Shoddy editing is not freedom of the press
Here is the first paragraph of a story published in a New Mexico college newspaper. The words are exact except for the last two, which I have changed to “you know.” They refer to oral sex and I am betting my readers, bright devils you are, will get the drift.
“Want to learn about sexual violence, Gspots or how to give a great you know?”
The story was in the March 26 edition of the The CNM Chronicle, student newspaper of Central New Mexico Community College. That this was a newspaper devoted to sex was fairly clear from the front, full page art, a picture of a mussed bed with sex toys peeking out from the bed cover.
There was a story on a young lady who was proud of her abstinence. There was a panel discussion featuring students with various sexual preferences. There was discussion of favorite positions. Misunderstood bondage fans were featured.
Notably, there was a detailed analysis of sex toys, size, shape and purpose. Apparently the editors do not think readers interested in the specifics are smart enough to hunt down a web site, say, Sextoys”R”Us.
Are you getting a little uncomfortable about now, maybe a little peeved? I hope so. This issue was an outrage, not because it was devoted to sex but because it was tasteless, an embarrassment to the college and to the state. A New Mexico newsman I respect opined the idea was okay, the execution horrible.
Here’s what happened when the sex issue came off the presses. CNM President Kathie Winograd got wind of it and confiscated all the copies she could grab. Winograd said, look, we have no journalism department, these student journalists have no supervision. What we need to do, Winograd added, is suspend publication briefly until we can figure out how to offer guidance to the newspaper staff.
Let the record show Winograd got it absolutely, totally right. But she was soon to cave. In short order, the University of New Mexico student newspaper, the Daily Lobo, vowed to shut down its print edition until The CNM Chronicle sex issue was released. There’s a mature reaction, boycott your own readers for nothing they did.
Also entering the fray was FOG, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, a staunch defender of First Amendment rights which from its inception has made major strides toward transparency in government in pursuit of protecting First Amendment rights. FOG decided confiscation of the Chronicle edition was a violation of the First Amendment.
Let’s look at that a moment. The column you are reading deals with more than a dozen state editors supervising 15 newspapers. Consider these scenarios.
Scenario one: I write a column introduced by the You Know paragraph. Not one of those editors would let it pass. Not one. A violation of First Amendment rights? Of course not. Just good editing.
Scenario two: Putting it more in sync with what actually happened at CNM, this variation. I write the same offensive paragraph, the column is assigned to a rookie editor who lets it pass. Three thousand copies run off the press before the publisher becomes aware of the travesty. I guarantee you the publisher will destroy those papers before they get into the community.
Is the publisher, the person in charge of protecting his newspaper’s reputation, somehow violating First Amendment rights? Did Kathie Winograd, definitely in charge of protecting CNM’s reputation, violate First Amendment rights?
Your honor, I submit this is a case of shoddy editing, not a case of freedom of the press.
Sound off, please. I am sure my newspaper colleagues will.
Ned Cantwell welcomes response at email@example.com.