Saturday, October 14, 2006

What Happened to College Journalism?

Back in the day, I was active on my high school and college newspapers. The high school paper was completely independent of the school -- not a dime of school money went to support the paper. They provided us an office (an unused janitorial closet) and an advisor (a former journalist) and that was it. All funds for the paper came from advertising sales and the dimes students paid for the paper.

In college it was a little different, despite my protests, the paper gladly accepted funds from the student activity account for operations, and the paper was free of charge.

In both cases, the editorial content was truly independent of administration control -- a fact which brought me to the offices of the Dean of Students and Assistant Principal with fair regularity (usually within an hour of the release of the latest edition).

We edited our paper with good taste and with an understanding of our reader's sensibilities. Our high school was small and the building actually included grades 6 through 12. We touched on controversy, to be sure (it was the 60's, man), but we tried to do it in good taste. But we never let good taste interfere with getting the message (or what we considered the truth) out.

In college the language used was a bit more, shall we say, grown-up (think, Hunter S Thompson), but appropriate to the story.

In neither case did we shrink away from a story because it was "nasty" -- if it was germane to the story, we put it out there. We were "journalists", we had the first amendment behind us, too.

Apparently, college journalists these days may not share the same ideals.

Recently, The Daily Collegian, which says it is "Published Independently by students at Penn State", ran a think piece by a young journalist. The author, Colin McLafferty, is a freshman at the school, majoring in International Politics and German, and a regular columnist. (In my day, a freshman was too wet behind the ears to have either a major or a regular column in the college paper. Colin, keep your options open over the next couple of years -- you might find an entirely new path to follow. Don't tie yourself to the major you declared so early in your career -- nothing is undoable.)

Anyway, it is a good piece about how Dan Savage has been, well, savaging Rick Santorum. In particular, by introducing a new word into the lexicon -- "santorum".

By now, most regular readers of this lackluster blog are aware of Savage's clever combination of self-promotion and political statement. A homosexual sex advice columnist, Savage was pissed off by Santorum's moralizing against gays. He invited his readers to come up with a sexually-related definition to which the word "santorum" could be attached. And they came up with a doozy:
santorum (san-TOR-um) n.
1. The frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter
that is simetimes the byproduct of anal sex.
Colin picks up on this and writes about how it could augur an entirely new form of political mudslinging. Nice take. Here are some of his comments about Savage's campaign:
Before we get to the details, take a second to think of the standard potshots politicians exchange. But, now, there is a movement to define, actually place in the dictionary, the word "Santorum" as the messy aftermath of sexual intercourse.

This reviling insult is the very first hit on Google for the word "Santorum." Go ahead and try it, sicko. This movement, full of youthful vulgarity, stands out in a crowd of tired smear campaigns. . . . Savage designed a Web site to promote this definition. The definition isn't suitable for print, but you can find it on
Here's what caused my eyebrow to arch: "The definition isn't suitable for print". I didn't understand this part and thought, well, maybe he is joking. After all, he already defined it as "the messy aftermath of sexual intercourse" in the article. Pretty close to the actual definition.

So what was unsuitable? The reference to "fecal"? Kind of hard to believe, and a search of the Collegian database pulled up over a dozen uses of the word in their articles. Was it the reference to "anal sex"? Apparently not, as a search shows that that term has also been used -- albeit in a hetero sense. "Lube"? "Frothy"? Can't fathom that.

So I wrote Colin -- I asked him who said it was unprintable? Courteously, he responded and said that he passed the email on to his editor for response. Okay, passing the buck, but shows respect for the chain of command, I guess.

But we never received any response from the editor.

I am left to assume that it was indeed an editorial decision not to run the actual definition. It also appears that the objection to the definition is no the terminology employed (If the definition said something like, 'it's the slimy brownish stuff that dribbles out of your gay lover's ass after you pull your deflated cock out', I might get that.)

It seems that, at the Collegian, talking about sexual intercourse, even the messy aftermath of the same, fecal matter, and even anal sex -- are all okay -- unless it is to homosexual sex one is referring, then, it is "unprintable".

I hope that kind of squeamishness isn't reflective of this new generation of journalists we are cooking in college today. We already have too many professional journalists without the balls to challenge authority and the status quo.

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