Sep 302007
 
Authors: By Ryan Nowell

Last Wednesday, the Board of Student Communications met to gather opinions on what to do about J. David McSwane after the infamous Sept. 21st editorial.

Reasons for termination varied, but by the end of the evening it became clear which one really held weight.

It wasn’t the use of profanity. The BSC bylaws have clear exceptions for using profane language.

The Collegian’s accessibility in the community doesn’t complicate this, either, as anyone who’s ever read the Chronicle or Scene magazine can tell you. Both are free publications, use profanity, and are often distributed alongside the Collegian.

It wasn’t partisanship. Given the Editorial Board’s history of liberal bias, anyone citing that as the issue here is being misleading.

Outside of dismantling the Opinion section, I don’t quite know what conservative watchdogs would do to stamp out the apparent pinko influence. Report that the war is going “righteously?” Less politics, more volleyball coverage?

It wasn’t that McSwane shirked his responsibilities.

The consequences of this have been enormous. The financial stability of not just the paper, but the university, has been challenged. News coverage, letters and phone calls, all have stemmed from the editor’s decision.

They knew there would be repercussions. You don’t print that sort of thing lightly. But I’m extremely skeptical of anyone claiming they could’ve anticipated a national reaction.

For all the talk lately of the Collegian’s “proud traditions” and “storied history,” the reality is, most don’t read this paper.

Ask your peers who Phil Elder is, about their favorite photographer, or how many Nick Hemenway articles they’ve read, or browsed, or even seen.

It’s common knowledge that a lot of this campus had a low opinion of the Collegian before, and were it not for the 142-point bold typeface the editorial was printed in, most of you would’ve breezed straight for Sudoku country.

Now, I’m not suggesting you prostrate yourselves to the all-important school paper, or that you to change your attitudes and be more supportive.

I don’t expect anything; this student body/student paper relation we have here is typical of school papers across the country.

Some may say it’s the Collegian’s sub par journalism that led to this lack of interest and respect. But people accusing this paper of journalistic shoddiness are often more belligerent than constructive.

Believe me people, if you know some secret formula to set the world on fire with a college newspaper, do tell. Think our coverage sucks? There are applications in the media center. By all means, show us how it’s done.

But, back to my point: when critics have demanded of Dave McSwane “how could you be so irresponsible,” the answer is that when you go week after week printing all sorts of divisive political content to a tepid response, the thought of stirring up a national furor with a four letter word seems utterly preposterous.

This doesn’t make the choice to run the editorial a responsible one, but everyone picked a real awkward time to suddenly care about what this paper has to say.

To any of the multitudes that wrote in with “welcome to the real world” comments – there’s nothing real about a world that grinds to a halt over profanity in a college newspaper.

There’s media hype, a truckload of self-righteous pomp from people on both sides of the issue trying to turn it into a crusade, and fourth grade mudslinging from multitudes of partisan bottom feeders.

Reality is someone reading that headline, rolling their eyes, and turning the page.

The only real reason to oust Dave McSwane is commercial viability.

That was really the purpose of the BSC meeting Wednesday; less to hear overwrought First Amendment speeches or “shame on you” guilt trips, and more to get feedback from a gigantic focus group about whether or not people would still read the paper.

McSwane has compromised this paper financially. Advertisers have pulled out; alumni have threatened to cut donations. Replacing him would be a very practical business decision.

It would also be completely unprincipled cowardice.

It would set the precedent in our paper for journalism deferring to advertising. Subsequent reporting and editorials would have to pass a “would this upset the CSU bookstore” litmus test.

It would make the editor in chief a glorified watchdog for sponsors.

Anything remotely controversial would never hit the stands, and readers would be treated to the kind of downy soft, tiptoe journalism that makes no one but advertisers happy.

There’s nothing unusual about this situation; it’s the same predicament the mainstream media has found itself in. Watch five minutes of CNN and you’ll understand the consequences of choosing comfortable funding over hard journalism.

I, for one, would rather be considered a joke for a tactless editorial than for selling out.

Ryan Nowell is a junior English major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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