:: Running from the Thought Police ::

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:: Thursday, March 23, 2006 ::

Primary Sources

Ever since the Cartoon Two were suspended from the Daily Illini (timeline), many interested observers, including myself, have been wanting to see the exact policy the two were accused of violating. The Illini Media Company has been loath to disclose the exact policy (though the policy Gorton violated after being suspended, the blogging policy, has already been leaked).

I've been wanting to get my hands on this policy for weeks, but couldn't find a source to leak it to me. But now, lo and behold, Acton himself has published the whole thing. In order to remove some rather annoying (and irrelevant) bolding on his part, I'm reproducing the text of what Acton put up here.
A guide for handling inflammatory outside content

The following is a set of guidelines on general steps that should be followed in decision-making. It is not meant to dilute the content of the paper or prevent controversial thought. It is also not meant to persuade editors into accepting extreme content. Instead, these guidelines are based on the principle that an editor should be empowered to make the best decision possible. While the final decision may be different based on the news philosophy of each individual editor, the process should be institutionalized so as to provide a sense of consistency.

[I've since been told that the missing text was removed from this spot, and reads: "The editorial board should be consulted in its advisory role before such material is published."]

While we might decide publishing outside offensive material is necessary and in line with our commitment to expanding the continuum of ideas, there should be no sense of urgency in their publication. While news stories may need to be published in a timely manner, it is rare that an ad, letter or forum requires the same sense of speed and timeliness. Editors should take proper time to weigh choices involved in all aspects of publication.

The editor should allow for time to consult with professors, national consultants and editors from other campuses that have dealt with similar dilemmas.

The editor should not be swayed by outside or internal pressures. For instance, an editor should not reject an ad because the students on campus threaten to sue or boycott the paper. Nor should it be published because the prospective advertiser threatens to publicize “internal censorship” on a website or through professional media. We shouldn’t automatically close off any voice because we fear financial implications or the paper’s reputation. Nor should we feel pressured to run offensive material simply based on past decisions.

The editor must evaluate each situation individually — yet also think in terms of potential precedents for the basis of decision-making. For instance, if we receive an advertisement, we base our decision off a set of criteria with which we judge other ads, criteria that can b be used in the future to eliminate choices based on “gut reactions” or personal views. But we do not automatically run a similar advertisement the next time — we reevaluate our set of criteria and the new advertisement in its own right.

The editor should seek the advice of the publisher before publication.

The advertising manager should be notified of the content before it is published. This can be as simple as sending a quick email late at night, so long as members of the advertising staff are notified of the decision and why it was made before they take the first call the next day.

If the editor does decide to publish offensive or hateful outside material, the editor may choose to inform the University or student groups before publication. The editor, however, is under no obligation to do so.

Prior to publication, members of the staff should be informed by either the editor or the appropriate desk editor of the decision and why it was made.

The editor should be prepared to meet with readers, prepare explanations and facilitate forums for discussion if necessary. The editor should also mentally prepare for protests, bullying, violent reactions and threats.
But wait, this isn't the whole story! Gorton has, according to what I've heard, left out an entire paragraph saying that he should consult the editorial board on the matter. If/when I get the exact language of that paragraph, or at least word of its location within the policy, I'll add that here.

Moving on from omissions to spin, Acton's post tries to make the case that this policy didn't apply to his situation:
The policy was written by a previous editor in chief for the staff of the newspaper. When I came onboard as EIC, I went through the policy and decided to keep it as a guide to outside content. I was told that "Inflammatory outside content" means advertisements, letters to the editor or guest columns. It was explained that it does not mean internally generated columns, photos, articles or comic strips.
Whether or not Gorton could unilaterally demote a policy to a guide is beyond my realm of expertise (though, if its a policy, I suspect that he couldn't). Regardless, Gorton's distinction is that this applies only to externally produced content, not stuff originating in the DI.

Now, let's think about this. Gorton is claiming that Danish Muhammad cartoons he ran originated in the Daily Illini. Thing is, they're Danish - as in, they came from Denmark. Last time I checked, Denmark was rather unamibguously outside the Daily Illini, both from an organizational and geographical viewpoint.

So, while the policy was sparked by an outside advertisement and thus uses advertising examples heavily, the policy does apply in this situation, and it's rather clear that Acton violated numerous sections of it.

Which ones? I'm so glad you asked.

"The editor should allow for time to consult with professors, national consultants and editors from other campuses that have dealt with similar dilemmas." Didn't follow this one.

"The editor should seek the advice of the publisher before publication." Not this one either.

"The advertising manager should be notified of the content before it is published." This wasn't followed and, unlike Gorton, I can see why this would be applicable for all situations, not just in the case of controvercial advertisements. The Daily Illini is distributed free to campus, and all of its revenue comes from advertising. Advertisers get rather upset when their ads are on things that are embroiled in controversy, so notifying the advertising manager before the angry calls start seem to be a reasonable courtesy, not a limiting of scope of the policy.

"Prior to publication, members of the staff should be informed by either the editor or the appropriate desk editor of the decision and why it was made." Nope.

Assuming that there is a missing section on notifying the Editorial Board, that makes five blatant violations of this policy.

So, um, what grounds would Acton's lawsuits have, again?

:: The Squire 6:43 PM :: email this post :: ::


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