UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Dateline: Downtown

Dateline: Downtown

One of my self-appointed tasks for this newspaper is that of ombudsman. This role began with my earliest service to this paper, that being a letter sent our sainted former editor-in-chief, Gin Dumcius. It was Fall 2005 and an affair you may have heard about, the Iraq War, was a matter of some public debate. A writer (and war supporter) advanced what I felt was a dangerously wrongheaded take on the conflagration. Alongside her scribblings was an anti-war harangue sent by a dreadful bore from Socialist Alternative. My letter stated, in brief, that each were wrong and should clam it unless a pearl would drop out.

Before long the same writer again stuck her foot in her mouth regarding a proposed in-state tuition break to the children of illegal immigrants that resulted in the raising of a considerable number of hackles across campus, and deservedly so; it was an uninformed piece which included glaring factual errors and, more importantly, an uncharitable spirit. Letters poured in, and I wrote, not quite an apologia, but a let’s-talk-this-thing-out-we’re-all-Americans-here discussion piece in the interest of advancing free expression, no matter how wrongheaded or misguided that expression may sometimes be. Free expression is the foundation of a free nation, and that means people are going to say and do stupid things.

So again, this week, I must ombud. Our boss, the lovely Donna Neal, received three (count ’em) complaints regarding an article presented last week, “Top Five on Campus” by Chad Cid-Hogan (9/24/07). I will also share elsewhere on these pages letters I have received and messages posted on our website.

The “Top Five” of course refers to the “top five places to (ahem) ‘make the beast with two backs’,” which the article describes. I question, initially, what field research was undertaken in pursuit of the piece. The less the better, of course, but this raises another question, or at least it does to me: now that we have been gifted with this information, what are we to do with it? None of the information imparted in the article helps me with my life.

Nor do the semantic felonies embedded in the piece, such as “providing ample privacy to practice pleasurable pelvic palates,” but that is another matter for another day. Our correspondent Jen writes, “The past two editions (of the Mass Media) have been bad enough with mention of other sexual activities, but when did UMASS Boston become the playboy mansion? I thought we strive to be a credible institution of learning.” And she is right. Our school is a credible institution, and the past two editions of our representative student paper do indeed mention on-campus sexual activity. There is, it seems, a conflict here. Either our school is not a credible institution or our school newspaper shouldn’t run juvenile trash in its pages.

Is that the way? I do not think so. A secret you should know, and I’ll give you this for free, is that college students are a libidinous bunch. Should our paper be a carnal free-for-all? No. Should our students be allowed to make mistakes, to “pull boners” as the phrase has it, har-har-har? Certainly.

While I agree with every sentiment expressed by the aggrieved parties, I also urge them to lighten up. I felt dubious, more than a bit, when the drafts were read to me in our offices. I expressed hesitation, but try telling someone it’s a bad idea to jump off the Quincy Quarries when they have their hearts set on it. See what it gets you, and how easy it is.

I’m not apologizing for, but nor do I condone, said article or its companion piece by the same writer in the same issue, “The Bibliophile: The Kama Sutra Translated by Sir Richard Burton (1883)”. My hesitation with the latter isn’t just that the Sutra occupies a questionable place in the yogic canon, but because it mentions Stuff You Don’t Talk About in a Family Paper.

But you know what? Those are my Catholicism-bred scruples. I cringe when I see obscene graffiti, and when kids on the Red Line curse at the top of their lungs. I share the misgivings regarding pieces like these. But a student paper is a place to test things out, to stress test good ideas and suffer for bad ones.

Does it “damage the credibility of the paper”? Probably, but credibility is for weenies and the New York Times. The Mass Media is an amateur paper run by amateurs, of whom I consider myself one. People are going to test the waters. If you don’t like it, tough nookies, Jack. The University Reporter is that-a-way. It’s a nicer look, the content is cleaner both stylistically and content-wise, and you know what? It’s less fun and stupid. I don’t agree with, like, or condone all that goes into The Mass Media, but I write for it. Why? Because I am a student in dialogue with other students. Sometimes, that dialogue makes me grimace and slap my head; but, hey.

That is what it boils down to: you’re dealing largely with twenty-somethings, a demographic notorious for a tenuous grasp on reason. I plead patience.

A paper raises controversy in two fashions: first, by printing challenging editorial content and important information, by “afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted”, and second, by churning out what should in hindsight have been composted. We made the latter error. Reader Nikki writes, “Mass Media needs to focus less on the shock value and more on what students want to hear about (i.e. tuition, books, campus happenings, student affairs, fashion, music, etc.)” To that I say, Hear hear. However, we do not live in the best of all possible worlds, nor run the corresponding paper. We’re gonna make mistakes. The one sure way to ameliorate this is by writing for us and providing content that is provocative for the right reasons. We ourselves are trying to get there.

About the Contributor
Dan Roche served as opinions editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2006-2007; 2007-2008; 2008-2009