Shock journalism, even on April Fool's, is anything but a joke

Opinion article written for Elon University's student-run newspaper, The Pendulum, originally published here.

by Kristen Case | 4/3/12

April Fools’ Day is, by far, one of my least favorite days. No one is to be trusted and people think it’s okay to say, or publish, inappropriate things that are ‘made okay’ by tacking on “April Fools’” at the end.

Adding the phrase “just kidding” to the end of something, like telling your parents that you (or your girlfriend) are pregnant, doesn’t make it funny. It doesn’t even make it socially acceptable. Except, apparently, on April Fools’ Day.

If the average person is allowed to give their parents a heart attack with news and have it be okay because it’s the first of April, why did the editor-in-chief of the Boston University newspaper get asked to resign for an April Fools' joke?

On April 1, The Daily Free Press of BU put out a satirical print edition of their paper, which was Disney themed and poked fun at several campus issues, such as the arrest of two students for sexual assault, peeping Tom incidents and a possible incident of sorority hazing.

The top story of the paper stated, “Seven frat dwarves were arrested last night after they allegedly drugged” and sexually assaulted a female BU student, who was identified as “the fairest of them all.” Anyone else just have his or her childhood ruined?

In addition, the edition had stories about Alice in Wonderland having a bad LSD trip and another implicated Cinderella in a prostitution ring.

It goes without saying that this particular edition of the paper caused an uproar on the campus and around the nation. Many people called for the editor-in-chief and other staff members’ resignations and they got what they were clamoring for. The editor-in-chief was asked to step down and she promptly did.

The biggest problem is that she shouldn’t have been asked to resign in the first place. While you’ll never hear me agreeing to publish those kind of stories as an April Fools’ Joke (because I don’t find it appropriate in the least), it wasn’t entirely up to the editor-in-chief.

I work at The Pendulum and I worked at my high school paper, so I’ve had several years of experience with decisions like these. While it is the editor-in-chief’s job to make the final call on problems that are posed to the staff, many decisions that could have serious ramifications for the staff as a whole are put to a vote. Regardless of how the staff votes, the EIC does have the power to veto their decision and go with whatever he or she thinks is best.

Pulling rank and telling your staff, “I’m the boss, what I say goes” never sits well anyone, though, and most people in leadership positions are aware of that fact. So it’s not something that happens very often, especially if the opinion they have about an issue is an unpopular one with the staff. It’s fairly safe to say that this particular edition of The Daily Free Press was put to a staff vote in some capacity, and they agreed it was worth the risk. Maybe not the wisest of decisions, but it was probably a decision made by a majority of the staff.

It seems incredibly wrong to punish one person for the actions of the whole staff. While the edition was not in good taste, and I don’t agree with them publishing it, it does not mean they didn’t have the right to do so.

Ultimately, The Daily Free Press is a student newspaper. While they and student newspapers everywhere operate on the basis that they need to be as professional as possible, being a part of a student organization is a learning experience. People are bound to make mistakes, and sometimes they will be large mistakes. There was no malicious intent behind the publishing of their April Fools’ edition, so it seems extreme to ask someone to step down.