Profanity in print lets everyone down

Gerrick Lewis

Four words. Big, black and bold, “Taser this … F-k Bush.”

When the Rocky Mountain Collegian, the student paper of Colorado State University, ran that statement in lieu of a staff editorial Friday, its Web site was bombarded with comments — more than 900 as of press time — both supporting and bashing the editorial board.

The editorial, a response to the tasering of University of Florida student Andrew Meyer, is now the center of controversy as comments calling for editor J. David McSwane to step down have come rolling in.

As the editor of The Lantern, I wholeheartedly understand exercising free speech and upholding the First Amendment at all times; it’s something my staff lives and breathes. But the Rocky Mountain Collegian overstepped its boundary on this one.

This is not an issue of exercising the right of freedom of speech or about bashing the president. As a paper you have a responsibility to your readers, and the paper disregarded those readers when it printed that statement.

As editor you have the biggest responsibility, and in some cases — such as this one — you fall the hardest when the fire is hot. Not to mention the tremendous responsibility you have to your staff. Because of this foolish action, businesses have pulled tens of thousands of dollars in ad revenue from the paper, which is how independent papers make their money, and staff members are facing pay cuts because of the loss.

McSwane wrote an open letter Monday to the university, both defending his actions and claiming the column was meant to be a celebration and not an abuse of the First Amendment. But what ever happened to writing thoughtful editorials about issues, which is what the opinion page should be about?

Although I understand the statement, and feel the same way about the administration, this statement was a juvenile approach. Words are very powerful when used properly, and using profanity showed me they only wanted a reaction. They chose to print and enlarge a profanity just because they could, and that is what will lose the respect of your readers and the integrity of the paper. A stunt that might cost them future jobs. No professional paper would have done that, and if you are striving to become an accredited journalist, you wouldn’t have either. Isn’t that the whole point of working at a student paper?

Because I sit in the same position as McSwane, I know leading a student paper isn’t the easiest thing. You are responsible for every line of copy and every picture printed in the paper, even if you have no involvement with it, such as ads, and you are constantly criticized for all your actions.

What is more important is that you are the face for the paper wherever you go and McSwane let his staff down.

At The Lantern, we are all faced with the same issues and criticisms as any other paper, student or professional, and we try to make the best decisions for our readers and only hope that we do so in our day-to-day production.

Running “Taser this … F-k Bush” in more than 100 point type was not a smart decision and it is one that the Rocky Mountain Collegian will have to explain for a very long time.

The above column, by Gerrick Lewis, appeared in The Lantern (Ohio State) yesterday.