College Journalism Is a Learning Experience

By MATTHEW PARRINO
On February 2, 2012

So in case you've been busy studying or haven't been able to get to a computer, The Spectrum had an article "go viral" this week. The vitriolic response to that article and the questions that have followed are the reasons I am writing this column.

Now before I get too far along, I want to make perfectly clear that not only is the piece I'm writing now a column (opinion), but so was the piece in question, "Why Put a Bumper Sticker on a Ferrari," in which Assistant News Editor Lisa Khoury said she despised tattoos.

Many readers took Khoury's article personally and upbraided me, my staff even the university (which operates separately from The Spectrum) for allowing such an opinionated piece in the paper.

Yes, it was biased. Yes, it was her opinion. That's why it was placed on the opinion page and clearly marked opinion on the URL.

Now that we have that all cleared up, I want to apologize. I want to say I'm personally sorry to the thousands of people who were offended by Khoury's stance on tattoos. I ultimately take responsibility for the piece because I made the decision to run it.

I stand by the decision.

Khoury has as much a right to her opinion as anyone else on my staff or anyone who chooses to write in or comment. I do wish I could go back and have her re-read the piece, re-consider some of her wording and phrasing. But she is only a first-year editor.

She - like all of us college journalists - is learning. We make mistakes along the way. Some are bigger than others. Hopefully, our mistakes teach us to be better. The reaction to this article is a lesson to all of us at The Spectrum and especially to Khoury.

Beware of what you write. It can destroy you.

Readers' comments have nearly destroyed her and it's awful. She's my staff member and I can't do much to help her. She's kind and hard-working and always willing to attack a story or take on a tough assignment. She wrote the tattoo piece as a counterpoint to another staff writer's piece on why she gets tattoos. In her zeal to win the argument, perhaps she got carried away.

The "disgusting" part of this whole situation, however, is the way in which a majority of people chose to fire back.

The hate speech that has commenced since Khoury's article hit the Net has been deplorable. Everyone is entitled to be upset about the message of her article, but nobody has the right to say some of the vile things that have been slung at her the past few days.

As an editor, I couldn't even print half the comments she received.

But online, there are few limits on what can be said and therefore what gets said. 

What has baffled me more than anything is how much people care about this issue. Last month, we reported that this university gave money illegally to (then) County Executive Chris Collins' political campaign and that UB President Satish K. Tripathi broke SUNY regulations. We got almost no response.

I respect people's attachment to their tattoos and the personal and emotional value they hold for many. But as a student hoping to make my career as a journalist, I would also like to believe that the public cares about issues that extend beyond themselves.

Another important fact to understand in all this is that The Spectrum is the independent student publication at the University at Buffalo. The university itself doesn't control the content of the paper. UB didn't "approve" the article. It is even printed on Page 3 of the paper that the views expressed on the opinion page are not those of The Spectrum, but those of the writer.

Khoury is entitled to that opinion whether you agree with it or not. The point of an opinion piece is to spark conversation and this piece did just that.

Crammed within the bundle of worthless, hurtful comments she received were a few very intellectual and enlightening responses to Khoury's views in the piece that forced even the writer to think about her position. That's great. That's the kind of dialogue we want to have with our readers and the general public.

I don't agree with the arguments and ideals presented in Khoury's article, but I never want to live in a world where she isn't entitled to write about what she thinks and be able to present it in a public forum.

Email: matthew.parrino@ubspectrum.com


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