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College Journalism Is a Learning Experience

Editor in Chief

Published: Thursday, February 2, 2012

Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11

P-Daddy

Spectrum file photo

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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8 comments

Anonymous
Mon Mar 18 2013 13:23
Would you stand by a student writing pieces riddled with racism or anti-antisemitism? If the answer is no, then why would you do the same for this 'journalist' whose article reeks of misogyny. If the answer is yes, that's alright because we're given free speech. But free speech goes both ways...

She is allowed to state her opinions as much as we are. I'm not saying the personal attacks were justified but if you spew hatred be prepared for people to get defensive. If she makes the decision to stereotype over half of the world's population (All women and all of the audience she assumes must be heterosexual) than be prepared for a backlash. What boggles me is that you still cannot see why people took issue with the piece. I don't have tattoos, but I sure as hell don't enjoy being compared to an object. What stereotype will she come up with next?

Anonymous
Fri Feb 10 2012 22:56
Hey Spitfire, just an FYI, UB is the largest public university in the Northeast...
Public Voice
Thu Feb 9 2012 16:45
Looks like you's guys killed the fb comments, soooooooooo take this!!
editor in chief epic fail. lets be honest, if you are in any way adept at your position you would easily been able to see that though its an opinion piece it would outrage those who read it. if you read it at all you would have had some idea of the repercussions. you either wanted this to happen for whatever reason or you suck at your job. but really, your shocked that nobody cared about a corrupt political piece but are surprised when an editor writes a blatantly sexist piece and the world cries "FOUL!". here's a little news, political corruption is so common these days that few really care, but when you attack peoples sensibilities they tend to get offended. but kudos for milking the exposure... I guess.
Spitfire
Mon Feb 6 2012 11:21
So what you're saying is that, in spite of ALL of the comments you received, you still don't understand the point that upset people? Good job. And perhaps the reason why your other articles don't get hits is because you're a tiny paper serving a tiny school. The world doesn't care until something goes viral and the only things that go viral are cats, porn, and issues that hit close to home.

Perhaps you should start reading the multitude of well written, well reasoned responses and THAT outcry instead of telling the whole group "shame on you." You're the one who condones sexism and classism, not us.

J.H.
Sat Feb 4 2012 14:23
As a woman, as an ethnic minority, as someone who has tattoos and piercings, even as someone with a career in finance in this current economy, I've been faced with my fair share of people getting in my face, attacking me with words, deciding that they don't like me or that I am somehow less-than because of the reproductive organs I was born with, the color of my skin, my views on religion, politics, my perceived contribution to dire economic straits, and any number of other half-formed and baseless notions. Do I cry about it? Not anymore, because I am an adult, and I know that who I am and what I'm worth is dictated by ME, not by the opposing world view of complete strangers.

Were some of people's comments to Ms. Khoury cruel? Sure. Was the overall reaction to her piece inordinately defensive? Perhaps. What I find curious, though, is your statement that Lisa is fully entitled to state an opinion, even if a lot of people disagree with her, but no one has the right to have an opposing opinion of her opinion. You can't control how someone else reacts to something you do or say. This is the way of the world. You can dislike their reaction, you can think it's inappropriate, you may even be right about that. However, that doesn't change the fact that people have a RIGHT to feel and say anything they want to, in this country, no matter how deplorable.. People have the RIGHT to say that a gay person is hated by God. People have a RIGHT to say that white people are genetically superior to all other races. People have the RIGHT to say that your mother is fat and ugly and stupid. It is up to you to decide whether you get mired down in the opinions of others and allow them to actually do damage to your own sense of self, or whether you state your disagreement, present your reasons for disagreeing, and move on. That is all that you can do. The whole staff of your publication is young, and so perhaps none of you have ever really encountered this aspect of the world, before. Sorry to say, it's not the world that is ever going to change, it is YOU who have to learn to navigate it. Harden up.

Anonymous
Sat Feb 4 2012 11:23
Well gee big boy, either you really do truly stand by her comments (like a man), or you apologise (which apparently you already have). Can't have it both ways my boy. Here is a joke you can reference when applying for your next big journalism gig: socialite gets offended when man offers to buy her something expensive in exchange for you know what. She says what do you think I am, a prostitue? I won't sink for so low a bauble. He say's "we already know what you are, now we are just establishing the price." What's your price, big boy?
Anonymous
Fri Feb 3 2012 12:40
I think this sentence explains so much about online comments.

"I will admit I have not read the article that has raised concern to my friends, but enough information has crossed hands and a trust in my friends allows me to trust what they have come to me with."

Anonymous
Fri Feb 3 2012 12:27
"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."

You make a rather broad assumption that those of us who responded to Khoury's article are concerned only with this issue. Your example of the lack of response to the article about the violations to SUNY's regulations is a poor one. That article did not go viral. Lisa Khoury's did.

For the record, I have found the majority of responses to her article to be just as sickening and deplorable as you have. Taking ad hominem swipes at her personal appearance, and questioning her upbringing, is shallow, petty, and small-minded. That said, Khoury's article similarly comes across as shallow, petty, and small-minded. It's a poorly-written piece which failed the litmus test of "good debating." Her follow-up explanation - that she approached it from the perspective of someone who had recently improved her health through lifestyle changes - only further proves this. Her piece therefore could not have been taken out of context or misinterpreted. We are not mind readers.

Of course she is entitled to her opinion. She needs to work on expressing it a little better.





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