An Australian radio station is reviewing its policies after the repercussions of a prank call performed by two DJs led to international criticism.
As the station looks into what it aired, it brings up a question: How far are news agencies willing to go to catch their audience’s attention?
University of California – Berkeley’s newspaper, The Daily Californian, made international headlines recently after sex columnist Nadia Cho published a detailed play-by-play account of a day she spent having sex throughout campus.
“The extent to which people are intrigued, shocked and offended by this column shows how unusual it is to openly talk about sexual experiences. The world needs to be more comfortable with talking about sex and openly acknowledging that it happens,” Cho said in an opinion piece in Huffington Post College.
Cho’s article is “totally evidence of that change in our society — that she can publish something that’s talking about her having sex, and even being graphic in some ways, and that’s great,” said Katherine Marrone, sex and relationships columnist at University of Oregon’s newspaper, The Oregon Daily Emerald.
Phoebe González, sex columnist at Northwestern University’s The Daily Northwestern, said she doesn’t feel writers at her newspaper have strong regulations on what to write, but at the same time, she feels the newspaper often takes a more conservative approach in what it publishes.
“I don’t think The Daily pushes really hard with those things,” González said, “I think my column might be the most risqué one.”
González said she only writes about things she feels comfortable with the public knowing and is aware that parts of her article can be cut or censored at anytime by editors.
She is required to turn in her column two days before it’s due, while most other reporters on staff only have to turn it in one day before.
The First Amendment limits public schools’ ability to censor material in news publications at the college level, according to the Student Press Law Center. (Northwestern is a private school, Oregon is public.)
“I think it’s important, necessary even, to talk about all facets of the human experience, which includes sex and drinking. Most college students do both, so rather than become withdrawn and uncomfortable when discussing topics such as these, we should feel free to discuss these openly,” Marrone said.
The idea of talking about generally private topics in college newspapers is evident in an article published for the University of Florida’s The Independent Alligator.
The article details the top five spots on campus to use the bathroom, and readers were not shy in their criticism.
“Somehow, I don’t feel like this is quality journalism. Get real stories. There’s a whole world out there. Joke articles are taking the place of informative ones. I find it wrong that this was actually published. Do something productive,” commentator DrWho wrote on the article’s page.
Daily Emerald Editor-in-Chief Andy Rossback said he believes college newspapers have always published controversial material — it’s just being presented in different ways now.
“In trying to figure out what college students read, there’s always going to be controversy but you have to find a balance,” Rossback said.
Rossback attributes the criticism of certain articles — particularly articles on alcohol and drinking games — to the newspaper’s redesign launched earlier this year. The new design of the paper calls more attention to the articles, he said.
Although the Daily Emerald does publish its share of controversial material, Rossback said that this material is secondary. They are made to get the audience interested in the newspaper’s first focus — investigative journalism.
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