Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Crisp gets it backwards

Over at Electric City Weblog, Rob Natelson asked if I would have published the Kaimin sex column in the Outpost. I replied:
I probably wouldn’t publish that column because I don’t think that Billings has a typical audience for an alternative weekly. Our readers, I think, are generally older and more conservative than the typical alternative audience (and far more so than the Kaimin audience), so I suspect that it wouldn’t work well for us.
But if you want a taste of what’s typical at alt-weeklies, try Dan Savage at http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/Author?oid=259
Pandering to lurid curiosity? I thought that’s how newspapers made a living.

This, Mr. Natelson replies, gets it exactly backwards. He replies, "The standards of quality for discourse in university newspapers ought to be higher, not lower, than in the mainstream press, and certainly higher than in alternative papers."

I'm not sure where I said that student newspapers should aspire to lower standards than commercial ones, but let it be. This is an argument I am glad to have backwards. I would like to be as far away from Mr. Natelson's position as it is possible to get.

What I actually said (see below) was that student newspapers, no matter how high their standards, are likely to fall short of them. Professional journalists do that, too, and, by definition, students are still learning. My point was not that students shouldn't have standards but that they need to be given plenty of room to feel their way toward those standards, and that nobody should get too upset when they mess up.

Mr. Natelson, however, has been unable to make a case that the Kaimin, in fact, falls short of acceptable journalistic standards. He calls the newspaper's sex column pornography, but I can't see that it is in any meaningful way, and he hasn't bothered to demonstrate that it is. At best, he points to SPJ's Code of Ethics, but the code, while well intentioned, is laughably imprecise.

Rather than deal with that complexity, Mr. Natelson falls back on the argument that it's coercive to make taxpayers support speech of which they disapprove. As I indicate below, that's life. I would anticipate that taxpayer-supported universities every single day would be filled with ideas, expressions and notions with which I disagree.

Heck, sometimes in my own university classes I say things that even I don't agree with, just because I hope to get students thinking about complicated matters. I don't know to what extent taxpayer-supported Mr. Natelson lets his political views leak out into his classes, but I expect that they do, and I hope that they do. Students ought to be exposed to those ideas.

Because some Kaimin students are paid, he now argues, and because they fall short of what he believes their professional standards should be, the Kaimin is now somehow different from every other form of taxpayer-supported opinion, expression and utterance that shows up on any healthy campus. And taxpayers should stick their noses into an arena best handled by professionals and by readers and by students who are aspiring to become professionals.

Or maybe I have that backward. If so, I'll keep it that way.

2 comments:

problembear said...

prof rob has about worn that shovel out trying to find a consistent argument. at first i figured he would dig his own grave, but his logic is so byzantine that it looks more like a tunnel stystem in a prairie dog town.

when somebody has to use that many words to sell an argument it starts to look like a teenager dodging logic so he won't be caught in a lie.

entertaining though. i will say that....

Anonymous said...

Dave is right that this is life. Of course taxpayers are forced to fund that with which they do not agree, what otherwise is the purpose of "public" funding? Considering his past battles with the political correctness of the institution which employs him, no one should know this better than Mr. Natelson. This is life as it has become with publically funded colleges. And publically funded colleges will always have lower standards which will only continue to decline as they search for appeasement of the prevaling political power as the priroity, over any kind of striving for excellence or exploration of knowledge. Mr. Natelson's problem is that he is arguing the wrong issue. And he is going to fail on this issue because he has accepted the premise of his adversaries, and as they point out, it results in an inconsistancy.