By Welina Farah
One week ago today, BU’s independent student newspaper, The Daily Free Press, released its annual April Fools’ edition. But what started out as lighthearted fun left the paper’s editorial staff with a heavy load on their backs.
With its overarching Disney theme, the joke publication should have been harmless and hilarious. But, featuring a headline that read “BROken egos: BU fraternity suspended for assaulting female student” and stories about Alice in Wonderland taking LSD from frat boys and Cinderella’s ties to a prostitution ring, it was really neither of the above.
As the events editor for UMass Boston's independent student newspaper, The Mass Media, I’ve learned to discern what is and isn’t acceptable newspaper content and to keep my paper’s audience in mind. UMB’s student body is a bit different than the one at BU, so a humorous piece that’s a huge hit at one school might be a flop at the other, but in the case of this all-in-good-fun issue, these stories most definitely were not acceptable anywhere -- especially at BU.
Almost immediately after the paper hit campus, the BU community loudly (and rightfully) voiced their displeasure. Students didn’t see anything funny about the stories, especially given recent problems with sexual assault by members of the school’s hockey team and at the school’s library, the investigation of a sorority that allegedly used binge drinking as a form of hazing, and a few “Peeping Tom” incidents. Not to mention, a Take Back the Night event had recently taken place on campus.
Poking fun at issues that our culture finds extremely personal and sensitive is a poor attempt at satire. If you want to be funny, write about Internet memes or the 2012 presidential election (seriously, the stuff Rick Santorum says is often wicked hilarious). Write about tripping and falling face-first into a whipped cream pie. Write about that one time at band camp (actually, don’t write about that). There are plenty of actually funny things in this world to write about, so take your pick.
The newspaper acted quickly in response to the outrage its (non-)joke caused. The FreeP’s Board of Directors issued a statement the next day, apologizing for the fiasco, and asked editor-in-chief Chelsea Diana, who gave an apology of her own, to resign. As editor-in-chief, Diana should have been the most qualified to decide what’s fit to print, and I believe she made the right choice in stepping down.
However, Diana didn’t conceive, write, format, and publish the entire issue on her own. The other editors and writers are journalists, too, and they should have known enough to realize that those stories were a bad idea long before the student body told them so. They should be shouldering the blame as well.
If Diana has to be the public martyr of this whole fiasco, so be it; when something bad happens, that's often the price you pay for being top dog at a publication. But the guilt that those who remain on The FreeP’s staff should feel over knowing that they had a hand in publishing the April Fools’ issue yet let only one person take the fall might be an even worse punishment.
If you were working at The Daily Free Press, would you have published the April Fools' stories?
About Welina -- I'm a UMass Boston student of sociological sorts with a political twist. I like black coffee, snarky comments, speaking my mind (especially when I shouldn't), social justice and Latin dancing. Let's think together on Twitter; you can find me @Ouleena.
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