April Fool’s issues had some not-very-funnyconsequences for student newspapers in Florida and Wisconsin thismonth.
Administrators fired the entire editorial staff of StetsonUniversity’s student newspaper and suspended its publication early this monthafter an April Fool’s edition outraged school officials.
Universityleaders say the staff of The Reporter went too far with its spoofedition, renamed The Distorter, which included what officials believedwere racist jokes and a sex-advice column advocating rape. Editor in ChiefTeresa Schwarz and the sex columnist, August Brown, later apologized and offeredto resign their positions, but administrators said that was notenough.
Brown said he should be held accountable for his column, whichwas written in Ebonics and satirically advocated violence toward women. Afterthe column was published, he said he was contacted by rape victims who said hishumor brought up painful memories.
“I’ve tried to justify in my head whyI wrote this, and, looking back, I really can’t,” Brown said. “It’s pretty muchcrass and offensive for the sake of being crass and offensive. If I knew itwould have hurt people like that I would have stopped writing it the second Irealized that.”
He added, however, that many staff members were not awareof the potentially offensive articles that ran in April Fool’sedition.
“They’re crucifying people who had literally nothing to do withthis except their name appeared on the same masthead as ours,” Brown said. “Wetried to offer a solution and take accountability and the school didn’t see thatas enough. They wanted to make an example out of us.”
“TheReporter was the only open forum to discuss any kind of issues on campus.Now they’ve essentially gone and made it irrelevant to the student body,” Brownsaid.
Because Stetson University is a private institution, the FirstAmendment does not limit the school’s ability to censor studentpublications.
Vice president for administration Jim Beasley said thepaper will be suspended until fall, when a new staff will be approved by collegeofficials.
Meanwhile, 1200 miles north, unidentified protesters at theUniversity of Wisconsin at Marathon County stole about 100 copies of the studentnewspaper in early April, burning half and stuffing the rest downtoilets.
Forum Editor in Chief Paul Kurth says he does not knowwho is behind the theft, but he thinks it could be in response to April Fool’sDay articles, which some students and faculty did not find amusing.
Theissue featured several April Fool’s Day stories including a front-page headline,”Bush sends aid to campus” above a photo of bombs dropping on the university.The paper also printed an interview with “Jesus,” a man who runs the Web siteDateJesus.com.
Kurth said the articles are intended to be funny. “I don’tsee how people could have a big problem with that.”
But Brandon Cacek,president of the student association, said he was approached by several studentswho complained about the Forum‘s depiction of Jesus the week beforeEaster. He declined to identify the students, but he said they requested thestudent association cut the newspaper’s funding, which Cacek told them he couldnot do.
Kurth said the April Fool’s Day articles were just the latestcontent in the monthly paper to be criticized this school year. “I think it’sbeen building up each issue as the year went on.”
Kurth said the theftswould not change the way the staff approaches its stories. “We’ve got a prettygood story going for our last issue,” he said, “so we’re coming outregardless.”
SPLC View: April Fools Day usually keeps us busy, and thisyear was no exception. While April Fool’s Day issues are part of the studentpress tradition, they are also a regular source of headache when, whether thefault of misguided writers or humorless readers, the jokes miss theirmark.