Saturday, December 3, 2011

What you should know

By Heather Perry, Editor-in-Chief

_MG_1231-edited_thumb1Editor-in-Chief Heather Perry. Photo by Jonoathan Post.

I would like to clarify one point for our readers.

Our objection is that we did what we were told by the university and after we did what we were told to do the landing page of The Mooring Mast’s website was taken down.

Here’s the long version.

The Mooring Mast editorial board understands now that placing “F--- S--- Up drops the ball” as a headline was not our best decision and have apologized for it. We're not defending that decision to use such obscenity and profanity in that case, though we have used it appropriately in the past.

Just because that article came in around 10:30 p.m. on production night does not give us the excuse to take such use of profanity and obscenity so lightly.

We've admitted our error in judgment and will continue to do so.

However, we are objecting to how the university handled the situation. We complied with all of the requests made by university officials, and yet our landing page was still taken offline without any explanation until searched out one.

I’ll start at the beginning. At 9:10 a.m. Dec. 2, I was emailed by Associate Director of Student Involvement and Leadership Amber Ballion that a Pacific Lutheran official had removed the dodgeball article teaser from the landing page of our website, which is located at www.plu.edu.

In order for the article to be placed back online, Ballion stipulated that the headline must be changed. Nowhere in that email did she refer to the copy of the article.

She cited the reasoning in the email as that the use of obscene and profane words “directly violates that AP style book guidelines related to profanity/obscenity.” In fact, it does not.

To clarify, the AP stylebook is a set of guidelines, not rules. The Mooring Mast is also in the process of creating our own stylebook, so asking us to comply with a stylebook that we do not always follow was an interesting demand.

Even though we may not have agreed with their reasoning, we complied with what they asked and changed the headline to “F#$k S&!t Up drops the ball” and reposted the article. We also added this editor’s note to the beginning of the article:

Editor’s note: At 9:10 a.m. Dec. 2, an unidentified Pacific Lutheran University staff member pulled the teaser to a dodgeball article on The Mooring Mast’s website because the headline that read “Fuck Shit Up drops the ball” “directly violates that AP style book guidelines related to profanity/obscenity,” according to an email sent by Associate Director of Student Involvement and Leadership Amber Ballion. The AP stylebook does not in fact prevent any use of profanity, instead permitting newspapers to use profanity when the paper determines “there is a compelling reason.” The Mooring Mast used the profanity because the name of the losing dodgeball team contained profanity and the university allowed the name F.S.U. – popularly recognized by the dodgeball community as Fuck Shit Up – as the name of an intramural dodgeball team. While the recorded name of the team was F.S.U., sophomore team members Erik Hummer and Jordan Scanlan said the most common interpretation of their acronym was the phrase, “Fuck Shit Up.” The Mooring Mast determined it appropriate to use the spelled out acronym in the headline, as we deemed it suitable for expressing the renegade culture of dodgeball. We replaced the headline around 10:30 a.m. Dec. 2 to read “F#$k S&!t Up drops the ball,” but are leaving the profanity in the article.

After writing this editor’s note I, along with other members of the editorial board, attempted to contact Executive Director of University Communications Greg Brewis, who Ballion instructed us to contact if we had any further questions.

We were not able to reach Brewis at his office, where we were instructed he was not there and would not meet with us without an appointment; over the phone through his assistant or his work line; or through email.

We were not contacted further about this issue until I approached Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Laura Majovski after discovering our website was taken entirely offline at 1:17 p.m. with no explanation whatsoever from the university.

We then were able to meet with Brewis for about half an hour.

During that interview, Brewis said he respected our decisions. To which I responded with asking that if he respected our decisions, then why did he not speak to us before taking anything offline or ask about our decision-making process.

“Well it wouldn’t matter,” Brewis said, adding there wouldn’t be any obscenity on the PLU website.

Well if there wouldn’t be any obscenity on the PLU website, we asked why the word “b----“ was not objected to, since it was included in the same issue in the Focus section of the newspaper. He said there were varying degrees of obscenity and profanity and didn’t want to use a blanket rule for them, but recognized “b----“ as a profane word.

We also asked about other profanity and obscenity on the PLU website. He said he couldn’t speak to those.

Overall, we just wanted our website back online so we asked how that could happen. He said that if all obscene and profane words were removed from that article he would put the website back online immediately.

We complied with his demands after an editorial board meeting, and at 5:30 p.m. our website was back online.

We haven’t heard anything since from university officials.

In the end, all I want from the university is to understand their thought process in taking such drastic measures of removing our article teaser or landing page without discussing anything with us.

We understand they have the right to do so because we attend a private university, but since we have always operated as an open forum, we want to know why and how the university decided to exercise complete control over editorial content for the first time that we know of.