To say it was an overstatement would be quite the understatement.
The expletive plastered in bold print across the pages of Friday, Sept. 21’s edition of CSU’s student paper, the Rocky Mountain Collegian, rhymed with truck but had the impact of a freight train on the Fort Collins campus community and the life of its now-embattled editor-in-chief, J. David McSwane.
That smell from the north isn’t Greeley, it’s the metaphorical manure that hit the fan in Fort Collins.
A circulating campus petition from the College Republicans collected over 500 signatures demanding McSwane’s resignation; advertisers pulled out, causing the paper to lose tens of thousands in ad revenue overnight and forcing payroll cuts.
But what is truly striking in this case is the adamant refusal of McSwane to resign. His name has been thrust into the national spotlight and shred excruciatingly into a million withering pieces. His university has publicly apologized for him.
This statement, from CSU President Larry Penley, isn’t just foolish, it’s dangerous.
“I am disappointed that the Collegian’s recent editorial choices do not reflect the expectations we have of our student journalists nor the standards that are clearly articulated by student media policies.”
This kind of authoritative reprimand from the university president is not only unnecessary, but undermines the idea of student media as it exists.
This isn’t about the f-bomb the Collegian blew up in the middle of campus. This is about journalists trying to make a statement about speech and dialogue on campus, or at least their perception of the appalling lack of it.
It’s not as though McSwane broke into the printing office late at night and maliciously changed the day’s copy in an effort to get his face on The O’Reilly Factor.
This was an editorial board decision. It followed a long discussion and passed in a vote.
While it’s true that McSwane had final say over the content — he could have cut the copy at any time — this truly was the opinion of the editorial board. They made a bad decision, but they made it the right way. And they had every right to make it.
The result? Dialogue! Much of it angry and polarized, yes, but by any reasonable means of judgment, it would seem that the editorial board achieved its goal.
Don’t like it? Stop reading! Stop advertising! Write a letter! And by god, express your opinion!
But don’t go after the editor, a student like you and me, trying to inspire his peers. Even if the effort was crude and salacious, what is a college newspaper if not a testing ground, a launching point for ideas and a driving force for campus dialogue?
As a famous Australian racecar driver once said, “Bite off more than you can chew and then chew like hell.”
Chew like hell, Mr. McSwane, because our rights and our credibility depend upon it. You’re representing a greater cause, and the minute a college editor bows to the unreasonable wishes of its parent university, we’ve all taken a step backwards.
So from one campus newspaper editor to another, thank you.