Sunday, December 4, 2011

UPDATED: PLU temporarily takes down The Mooring Mast's website

By Reno Sorensen, Copy Editor

UPDATE, Dec. 4, 8.26 p.m.: The article was updated with historical information compiled since last Friday.

UPDATE, Dec. 2, 5:32 p.m.: University Communications has restored the Mast’s website.

UPDATE, Dec. 2, 4:30 p.m.: The editorial board has voted to edit the offensive words from the article. Executive Director of University Communications Greg Brewis said the Mast’s website will be back up momentarily.

UPDATE, Dec. 2, 1:16 p.m.: The Mooring Mast website’s landing page, which Pacific Lutheran University Communications hosts and maintains, was removed for “obscenity issues,” Lace Smith said.


For the first time since the 1970s, Pacific Lutheran University has exercised power to censor content in its forum for student journalistic expression, The Mooring Mast.

University Communications removed the teaser and link to the article titled “F--- S--- Up drops the ball” from the front page of The Mooring Mast’s website Friday morning.

An email from Associate Director for Student Involvement and leadership Amber Dehne Baillon, sent at 9:10 a.m. Friday, confirmed that it was university officials who pulled the link.

The email, which was addressed to Editor-in-Chief junior Heather Perry and Mast adviser and Professor of Communication Joanne Lisosky, said the teaser was removed because it violates Associated Press style guides regarding profanity and obscenity.

Baillon said in the email that the teaser to the article would be reposted on the website “once the headline is fixed.”

The rule in question, found on page 204 of the Associated Press Stylebook, instructs reporters and editors to not use profanities “unless they are a part of direct quotations and there is a compelling reason for them.”

This rule is often interpreted loosely since most publications have their own stylebooks and policies regarding the use of profanity. The AP style rule does not mention the use of profanity in headlines or as proper nouns.

“I couldn’t find anyone who would defend the use of the profanity in the headline, but there are a lot of examples of profanity in body copy,” Attorney Advocate to the Student Press Law Center Adam Goldstein said. “The extreme example we found that proves that the rule is not absolute is Dick Cheney telling someone to go f--- himself.”

The 2004 Washington Post story “Cheney Dismisses Critic With Obscenity” reported then presidential candidate Dick Cheney saying the obscenity to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy after an argument.

“The AP guidelines are guidelines, they’re not absolute,” Goldsein said. “It’s a spectrum, and within that spectrum is the printing of obscenities.”

Visiting Assistant Professor of Communication Doreen Marchionni said different publications have different, refined rules regarding the use of profanity.

“In professional news organizations, like The Seattle Times for instance, when band names and sports names contain profanities, the publications will often use asterisks or dashes in the place of letters in the profanity,” Marchionni said.

Marchionni said there’s no universal rule for the use of profanity in publications, and that alternative news organizations don’t usually alter profane proper nouns or quotations.

“The Stranger and The Volcano would have no problem running the ‘F’ word,” Marchionni said.

Marchionni said the target audience of the publication is also a factor in the use of profanity.

“In the case of the ‘F’ word … one popular policy is a kind middle ground solution for audience members who are sensitive to profanity, such as children,” Marchionni said, “that is, to use dashes instead of letters in the profane word.”

The Story

“F--- S--- Up drops the ball” described an intramural dodgeball game between teams Voodoo Magic and FSU, according to the fall 2011 intramural sports team captain list and schedule. The team’s T-shirts read “Team FSU.”

FSU team member sophomore Austin Erler said in a phone interview that the original purpose of the name “FSU” was to allow individual interpretation of the letters in the acronym, but that in his mind the team name was “F--- S--- Up.”

Erler said that some other possible interpretations of the name were “Florida State University” and “Faith, Strength, Unity.”

When asked what “FSU” stood for, FSU team member sophomore Jordan Scanlan said in a phone interview that it meant “F--- S--- Up."

Scanlan said that, in official university records, intramural teams are assigned numbers instead of names, but that the teams gave themselves nicknames that are commonly recognized.

“Everyone knew it was ‘FSU,’ and knew what it stood for,” Scanlan said. Scanlan also said that, to his knowledge, no event organizers or officials ever raised concerns about the team’s name.

Team member sophomore Greg Cowery said, “On the schedule, it [the team name] says FSU, but as an athletic motivational thing we will say ‘Let’s f--- s--- up.’”

Dodgeball teams traditionally take on edgy or unconventional names as part of renegade culture. Foss Hall’s intramural dodgeball team’s name is “The Fosstitutes,” according to the fall 2011 intramural sports team captain list and schedule.

The Context

The last time the university censored The Mooring Mast was during the time of President Eastvold in the 1970s. A story in the Arts & Entertainment section contained an obscene acrostic comprised of the first letter of each paragraph of the story.

In that instance, university officials removed copies of the issue from newsstands across campus.

In 2006, Mooring Mast Editor-in-Chief Breanne Coats entered into conversation with university administration regarding the ability to advertise off-campus establishments that sell alcohol. This conversation continues today.

In the Dec. 2 Focus section story, “Olympia overridden with Occupy protesters, hundreds converge on capitol steps,” Occupy protestors are quoted using the word “bitch.”

Also, flyers for the Women’s Center “Stitch N’ Bitch” event, with approval stamps from Impact, were posted around the UC at the time of this story’s initial publication.

At the time of this story’s initial publication, Mooring Mast editors had entered into conversation regarding the appropriateness of the use of profanity in the story’s headline to express dodgeball culture.

The Mooring Mast editorial board contributed to this article.