed, but at least it's on their radar, which is one of the things that a good comedy writer will consider that somebody who doesn't write comedy may not.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:41 AM on April 11, 2012 [11 favorites]


I teach journalism at the community college level. Every college newspaper adviser I know does everything they can to steer students away from April Foll editions. This post shows why.
posted by cccorlew at 11:47 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was in school, the student newspaper's best April Fool's prank was a simple one; they ran a front-page story claiming the ArtSci senior prom was cancelled and if you wanted your money back you had to pick it up in person from an office in the student centre by 2 PM that afternoon. CUT TO: hundreds of angry, frantic students swarming around a small office down a narrow hallway.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:48 AM on April 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


What I liked was when our school's alternative paper did an April Fools issue that just looked like the staid official paper, complete with terribly boring stories.
posted by smackfu at 11:50 AM on April 11, 2012 [18 favorites]


~ Fondly recalls the Indiana Daily Stupid...
posted by Thorzdad at 11:51 AM on April 11, 2012


I sort of got caught up in something like this in college, though thankfully my predecessors got the brunt of it. I was a very junior member of the editorial board of the weekly "magazine" section of the college paper. The spring before I joined, the "April Fools" issue was a "profile" of a fake Christian rock band. It was a pretty broad parody, and didn't seem to anyone as too over-the-line at the time it was published. The campus Christian community was outraged -- the usual (though not entirely meritless) stuff about Christians being the only religious group it's okay to mock, etc. I recall attending an excruciating session at the Catholic student center listening to the higher-ups at the paper apologize profusely.

At the time, I thought they had tossed the editorial rank-and-file under the bus. But as far as I know, no one's career was affected. My editor-in-chief at the time now works at a very prominent national weekly.

That Disney Free Press issue isn't funny but trying to railroad student editors over some jokes that were in poor taste is ridiculous.
posted by eugenen at 11:51 AM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, at my alma mater, the April Fool's edition cover of the Reporter student magazine was revised before publication.

If you went to RIT in the 70s/80s you probably remember the Distorter, which came out every Spring near the end of the regular school year. It was everything these April Fool's editions were and more. But that was 30 years ago.
posted by tommasz at 11:52 AM on April 11, 2012


I'm usually in the fuck 'em if they can't take a joke camp, but these were some pretty stupid and unfunny jokes.

This said, apology accepted.

Seriously, someone fucked up and admitted it is enough for me.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:53 AM on April 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


When I was in college, our April Fool's edition was so incredibly racist and distasteful it shut down the publication. I ended up being the new Editor-in-Chief once the old leadership was removed, despite not having ever worked for the paper. I had to rebuild both the paper's staff and credibility.

What I learned in the process is that student newspapers, especially at institutions that don't have top journalism departments, often become a small community of students who generally feel under-appreciated by the campus. It takes a lot of work to produce a regular publication and those who work on the papers often feel strong and contradictory feelings about their importance and their value to the community. April Fools editions allow these students to blow of steam but it often comes out in terrible forms, reflecting an underlying anger and frustration they may not even have understood at the time.

At the time I thought there was value in having a student-run publication, believing that Benedict Anderson was right about the values of newspaper to a sense of contemporaneous community. I'm less and less sure that's the case. I spent a lot of time and effort fixing that paper only to watch it backslide after a few years. In an era of ubiquitous connectivity and social media, I think there may be better avenues to creating collegiate community.
posted by allen.spaulding at 11:55 AM on April 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


Many of these jokes are in bad taste and extremely offensive. But assuming the editors/writers were otherwise competent and effective, it should have been sufficient for them to apologize to their readership, and perhaps serve brief suspensions.

Demanding resignations and firings also would seem to deepen distrust on campuses... far better for the community to accept sincere apologies and use these unfortunate incidents as opportunities for mutual dialogue and understanding. Putting people's heads on pikes seems like more of an exercise in power than anything else...

That said, these misguided "April Fools" are getting a real education in how the real world works.
posted by BobbyVan at 12:02 PM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, back in Jersey...
Rutgers University is investigating as a bias incident a student newspaper's spoof column praising Adolf Hitler.

The column, "What about the good things Hitler did?", appeared Wednesday in the satirical newspaper the Daily Medium, which is funded in part by Rutgers.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 12:03 PM on April 11, 2012


I was the Features and Humor editor for my student paper, which included an actual former Onion writer, and there were basically four of us who took up the room in the hours before deadline and cranked out the funny every week at the last minute. For the April Fools edition, everyone would get on board and the EIC would run it. Basically, I'm saying that the April Fools edition was without fail the least offensive and least funny issue every year.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:04 PM on April 11, 2012


Folks at B.U. a'int very happy right now.

Police Seek Charges Against Boston University Students Involved In Apparent Hazing
"The Boston Police Department today sought criminal complaints against 14 suspects in an alleged hazing incident involving five Boston University students who were found bound, beaten, and covered in condiments.

Investigators are seeking to charge the suspects with hazing, assault and battery, and failure to report hazing, officials said."
"The same fraternity was involved in another alleged hazing incident last month with Sigma Delta Tau (SDT) sorority. In that case, two women were treated and released from the hospital for intoxication following a booze-related incident involving SDT and AEPi."*
posted by ericb at 12:05 PM on April 11, 2012


This article caused me to go look up what my school's paper did, because none of their pranks when I was there were memorable to me at all. New Quidditch team, stolen delete keys, the Mining Engineering department striking gold, and a positive review for Troll 2. Not that there's a lack of imagination, but I'm pretty sure I won't remember any of these come next year, either.

My favorite part of looking through these, though, is the disclaimer at the bottom of all the articles: Warning: This article is part of an April Fools’ Day issue and may not be true. Really?
posted by mysterpigg at 12:06 PM on April 11, 2012


I really don't get how there's so much "they're throwing the editors under the bus!" opinions here and elsewhere. Having worked at a college paper there's a special place in my heart for outrage at newspapers doing stupid things. Your job, as an editor, is to not allow stupid things to run in your newspaper. When you fail at that very important aspect of your job, you deserve to lose it.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:09 PM on April 11, 2012 [13 favorites]


You had me at "not well-received."

always bums me way the hell out to see cowing at demands for apology though
posted by herbplarfegan at 12:12 PM on April 11, 2012


When you fail at that very important aspect of your job, you deserve to lose it.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:09 PM on April 11 [+] [!]


These are people's jobs we're talking about, I don't think that we should ever treat that lightly. This is not an entirely selfless instinct: workplaces, and especially creative environments, need to allow for some mistakes. I'd rather editors not be motivated in their every decision by a fear of losing their job, that will always affect the content of the paper.

I'm not really commenting on this, or any particular case, where you set that bar is going to vary. But I wouldn't take the firing of anyone, in any position, too lightly. It's someone's livelihood, and we all deserve some job security.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:13 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Disney spoof may have been unfunny and in poor taste, but the real offense is not being able to spell "prostitution" in a headline.
posted by brain_drain at 12:15 PM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


My favorite part of looking through these, though, is the disclaimer at the bottom of all the articles: Warning: This article is part of an April Fools’ Day issue and may not be true. Really?

I liked that. I also liked that the "Carpeteater" for all the tasteless offensive stories it might contain, decided to put a biting satire of trayless dining halls on the first page.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:16 PM on April 11, 2012


The column, "What about the good things Hitler did?", appeared Wednesday in the satirical newspaper the Daily Medium, which is funded in part by Rutgers.

Ha, they've been doing that kind of stuff for 20 years, at least, with the same "how dare my activity fees pay for this???" response. This is the same paper that had a Holocaust Remembrance Day cartoon. On the cover.
posted by smackfu at 12:18 PM on April 11, 2012


Ah, but Stagger, you forget that quite a few people think that people in creative environments should live in fear of causing offense and thus losing their jobs.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 12:18 PM on April 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


When I was attending a Catholic college I dearly wanted to start a school tabloid called The Inquisitor with inspiration from the Weekly World News and The Onion. It was pretty easy to mention story ideas that offended whoever I was trying to get to collaborate/conspire with me, so it went nowhere.

Failure to launch the project had nothing having to do with me being utterly lazy, of course.
posted by XMLicious at 12:19 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


These are people's jobs we're talking about

They're college students who were elected to these positions by the other college students involved in these extracurricular activities. I think that resigning those positions is an excellent choice in the circumstances.

College newspapers are supposed to be where you learn how to do journalism properly, not where you enable your colleagues to be needlessly cruel to fellow students.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:19 PM on April 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


Ah, but Stagger, you forget that quite a few people think that people in creative environments should live in fear of causing offense and thus losing their jobs.

Nobody in this thread has said that, and neither has their been evidence of that in the story linked to in the FPP. So let's not start pulling out unsourced cannards to turn this discussion into a soapbox in opposition to an opinion that has not been expressed.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:20 PM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]



Ah, but Stagger, you forget that quite a few people think that people in creative environments should live in fear of causing offense and thus losing their jobs.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 12:18 PM on April 11 [+] [!]


I would like to rain endless atrocities upon Quebecor Media. But that's another story.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:20 PM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ah, but Stagger, you forget that quite a few people think that people in creative environments should live in fear of causing offense and thus losing their jobs.

I think people should lose their jobs for flagrant incompetence. How the fuck is that a controversial opinion? Running shitty jokes about rape in a college newspaper is incompetence on a grand scale, particularly where the college in question is dealing with some high-profile cases around those issues as well as around hazing.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:21 PM on April 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


@Sidhedevil
I actually thought they were paid positions. If I'm wrong, than my rant is entirely out of place and I apologize to anyone reading.

Regular elections do sort things out, generally.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:22 PM on April 11, 2012


And I especially think that people losing their positions in a student extracurricular organization--which is not "their livelihood"--is a reasonable consequence for fucking up on this scale.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:23 PM on April 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


I can't speak to the University of Missouri Maneater, but I know that the Daily Free Press is an extracurricular activity that students take part in in order to build their portfolios and get experience, not a paid work opportunity.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:24 PM on April 11, 2012


I was paid to be on staff at the Minnesota Daily. Some of these are actual jobs.

And people actually get fired from actual jobs for messing up. The editor-in-chief when I was there was fired for sexual harassment.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:25 PM on April 11, 2012


Rangeboy: Also, a professor of mine at the j-school once opined that the Maneater was the only publication in history to actually subtract from the sum total of human knowledge.

The Daily Mail demands a recount.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:28 PM on April 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


I joined the staff of my college paper after a similar fiasco of an April Fool's issue. And though it was years later, and the paper had improved tremendously, I can say that we still had a job getting some on campus to trust us to the point where they'd agree to interviews about routine stories. Our relations with the local campus cops, in particular, were somewhat strained, to the point that I was asked to do an all-night ride-along for a puff feature piece as an outreach effort.

This kind of nonsense can affect not only the current staff but those who follow, and student writers and editors would do well to think of their credibility -- and that of their paper -- when they plan these stunts.
posted by Gelatin at 12:29 PM on April 11, 2012


Demanding resignations and firings also would seem to deepen distrust on campuses...

BobbyVan, there's no indication that there were firings, nor demands for resignations (from higher ups).

Seems far more likely that the People In Charge(tm) looked at the response the issues got, and Did The Right Thing(tm) for the Good Of All(tm).
posted by IAmBroom at 12:31 PM on April 11, 2012


Well, the thing about tasteless humor is that when it's funny, it's really funny, but when it isn't, it's disastrous.

I'm all for people getting away with tasteless humor. But tasteless unfunny humor should be punished with the fury of 1,000,000 offended leftist undergrads; a fate so annoying I wouldn't wish it on anybody, really.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:38 PM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


This article caused me to go look up what my school's paper did...

I laughed at the Mining Engineering department striking gold joke. Then I thought to myself, could it be? Yep, fellow Miner here.
posted by postel's law at 12:40 PM on April 11, 2012


These are people's jobs we're talking about, I don't think that we should ever treat that lightly.

I'm pretty sure not doing your job correctly falls under the definition of treating a job lightly; not commenting that one should be fired for being bad at it.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:46 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


The thing about these jokes is they're not just tasteless, they contribute to an atmosphere of misogyny in which sexual assault is common enough to be a violation of the civil rights of the women who attend.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:46 PM on April 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


The thing about these jokes is they're not just tasteless, they contribute to an atmosphere of misogyny in which sexual assault is common enough to be a violation of the civil rights of the women who attend.

Also, they weren't funny.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:48 PM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


BobbyVan, there's no indication that there were firings, nor demands for resignations (from higher ups).

My bad - I'd assumed that the resignations were in response to outcries and demands for them to quit. If the editors weren't pushed out, I can give them credit for owning up to their mistakes and taking responsibility... But after reading the apology letters, which seemed quite sincere and heartfelt, I don't think resigning was completely necessary.
posted by BobbyVan at 12:52 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why do I think that a person named Chelsea Diana who attends Boston University -- who starts her apology letter off with "everyone makes mistakes" -- has never been reprimanded for anything, ever, in her entire life?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:59 PM on April 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


But after reading the apology letters, which seemed quite sincere

The first one did a pretty good job. The second one? Not so much. Also, what Cool Papa Bell said.
posted by Glinn at 1:08 PM on April 11, 2012


The seven frat dwarf setup has potential. Too bad they went straight for the hacky "gangbang" joke.
posted by mullacc at 1:09 PM on April 11, 2012


Why do I think that a person named Chelsea Diana who attends Boston University -- who starts her apology letter off with "everyone makes mistakes" -- has never been reprimanded for anything, ever, in her entire life?

Here's how the apology letter begins (not linked in the FPP), written by Chelsea Diana, that ran in the BU Daily Free Press.
We at The Daily Free Press want to apologize for the callous and ignorant stories we ran in our annual print-only April Fools’ Day issue on Monday, April 2.
It concludes with this:
We want to stress that all of the ill-conceived jokes in Monday’s issue in no way represent the true values of The Daily Free Press or any of its staff members. While we do not support any of the stereotypes that we wrongly spread in the issue, we know that by publishing the material we inadvertently proliferated them. We know that even though the stories were meant to be jokes, simply writing them perpetuated rape culture.

We thank our readers as ever for their passionate input. We aim to learn from our mistakes and to move forward, continuing to strive to serve as the independent student voice of the university in a rigorously balanced and sensitive manner.

Sincerely,

Chelsea Diana
Editor-in-Chief
editor@dailyfreepress.com
The "everyone makes mistakes" letter was written a few days later, after she'd apologized and resigned. The tone is certainly less contrite (and I don't think writing it was helpful to her), but I can understand why she felt compelled to write it given the harsh criticism and national attention she must have received.
posted by BobbyVan at 1:18 PM on April 11, 2012


[Folks, let's not do the "calling MeFites out by name" thing, it's sort of verging dramatically away from the "focus on the topics not other site members" thing. Thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 1:21 PM on April 11, 2012


Jessamyn, knuckle-rap taken. And you're right, it is distracting from the topic of the papers. I just thought that if we were discussing whether "nobody in this thread has said that", it was worth quoting people on this thread.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:25 PM on April 11, 2012


Why does this happen? Consider that empathy is on the decrease, as faux "self-esteem" programs have made tons of upper middle class kids think that they are life's stars - i.e. "everything I write/say/dance/sing/think is star quality". The hubris that I have seen in a significant minority of young people makes me cringe. (older people are not exempt, but seeing it in the young is a new phenomena - maybe those kids were brought up by the unfeeling chumps who are older?)
posted by Vibrissae at 1:25 PM on April 11, 2012


Vibrissae: "Why does this happen? Consider that empathy is on the decrease

Since when? According to whom?

50 years ago, rape jokes and hate speech against lesbians, gays and/or minorities would probably have run unchallenged.

People were forced to apologize. Seems empathetic to me.
posted by zarq at 1:32 PM on April 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


Why does this happen?

Campus newspapers getting in trouble for poor taste humor? Really this is not new AT ALL.
posted by smackfu at 1:33 PM on April 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


I had my staff lay the editorial page upside-down for April Fool's Day, with the lead editorial headlined "Why Are You Reading This Upside-Down?" The layout staff hated it, and we received phone calls all day long.

It was the best thing I ever did in college.
posted by NedKoppel at 1:36 PM on April 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


for the Koala at my alma mater (UC San Diego), every day is racist/sexist april fool's day. wish I could forget the 2003 "jizzlam" issue.
I think what gets me the most is the succession of students eager to take the reins and write this appalling shit year after year after year.
posted by changeling at 2:06 PM on April 11, 2012


Perhaps someone can help me out. The "carpeteater" sounded completely droll, but it seems like the "Disney Free Press" was actually doing a fantastic job of pointing out the sick shit that underlies many of the (now-)Disney stories. It saddens me that we have reached a point where people who take themselves way too seriously get outraged over satire, seemingly because they don't understand how it works.
posted by wierdo at 2:16 PM on April 11, 2012


Ugh, the Freep fiasco is so frustrating. First of all, how the hell did a sophomore get the EIC gig? I attended BU in the late 90s, so I guess I'm an old fuddy-duddy, but it seemed like the editors were always at least juniors who maybe had a better sense of tact, or at least enough experience to know that this kind of material wouldn't go over well. As everyone's been saying, poor taste in college papers isn't a new phenomenon.

As the Editor of a major paper in a major metropolitan area, I would think Ms. Diana was aware of the recent spate of sexual assaults on campus. Maybe she noticed the articles published in her paper in the last year about students' continuing fight to get a rape crisis center on campus (a fight going on since at least the late 90s) and considered whether making rape jokes in an environment that many see to be dismissive and misogynistic was appropriate. I guess I'm expecting too much out of a college-educated adult given the responsibility of running a fairly high-circulation newspaper.

At any rate, the Daily Free Press (at least when I was at BU), was completely independent of the university. As in, no funding, no faculty advisors/censorship, and no on-campus office space (apparently this last bit has changed, but they do pay rent to the university for the space). So, whatever the paper itself does to discipline the people involved, I think it would be unfair for the school to take any sort of action against the students. The resignations are adequate lessons in sensitivity and responsibility for beginner journalists. Hopefully they will actually learn from this and go on to be better reporters because of it.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 2:23 PM on April 11, 2012


Weirdo, I understand how satire works, and I know that it has to be really, really well done in order to be successful. If the Daily Free Press wanted to highlight the macabre nature of the fairy tales co-opted by Disney, they could have done so without setting their parody on a campus already on edge due to a rash of sexual assaults. May I gently suggest that you reconsider the offensive passages?
posted by Fui Non Sum at 2:30 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Penn State's Onward State had a similar joke in exceptionally poor taste this year on April 1.
posted by schmod at 2:31 PM on April 11, 2012


The "carpeteater" sounded completely droll

What do you think "droll" means?

but it seems like the "Disney Free Press" was actually doing a fantastic job of pointing out the sick shit that underlies many of the (now-)Disney stories.

You can't just randomly make up offensive stories and call that satire. None of them are making pointed references to the original stories/movies.
posted by kmz at 2:33 PM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Back in 1990 or so I got to write the feature article for the April 1 joke edition of the Martlet at UVic (I wrote something that slammed both treehuggers and loggers). It was a lot of fun.

The next year the students voted not to increase funding to the Martlet or something, so the editors, totally humourless radicals who used to say "this is not politcally correct" without the slightest hint of irony, decided there shall be no joke edition. That made me sad.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:40 PM on April 11, 2012


But the two attempts at "comedy" here by aspiring journalists (as well as, I suppose, my own contributions more than 20 years ago) show why newspaper folks, including all editorial cartoonists, should stay the hell away from humour.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:42 PM on April 11, 2012


Penn State's Onward State had a similar joke in exceptionally poor taste this year on April 1.

That one is actually pretty funny.
posted by eugenen at 2:51 PM on April 11, 2012


eager to take the reins and write this appalling shit year after year after year.

Well, how else can SNL staff up? Most of this stuff was far less offensive than the Lampoon in the early days or Spy or even the Onion today.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:00 PM on April 11, 2012


kmz: "The "carpeteater" sounded completely droll

What do you think "droll" means?
"

Did I type that? Weird. Last I checked, Firefox doesn't have any autocomplete, so I can't blame it on that. Replace with dross, if you prefer to keep the letters similar. ;)

I found the headlines in the Disney Free Press themselves to be pointed references to the Disney "fairy tales" which I personally find somewhat offensive in their reinforcement of traditional gender roles and other stereotypes.
posted by wierdo at 3:05 PM on April 11, 2012


Mysterpigg: I guess the disclaimer is new - 14 years ago I don't recall anyone asking us to put a disclaimer on anything. (We didn't have a lot of oversight then. I think I -was- the oversight.)

We also only did the April Fool's edition as the back page (printed to look like the front page). I haven't seen a recent physical copy of the Miner so I suspect a lot has changed since then, except I suspect we were probably just as unfunny. I did try to keep a rein on the offensiveness, though.

The previous Ed-in-Chief to me did get in trouble for leaving the placeholder text in our front page lead-in to the sports page, so that instead of saying "Miners lose 17-4 - pg. 7", it said "Yet another episode in the endless 'Miners lose again' saga - pg. 7".
posted by jferg at 3:49 PM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Penn State's Onward State had a similar joke in exceptionally poor taste this year on April 1.

That one is actually pretty funny.


Gotta respect the classics.
posted by DaDaDaDave at 3:55 PM on April 11, 2012


I'm rarely in the camp where I'm "offended" into a state of incredulity. I am often incredulous, though, that those involved often can't predict the public response as being glaringly obvious.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:31 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Young rope rider's link way up top is from the Student Press Law Center, not the Southern Poverty Law Center. I interned at the former ... and had them defend me as a student journalist, and now am getting my knuckles rapped by them as a school board member.

Student Press was faster off the blocks getting on the web, so Southern Poverty had to settle for a different address. We used to get a shocking lot of their e-mail.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:59 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Huh. I guess the name The Maneater refers to the school's tiger mascot, but it always sounded really salacious to me—it probably wouldn't have taken much prompting (maybe by changing the tag line underneath or something like that) to get everyone to think "maneater" in the Hall & Oates sense. (I guess in the paper's half-century in existence, maybe they'd done that before? Old hat?) But beyond that, what I don't get is why the managing editor wouldn't have Googled "carpet eater" before running that in big type in the masthead.

Also, the tradition there was to surprise the EIC with the content of the April Fool's issue? Man. That's probably not such a great tradition. When I became EIC of my independent college newspaper, right after the previous EIC's April Fool's issue came out, one of the first things I did was tape up a big 11"x17" sheet to start the list of story ideas for the next year's April Fool's issue—our goal was to make it funny, not just meta (like the previous EIC's) or offensive (like the issues we're discussing here), and everyone contributed to that effort.

(Re: the paid/not paid thing, my position was a paid one, and all of our paper's other editors were also paid.)
posted by limeonaire at 6:43 PM on April 11, 2012


Abby Spudich wasn't the EIC of the Maneater, but he stepped down, too.

The real issue with that one was not only the content, but the fact that ads were placed in the spoof section of the newspaper, which contained the offensive (and unfunny) pieces.
posted by mrfuga0 at 7:35 PM on April 11, 2012


Games Magazine did an April Fool's article about some guy exposed to agent orange or some other chemical in war, and was turned into a chess savant. Could not function at all outside of chess, cant feed or dress himself, but could out chess anybody, blindfolded. The article claimed that they used some brain monitoring equipment, and discovered that while he was playing the game against you, he had not only mapped out the solution for that game, but was already working on the solution to the next game.

I never figured out this and April Fool's joke, and that last part real fucked me up. How could he be working on the next game? All games start the same, there is nothing to go off of about the next game at all. What could this possible mean? What kind of universe is this where that could make any sense?

I know (now) that's the joke, that's why its funny. But I didn't get it then. Maybe I should've figured it out, but I was just a kid, trying to learn about the world. That's why I would be reading an article in the first place. So I never realized that it was a joke, and totally fucked my myself up trying to wrap my head around it. I probably spent a couple hours every week until adulthood trying to understand the man who lived one chess game into the future.

Fuck April Fool's articles.
posted by BurnChao at 2:12 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The former editors of The Maneater may face expulsion.
posted by chara at 10:49 AM on April 12, 2012


Yeah, that's not going to happen.
posted by Justinian at 11:38 AM on April 12, 2012


BurnChao, it seems you learned quite a bit from that article and you are only now realizing it.
posted by soelo at 12:01 PM on April 12, 2012


Campus newspapers getting in trouble for poor taste humor? Really this is not new AT ALL.

My school had a student newspaper called The Cadaver from 1946-1996 that was (at least by the time I got there) nothing but crude humor, although it was often pretty funny. It was put out by the medical students and routinely disparaged students in the other schools on campus; for example, dental students were typically referred to as "tooth fairies". On one occasion in the 1980's they referred to a nursing student who wrote a letter complaining about them as a bitch they wanted to hump and asked "When do you come in season?" Not unsurprisingly this resulted in a suit for libel. Instead of backing down, they (it may have been a different group of editors by then) wrote an article on the differences between MCG nurses and real nurses that included the line "Real nurses start IV's... MCG nurses start lawsuits." I think eventually the administration got tired of dealing with them and without financial support they died off in the 1990's.
posted by TedW at 1:18 PM on April 12, 2012


Expulsion? That seems way beyond what would be called for here. I wish I could read PDFs of these issues to see what exactly the big deal was. All I'm seeing from all the links here is that there were some tasteless/offensive jokes that in some cases were particularly ill-timed or ill-placed. Anyone have links?
posted by limeonaire at 2:14 PM on April 12, 2012


Expulsion?!?! Jesus! Obviously not a First Amendment issue, since the school is not the state, but an insane overreaction nonetheless. Chilling effect achieved, I guess---even if this blows over, it will be a long time before any student paper writer tells a joke without a little shiv of fear in their heart.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:03 PM on April 12, 2012


Yeah, long story short, those kids from The Maneater need to lawyer up.
posted by limeonaire at 8:49 PM on April 12, 2012


They don't need to lawyer up for "may face expulsion," which is a far, far cry from "expelled".

Can we tone down the overreactions in this thread about overreaching (and possible overreactions)?
posted by IAmBroom at 8:26 AM on April 13, 2012


Obviously not a First Amendment issue, since the school is not the state

State schools are representatives of the state; definitely a first amendment issue.
posted by Justinian at 9:38 AM on April 13, 2012


Justinian: Wait, so do state schools actually have to show the restraint of state actors? I find that hard to wrap my head around---any legal folks available to provide analysis?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:21 PM on April 13, 2012


Yeah that's generally the case (IANAL). My experience is with public schools and separation of church and state. There are some other in loco parentis things that are different but yeah state schools [public schools, in the US] need to have freedom of speech and all the rest. This becomes really interesting where it overlaps with intellectual freedom and tenure stuff as far as profs are concerned. This doesn't mean that a school newspaper is a state newspaper, there are a lot of different smaller things going on most of which are the more salient points, but in many respects a state school is a state actor.
posted by jessamyn at 1:31 PM on April 13, 2012


Here's a story about a 1969 case in which a Massachusetts state school censored a student newspaper and then "pulled their funding over what it saw as inappropriate content, including profanity and sexual innuendo". The students sued and won in court. It wasn't over any attempt to be humorous, though I wouldn't think that would matter.
posted by XMLicious at 1:44 PM on April 13, 2012


"Wait, so do state schools actually have to show the restraint of state actors?"

Yes, to a point. There are complications involved in that it's taxpayer money (usually) that's publishing the paper, and that schools CAN restrain publication of things that legitimately interfere with the school's educational mission. However, students have strong First Amendment rights when involved in public-school-sponsored publications.

The Student Press Law Center has some information on the First Amendment rights of public college journalists, and First Amendment rights of K-12 journalists. Here's a summary for public college students.

There are two applicable standards, Tinker and Hazelwood. Tinker v. Des Moines (393 U.S. 503 (1969)) concerned students who wore black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War in defiance of an administrative order to stop. The Supreme Court ruled in the students' favor and famously stated: "It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." The "Tinker test" requires that student speech create a "material disruption" of the learning environment for the school to have the right to restrict it (in the 80s, this standard was used to allow things like pink mohawks).

Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (484 U.S. 260 (1988)) is a more recent case that somewhat restricts student press rights specifically; schools may restrain publication of material that contradicts their "legitimate pedagogical goals." Hazelwood primarily applies to K-12 students, but has been used as a "starting point" for some censorship cases in the 7th Circuit (cf. Hosty v. Carter).

Some states have adopted laws that promote a more expansive understanding of a student free press. Missouri has not. Massachusetts has.

A fairly common tactic is to fire (or threaten to fire) the paper's adviser to get students back into line; advisers have very few protections and are typically the employee of the school, not the newspaper. Colleges may also threaten students with suspension or expulsion for something in the student handbook that says something along the lines that a student can be punished for "disobeying a direct order from an administrator," intended as a catch-all for when students do things like set their couches on fire for fun. Generally expelling students for exercising First Amendment freedoms wouldn't hold up in court, but the threat of expulsion or of protracted litigation about one's expulsion may be enough to make students back down.

On the other hand, student journalists have some protection, even when they are well outside the protection of the law, from the fact that professional media swoops in and covers the heck out of student journalist disciplinary cases.

In the Mizzou case, the school has decided not to pursue discipline of the student editors.

As a general thing, K-12 and college administrators receive little, if any, training on handling student media, and don't think about it until there's a problem, at which point they typically overreact. One of the solutions to this problem is better training for public college and public school administrators (something I'm advocating in my district and state right now).

Again, I was a legal intern with the Student Press Law Center when I was in law school. It is the sister organization to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and shares offices with the RCFP. I became aware of the organization when they helped my college paper (in a private college situation) defend itself against administrative censorship and threats of student editor discipline; what I experienced during that situation was part of what made me decide to go to law school. The college was heavy-handedly bringing its in-house lawyers to meetings with student editors (with no expertise in media law, of course); the SPLC was wonderful in helping us and holding our very nervous hands; and I was proud that I got to return that help to other student journalists by working there when I was in law school. And because the circle of life turns, now the SPLC is helping student journalists in the K-12 district where I'm on the school board. You can probably guess where my sympathies lie on that one. :) But I have been involved with them in a large variety of ways!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:47 PM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thanks, Eyebrows!
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 5:22 PM on April 13, 2012


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