Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Paying the price for Original Stupidity


The incoming editor of the Daily Nebraskan thinks it would be an awful shame if the student body closed the checkbook that covers a seventh of the University of Nebraska student newspaper's annual budget.

Perhaps Ian Sacks ought to have had that conversation with the paper's present student editor before
Jenna Gibson and her staff -- largely comprised of what one now-former columnist described as "hipsters" -- set about endangering their already-tenuous hold on that student assessment by angering lots of students for no good reason.

And when I say "for no good reason." I mean just that. Unless, of course, someone can explain to me how a salacious article about the sexual habits of College of Architecture students and teaching assistants, based purely on anonymous innuendo and gossip, constitutes good reason.

Sacks takes to the
Support the Daily Nebraskan page on Facebook to lament a student's decision to vote no Wednesday on continuing student funds for the newspaper:
I understand architecture students' grievances entirely. However, I do feel I need to say that as next year's editor-in-chief, no one needs to worry about similar stories running again. I know next year's editorial staff is behind me on this as well.

If these students truly feel one story's damage has outweighed all positive coverage both before and after, and that its consequences should be levied upon next year's staff, that's their prerogative. But it seems very "sins of the father" and that's unfortunate.
AS SOMEONE with a few years under my belt, I find it "unfortunate" that an incoming editor of a student newspaper doesn't understand that "very 'sins of the father'" has been how the real world has operated, oh . . . forever. We Christians call it "original sin."

Ever since Adam decided Eve was onto something with that forbidden-fruit
diet, every child born into this fallen world has had to pay the price for the "sins of the father." I suspect that model will hold true concerning the sins of the Daily Nebraskan.

When one semester's DN staff breaks trust with its readers by publishing uninformative, salacious trash --
salacious trash accompanied by a foul illustration -- it, frankly, is unreasonable to expect that a burned student body is going to put much stock in an incoming editor's promises not to be as irresponsible as his predecessor.

In other words, it sucks to be him, because only a fool listens to what people
say in lieu of watching what they do.

And what this semester's staff of the
Daily Nebraskan has done is squander the fruit of more than a century of previous staffs' hard labor for the sake of one prurient story of no news value. It is this sin that may well be held against many DN staffs that follow -- if, indeed, any follow at all if students vote no.

Not that the newspaper's present management has learned anything from its February missteps:

The story began a lot different than it turned out. The original assignment was to write about the sex lives of students who spend a large amount of their time hard at work in Architecture Hall. Instead, what ran was a story that presented the anonymous statements of few students that was misunderstood at representative of all architecture majors. That this misunderstanding occurred is the fault of the Daily Nebraskan — many architecture students have contacted us saying they resent the statement.

On a positive note, this situation has improved the level of editorial oversight on such provocative articles, and we on the DN Editorial Board admit there needs to be more eyes on a story like this one so it could have been improved before running. There will also be more oversight on the art, making sure that any explicit content is not only justified but not distracting to the point of the story it accompanies.

THAT EDITORIAL from Feb. 6 didn't express regret over printing the college newspaper version of Jersey Shore. What it expressed was regret it didn't give a sleazy premise better production values.

What it also didn't say was that Kelsey Lee -- the reporter who has achieved, while still an undergrad, a level of pandering and cynicism to which it takes others many years to sink -- was out of a job. (That's because she's not.) Editors always can manage a staff better and more attentively. What editors can't do is magically give reporters and artists a moral compass and common sense.

Neither Lee nor artist Bob Al-Greene
(who seems to be more of a Bob 2 Live Crew to me) displayed either.

Everybody screws up. Some screw-ups, however, preclude editors from giving the offenders a second chance. Senseless transgressions that may have placed the publication into
mortal jeopardy fall into that category.

NO ONE -- or at least not this writer, an alumnus of The Daily Reveille at LSU who's married to an alumna of the Daily Nebraskan -- wants to see NU's student paper disappear or be crippled for years. That goes double for Mr. Sacks, who already has a hell of a mess to clean up as editor for 2011-12.

But, as we say these days, "mistakes were made." Consequences usually follow.

Though the price Ian Sacks and his staff might pay for the "sins of the father" could be high indeed, it would be hard to say the penalty would be unjust should the student body see fit to mete it out. The reality of this world is that we always pay for "the sins of the father."

Thus it always has been. Thus it always shall be.

5 comments:

Casey Welsch said...

My name is Casey Welsch. I am the assistant editor of the Daily Nebraskan's A&E section, the section that ran this story, and I was the editor of the section the night we put together the Arch Hall package. Kelsey Lee wrote this story at my and the main editor's behest, so don't go criticizing her morals, please, she was just doing her job. I was also the one who came up with the idea for the art that I tasked Bob with illustrating. It was my idea, he just executed it, again, doing his job. Stop slamming them for doing what they are paid to do, which is listen to me. If you don't know how a newspaper operates, please don't criticize the way it operates. In the future, you should and may channel all of your hate and disgust toward me. Kelsey and Bob do not deserve it. I don't think I do, either, but it you're going to throw it, make me your target. Thank you.
Casey Welsch, Assistant A&E editor

The Mighty Favog said...

Mr. Welsch,

Grow up.

First, I have forgotten more about how newspapers run than you ever have learned. Try that bit of arrogance on me again when you, in the course of reporting a story, ever have had to notify someone their friend is dead.

Also get back in touch the first time you scoop the ever-living crud out of the Journal-Star on a big story it's been chasing hard. I've been there, done that and gotten the T-shirt.

For that matter, just ring me up whenever you've managed to get a job at a good-sized metro daily. You might want to act quickly -- they may not be around too much longer.

Secondly, all you're telling me is you and your boss are more morally bankrupt than your underlings -- and more devoid of journalistic integrity than Ms. Lee and Mr. Al-Greene.

They are at fault for not disobeying your assignment . . . or, alternatively, for not trying to find a real story somewhere within the glob of sleaze y'all apparently assigned.

They were "just taking orders." You were giving the orders.

You two ought to end up before a tribunal trying crimes against journalism. That, and against a venerable UNL institution that you didn't build but have been hard at trying to trash.

Finally, I harbor no hate for anyone, but I recoil in massive disgust at the misguided actions of the present DN staff. If anyone hates anything, it is you who hates substantive journalism much like Attila hated the faded glory of the Roman Empire.

There. Happy now?

Casey Welsch said...

You don't know me, you don't know how much or how little I know about newspapers, so your first point that you know more than me is moot, and yes, I have written about dead people. Yeah it sucks when you have to ask someone for facts when they didn't know their friend was dead, but that's part of the job. Get off your high horse. And I have also scooped the J-Star, it really isn't that hard to do.
Second, I don't want a job at a metro daily, I want to work in public radio making music features.
Third, yes, me and my boss are in fact much more morally bankrupt than Kelsey and Bob, at least from a Christian standpoint. And if that's the mindset you're coming from, then yes, you will find me and my boss scions of the Devil's work. You don't have to give me a lecture about morality, I was raised fundamentalist, so as you say, "been there, done that and gotten the T-shirt."
Fourth, they are not at fault for disobeying the assignment, as doing the assignments they are assigned is what we pay them for. If they had refused, we would have fired them and given the assignment to someone else. They need jobs and money, so they did their jobs and got their money.
Fifth, you say we ought to be tried for our "crimes against journalism," and you try to hold the Arch Hall story to the standards of hard-hitting news and true investigative journalism. This is not the case. That story was written for the entertainment of the students of UNL by the Arts & Entertainment section of the DN. We never claimed it to be news. It was always supposed to be a soft piece, and that's what it was. The anonymity of the sources was to protect the sources from any fallout. Kelsey, my boss and I know full well and have verified who all the sources are.
Finally, you don't do a good job of convincing me that you're not a hater. The high-horse attitude and insults doesn't really help your case. And I happen to like substantive journalism quite a lot, which is why I leave comments on the websites of people like you who think they're the "true voices of the people" and think they're God's gift to journalistic integrity, when in fact they're bigger hacks than the people they're criticizing. It entertains me to see people like you think they're opinions matter like hard news, and it entertains me even more when they think my little comments are threats worthy of a long rebuttal. You've helped get me through a long night here on the job, at the DN in fact, so for that I thank you.
I needed a good laugh.

Richard L. Kent, Esq. (MichiganSilverback at gmail dot com) said...

Hear, hear, Fave.

Hear, hear.

The Mighty Favog said...

Mr. Welsch,

I'll not get off my high horse, for then I'd be down in the muck with the likes of yourself.

Basically, you're telling me you'd have fired the reporter if she had displayed a conscience and refused to report a story with no redeeming value other than titillating a bunch of oversexed college kids. And the story even failed at that -- it just offended and pissed off the oversexed college kids.

A great editor you are, indeed. I'm amused at how you pull out the old authoritarian sledgehammer in the service of forcing staffers to go along with your astoundingly bad judgment: "Vee haff veys uff makink you print total crap!"

Look at yourself here. You're admitting you'd have fired a reporter for refusing an assignment that got your ass in such hot water -- one which "grown-up" newspapers would have refused to print on grounds of not only taste, but also pointlessness and lack of solid sourcing.

That story would have earned an "F" in any beginning news writing course.

Do you really think there's some value in your anonymous "sources," who were doing nothing more than passing along hearsay and gossip? The article even called it gossip, for John Peter Zenger's sake.

Wrapping shoddy journalism in high-falutin' BS about "protecting sources" doesn't make it any less a steaming pile. And you, son, could fertilize the back 40.

Obviously, you've learned absolutely nothing. Thus, the DN's contrition seems to have been nothing more than so much bull designed to placate the masses as a funding election loomed.

And here's a corollary to Godwin's law: He who first uses the term "hater" loses the argument by default. It's a cop-out that means nothing apart from "He's being mean to me and I'm gonna pitch a fit."

"Hater" . . . that's amusing. Especially in light of your condescending stereotyping of Christians. There's nothing that screams open-mindedness and tolerance more than that.

And there's no rebellion against fundamentalism like a mindless rebellion against fundamentalism. You're too busy being the "cool kid" to realize that non-conformity is not reflexively buying into a photo-negative version of fundamentalist conformity.

Doesn't hating "haters" just make you . . . a hater? Whatever that happens to be today.

I'm sure, faced with a contradiction you can't squirm out of, you'll just change the definition of "hater" to exclude yourself.

You know, I'll bet I'd agree with Andrew Lacy on very little politically. He seems to be pretty Republican (though I could be mistaken), and I'm not.

But the kid sure seems to have nailed it with this paragraph in his "Take this job and shove it" magnum opus:

"This is a collection of people who prioritize being cool and edgy over actual journalistic standards, which results in the sort (of) childish ideas allowing this article to get the green light. It's a paper where a news editor can write a blog post titled 'J-school taught me nothing' in the same week that a headline is misspelled."

Have a nice life "making music features" for public radio, kid. You'll probably end up getting punked by James O'Keefe.