Student journalists at Kansas City, Kansas, Community College’s student newspaper, The Advocate, got a lesson in public outrage last week. Too bad it wasn’t over an investigative exposé of the student’s healthcare options or an editorial on convicted felon and recently re-elected Board of Trustees member Clyde Townsend. Rather, it was a not-very-funny cartoon variation on the old “No Fat Chicks” lines. The cartoon – part of The Advocate’s sex issue – was pulled off a wire service by the paper’s editor-in-chief, Katherine Steele. “The page had a history of condoms on it, so I thought this would fit in,” Steele, 20, tells us. “We printed an article on abortion last semester, and nobody really cared at all, so I wasn’t really expecting an uproar.”
But uproar readers did, mostly via angry e-mails such as this one from former Advocate staffer Arthur Hathaway Jr.: “I realize that there is somewhat more leniency in the printed word now but this still falls into the obscene category and should not be found in a hometown Community College newspaper when the college is doing its best to foster good relations with our community.” Hathaway also hinted that, had the Advocate staff printed anything so risqué in his golden year of 1962, they all would’ve been expelled from school. Current KCKCC staffers weren’t happy, either. Not just over the cartoon but the Advocate in general. “Not only is the cartoon on page 8 appalling, but the spelling/typo errors in every edition is a total embarrassment. My feeling is that if you do not have enough staff or time to do the job, then maybe we should discontinue publishing a newspaper,” wrote Kathy Haworth of the Provost's Office.
Luckily for Steele, the school is more lenient than it might have been in Hathaway’s day. According to the paper’s adviser, Bryan Whitehead, nobody will be fired. Nor is the administration likely to censor anyone’s work in the future -- though he is expecting an interesting Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday night, should anyone choose to discuss the matter. Whitehead is adamant that students have the First Amendment right to publish dumb cartoons. And he believes that getting angry letters over things you don’t think should anger people is an important part of learning to be a journalist.
“It’s the biggest response we’ve gotten this year," he says. "Then again, last fall I wrote an editorial that said the confederate flag was a symbol of racism, and that set people off. We had a guy come into the office and just start screaming,” Whitehead says. “We haven’t had anything like that for this. Apples to oranges, I guess.”
(And just to dispel a rumor going around campus that the Pitch published a similar cartoon a few years ago: Oh, please. We’ve published some pieces of crap in our day, but c’mon. We really do know a waste of newsprint when we see it.) -- Peter Rugg