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UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

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February 26, 2024
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April Fools’ Not So Funny for Some

Header for the April 1, 2005 Mass Media paper
Header for the April 1, 2005 Mass Media paper

Every year, editors at The Mass Media spend the year saving ideas for the annual April Fools’ issue. Previously known as The Mass Mullet, this year’s edition was titled The Mass Debater-read it fast, and the April Fools’ joke appears.

Inside the April Fools’ paper readers find satirical articles poking fun at the university and administration. The April Fools’ 2003 issue included the front-page headline, “BULGER FIRED!” as well as a manipulated photo of a Marine Corps officer with ex-Chancellor Jo Ann Gora’s head superimposed onto the body. The caption underneath read, “I’m sick and tired of UMass Boston and all the damn whining. I’m a killer at heart and I’m going to kick some Iraqi ass.”

In the past, the April Fools’ issue has been widely popular because its contents gave the campus community the opportunity to laugh at themselves. This year’s version of the April Fools’ issue, however, raised heavy criticism for two particular images.

The 2005 April Fools’ issue contains an article titled “Making Da Chancellor” accompanied by a photo of Interim Chancellor Keith Motley’s face superimposed onto the body of a pimp surrounded by two women. The second altered photo at issue is of President Jack Wilson’s face superimposed onto Adolf Hitler’s body. The adjacent headline read, “President Wilson Outlines Suburban Mission.”

Leaders of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston expressed in the April 2 Boston Globe that the Wilson photo “displays a profound insensitivity,” with similar reactions coming from the offices of Wilson and Motley.

At approximately 10:30 on Friday morning of April 1, in a phone conversation with Robert P. Connolly from the Office of the President, The Mass Media’s Editor In Chief Nancy Derby was advised to issue a public apology.

Connolly also emailed Derby informing her the photo was “all the more difficult for [Wilson] because he is partially of German Jewish heritage.” He ended the email stating, “Nice going.”

Later that morning, Derby received a hand-delivered letter from Motley’s office requesting a meeting with The Mass Media staff, members of Student Life and Student Affairs, and Special Assistant to the Chancellor Chris Hogan.

“I was very disappointed to see some of the caricatures contained in the April 1, 2005 edition of The Mass Media. These images are personally offensive to me and the entire UMass Boston community, in particular our Jewish and Christian students, faculty and staff,” stated Motley in his letter.

Ellen Hume, professor in the communications department, reiterated disapproval by stating to Derby in an email that same morning, “I am appalled by the parody you have created at The Mass Media. It is not funny to put a German Jew-President Wilson-as Hitler. Motley as a pimp is not funny, it is stupid.”

She continued in a statement to The Mass Media, “Both the Hitler image and the image of the Chancellor as ‘pimp’ build on very specific stereotypes with legacies of real degradation and violence. I am disappointed that anyone on this campus might think that this could be celebrated as ‘humor,’ ‘art’ or ‘a younger generation thing.'” She further stated that this year’s April Fools’ insert, “compromised the paper’s credibility as a responsible voice for the community.”

Around 2:00 p.m. that day Derby issued an apology to the Offices of Student Affairs, Student Life, the chancellor, and the president.

“These photos are not personal attacks on Wilson or Motley,” said Derby in the letter. “The content was not meant to be likened to truth or taken with any seriousness whatsoever.” She ended by stating, “As Editor In Chief of the Mass Media, I take full responsibility for the images and want to apologize to President Wilson, Interim Chancellor Motley, the university, our readers, and my news editors. The inserts will be pulled from the stands.”

In response to the inserts, two students, News Editor Kristen DeOliveira and Associate News Editor Jay Upton, resigned from the Mass Media staff.

DeOliveira explains in her resignation statement, “I no longer feel comfortable attempting to adhere to standards of real journalism within a venue that has published such inappropriate content. I have never treated The Mass Media as anything other than a genuine news outlet…I disapprove of the direction in which the publication appears to be going. As a result, I have decided to leave.”

The Office of Student Affairs recommended that Derby fire editors involved in the production of the images, a move that could affect the Board of Trustees’ vote this summer to enact a mandatory student fee for the paper, as opposed to its current optional fee, a move which Derby rejected.

Derby clarified the decision to publish the photos, “Even though the article [about Wilson] was meant to be a spoof, we wanted to address the direction of the university.” Specifically, Derby referred to the wide student concerns over the rising tuition costs, in addition to Wilson’s pay raise upon taking his position as president that caused statewide protest.

“There seems to be a change in recruitment policies that cater towards more traditional middle class students-using Hitler as a reference was our way of attacking a policy that we see as contradictory to the university’s commitment to minorities and international students,” continued Derby.

However, “when learning that Wilson is a German Jew, I was horrified. It was not our intent to make a personal attack-especially on someone’s cultural history,” said Derby.

As far as the Motley image is concerned, Derby explained, “It was meant to mock the way that media and music videos portray African American males-not to reinforce that stereotype. The lighter side of the image and article is making the nation’s ongoing craze with reality television into a joke.” She ended by saying, “I have nothing but respect for Motley.”

Student support for the Mass Debater has come from all over campus. A former editor of the Mass Media wrote a supporting email: “I loved it!! Great Job!”

Faculty Council Representative and Senior Advisor to the Student Trustee Jesse Solomon stated in an interview, “I was amused by it. It’s fun to look forward to the spoof issues. I’m Jewish and I didn’t find it offensive.”

“I can see how there could be students who take offense to the Nazi photo. But with that said, I would encourage them to read the piece that accompanies the photo and the title and not judge the Mass Media’s April Fools’ issue by the photo alone,” Solomon added.

When asked how he felt about the response from the administration, Solomon said, “I am very surprised and saddened that the chancellor and others were offended, but the fact that Wilson is of German Jewish descent means that it probably wasn’t wise to run that photo.” He added that his main concerns remain with the students. “Students being offended would bother me more than having staff, faculty, and administration being offended.” Likewise, he said, “I don’t think that it would be appropriate for any staffers to loose their job over this.”

Meanwhile, in the offices of the Mass Media many questions have emerged surrounding the goals of the student-run, student-funded newspaper.

The Mass Media receives its funding from the $10 optional fee students pay at the beginning of each semester, not from the Student Affairs or Student Life. The newspaper also receives approximately $2000 in internal revenue from advertisements a week.

In a letter of support to Derby, student Senator Erica Mena expressed that she “wanted to reiterate my support for the intentions of the insert.”

“There is a tendency to be too self-important…the purpose of good satire is to comment on the absurdity of that position. I think that the Mass Debater did exactly that,” she stated.