Inside jokes should stay inside

Posted: March 10th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: journalism | Tags: , , , | View Comments

Image courtesy of WQAD.

Accidents happen—especially in a college newsroom.

But there’s a difference between the usual stress-induced mistakes and knowingly putting yourself in a less-than-ideal situation.

That’s what the Western Courier, a thrice-weekly student newspaper at Western Illinois University, did Monday when it left a vulgar byline in the template, resulting in a much worse stress-induced situation. The staff accidentally forgot to change the byline for a sports story on the back page of the issue, indicating the author was a “bad mother [expletive],” according to a WQAD report.

Editor-in-Chief Ed Komenda said the error was a byproduct of the stressful environment and had been in the page’s template for years.

“In any newsroom situation, it’s a highly stressful situation. Jokes are made sometimes to defuse that stress and make everybody feel a little more comfortable,” said Komenda. “That byline was in the template for years before I started, and it just so happens it got printed accidentally,” according to WQAD.

The paper issued a formal apology Monday, but the damage was done.

Let’s be honest: This isn’t the first time a student-run newspaper’s fun has leaked onto its pages, but it’s one of the most preventable mistakes for student journalists.

I’ve never been a fan of anything other than standard filler text—and this is why. There are other ways to diffuse the natural stress of a college newsroom. The other part of the problem is this byline has been on the template for “years.” Students have to understand that the newspaper is the one thing in the newsroom that shouldn’t become subject to college playfulness.

Juvenile mistakes like the Courier’s not only affect readers’ views toward the paper’s credibility, but also — and more importantly — the staff’s view of their own publication.

If you’re going to choose personal phrases to fill space, be advised, you’re playing against the house.

Nathan Hardin is a graduate of North Carolina State University, where he served as the news editor of the school’s daily student newspaper, the Technician. He is also a staff writer for the Student Press Law Center.