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UW-Oshkosh Advance-Titan Newspaper Made Correct Decision Concerning Abortion Insert

October 5, 2009

What struck me about the UW-Oshkosh  Advance-Titan newspaper staff concerning the issue of placing an insert regarding abortion into their newspaper was not the final decision they made.  Instead, it was the thorough and sincere amount of internal discussions and deliberations prior to making their decision.  It was after reading the background work they did before deciding not to place a 12-page anti-abortion insert into the paper that needs to be applauded.  That applause needs to come from both sides of this hotly debated issue.  After all this is not an argument about abortion, but instead is a topic about the role of newspapers.  ( I would make the same argument if this insert had dealt with the need for gay marriage.)

First and foremost a newspaper is not to be used as a means to traffic in promotional materials.  If a company or cause wishes to run an ad there is plenty of print space which can be purchased in an attempt to sway readers.  That use of ad space however differs greatly from having a huge insert placed into one of the editions of the paper.  The role of a newspaper needs to be addressed at times like this when a cause wishes to use the paper as a vehicle for their own narrow purposes.

For anyone to cry “censorship” is just out of touch with the proper role and function of a newspaper.  Newspapers are not printed to be a shill for this or that cause.  They are to report and objectively illuminate.  Period.  That is why it is only proper for newspapers to make the final decision about ads they carry, or what inserts they allow to be placed in an edition of their paper.

Second, and separate from the issue concerning the role of  newspapers, is a more common sense suggestion to those such as Human Life Alliance that wanted to include the insert.  If anyone thinks that a 12-page insert on any topic is a grand idea for a college campus where reading anything that is not required to advance in class is never going to happen, well, they should think again.  If you can not package your arguments into a one page flyer there might be a reason to think that your topic is just not really all that relevant to the audience you are trying to reach.  If it takes 12 pages to make a point get yourself a better writer!!

The issue here is not abortion, as much as those who got their wings clipped might try to suggest.  Instead it is about the role of newspapers.  Even college newspapers have the larger views to consider, and as such the editors and top team at the Advance-Titan made the correct decision.  They are on their way to understanding the role they serve as journalists, and what serious newspaper work is all about.

Good job!!

13 Comments
  1. October 6, 2009 10:59 PM

    Thank you for a stimulating back and forth on this issue. I write that with all sincerity.

    We just have different views about newspapers. That is not good or bad. It just seems to be the way this is to be. I admit to having very black and white views when it comes to this most wonderful thing that is thrown on my stoop every morning. In fact on Tuesday morning, for whatever reason, I was up at 5 AM and able to hear the ‘thud’ as it landed after being tossed by my delivery person, and it made me smile. There is something so traditional about that experience where we all go out to get our morning fix of the news. I add that bit to allow for the fact I feel emotional about newspapers, and the whole process of reading papers. That no doubt impact my writing about them. But I also stand by my statements in this post about the role of papers as I think they are not mine alone, but also shared by many inside the business, and also by countless readers.

    I think the statements I made about newspapapers are not only mine, but also are the higher ideals that are taught to budding reporters who hope to venture into this field. (I know this might seem like another goal post I have erected.)

    “I don’t understand why inserts for “causes” jeopardize the perception of “objectivity” of papers when you yourself cheer newspapers on as they explicitly push objectivity away and take sides. When they take money for an ad, it’s a problem, but when the editors themselves promote a “cause”, it’s OK.”

    Have you ever viewed/read the process by which an editorial is fashioned by a newspaper? I think the process is quite remarkable and in the end a group of people find consensus on an issue and then write with facts and clarity. I trust those people, be it the The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. They are hired for their newspaper background, and they also come steeped in the news and issues of the day. I read them and know at the end I am not digesting disinformation. I have first the facts, and then the blending of opinion with the facts that makes the final editorial. And these are among my favorite pages to read every day. While the reporting elsewhere in the paper is objective, the tug and pull for the minds of readers on these pages is great mental fun every day. If I agree or not I know I am not digesting false information. The worst I will encounter is a point of view I do not share.

    But the insert regarding a cause could be based on pure rot, and therefore a newspaper has no reason to allow it to be added for their readers. Whereas Letters To The Editor are printed only after they pass a certain level of acceptance, many others are tossed to the floor. Why should inserts be treated in some less strict standard?

    As I have argued inserts for causes should not be accepted at all. I must add here that these types of disputes seem very few and far between. And I suspect for obvious reasons. It only creates tension among readers. The anti-Islamic DVD that was mentioned in a comment, and which I blasted at the time it arrived in my paper, could never have passed muster as an opinion piece in any mainstream paper as it was so awful. So why then should the paper add it as an insert?
    No rational group of editors could sit around a table and come up with a final piece that reflected the DVD. It might happen with some who hold a certian political view that most would label narrow-minded and historically flawed, but these types are not in the newspaper business.

    I might make one final point here.

    At a time when the all news channels shout and spin and throw all sorts of stuff up in the air to see what sticks, is it not nice to have a more serene and objective way to get the news through the printed page? Do we want inserts that harp and blast on this or that issue to lower the standards that we expect from a newspaper?

    With that I will end my musings this evening as the winds continue to howl out my window.

  2. Skip permalink
    October 6, 2009 6:26 PM

    I’m sorry Mr. H., but when you say, “They are to report and
    objectively illuminate. Period.” and “First and foremost a newspaper
    is not to be used as a means to traffic in promotional materials.”
    that’s making judgements ex cathedra. Are you seriously saying that when you make a declarative statement and end it with “Period.” for emphasis, that’s not a pronouncement? Nowhere in your post do you give the caveat that these are in anyone’s framework but your own. You’re just being intellectually dishonest and moving the goal posts.

    “As stated in my post this has nothing to do with a “preference” as
    the issue of abortion was not an issue to me.”

    You missed my point completely. Read my comment again. I made my statement about preferences after quoting you about the “objective nature of the paper”. What made you think it was about abortion? By your preference I wasn’t referring to abortion or gay marriage, but rather what the purpose of a paper is, hence my placing the sentence about preferences right after quoting you about the nature of newspapers. “They are to report and objectively illuminate. Period.” and “First and foremost a newspaper is not to be used as a means to traffic in promotional materials.” are simply not truisms. These are
    ****your preferences**** in this post.

    The whole ads vs. culture war inserts is irrelevant. It’s only
    meaningful when you get to pronounce ex cathedra what the purpose of
    papers are and what they are to be used for first and foremost. When
    you put the goal posts where you want them to be, then you can construct whatever framework you want oblivious to anything else in the world. My point was that your goal post moving is BS.

    Papers take sides all the time. When they endorse a presidential
    candidate, it’s taking a side. Here you are praising newspapers as they abandon objectivity and take a side:

    https://dekerivers.wordpress.com/2008/10/11/sunday-newspaper-editorial-barack-obama-for-president/

    The Cap Times bills itself as “progressive”. This is nothing if not an instance of
    taking sides. When papers around Wisconsin editorialized one way or
    another regarding the gay marriage amendment, that was taking a stand
    on a culture war issue. What’s the difference between that and
    printing up a paid advert other than who is expressing an opinion on a
    culture war issue, which I take it you deem to be worthy of special
    treatment? Will you come out now and categorically heap opprobrium upon all newspapers that editorialized one way or the other on the gay marriage amendment, i.e. – took a side on a culture war issue?

    Your argument is just a double standard. Newspapers take sides
    constantly but you only want ways of doing so that you deem
    “legitimate” and you construct your own personal teleological mission
    statements for papers to suit your own biases.

    I fail to understand where you get this idea that op-ed pages are
    bastions of logic and cohesive syllogisms. People make stupid
    arguments in their correspondence to papers all the time and many of
    them are printed.

    You praise op-ed pages for supposedly debating with logic and then
    turn around and say that, because you agree with the paper, you are
    right. Nice bit of logical reasoning there.

    /sarcasm

    Just because a teabagger is critical of Van Jones and can point to the fact that Mr. Jones is no longer the green jobs czar doesn’t mean that his criticisms are correct.

    “Please note that there have been times that a national column now and then has been pulled from a paper as it did not meet the standards of a certain paper.”

    So what? Stories have been killed lest advertisers be offended and stop paying the paper to run their ads.

    I don’t understand why inserts for “causes” jeopardize the perception of “objectivity” of papers when you yourself cheer newspapers on as they explicitly push objectivity away and take sides. When they take money for an ad, it’s a problem, but when the editors themselves promote a “cause”, it’s OK.

  3. Karen permalink
    October 6, 2009 4:35 PM

    We agree. However, I might add that the issue of abortion and newspapers does connect. Newspapers have an obligation to print facts. They should not run ads promoting “post-abortion syndrome,” the existence of which has been disproved. It goes against journalistic integrity.

  4. October 6, 2009 4:09 PM

    I think I did answer your quesiton.

    One does not need to view any insert.

    I think any ’cause’ should not find its way as an insert. I know you may not yet have read my comment to Skip, but think that will make my point more clear.

  5. Sam permalink
    October 6, 2009 4:05 PM

    You did not answer my questions! Have you even seen the anti-abortion insert? Did you see the DVD?

    And, Skip raises a good point, is it ok then to put in inserts for Fruit Loops, tobacco, or other “food” and products that are bad for one’s health?

  6. October 6, 2009 3:50 PM

    Skip,

    “the role and objective nature of the paper comes before the business end.”

    I mention that in the framework of how a reporter feels. Most owners of papers understand that if you lose a paper’s credibility sales drop, so they too have an interest in the line I wrote above.

    I was not making God-like judgements but was, as the post states, applauding the actions the paper made. As stated in my post this has nothing to do with a “preference” as the issue of abortion was not an issue to me. Instead my interest was about the insert in and of itself. For a paper to go beyound the printed page itself to include an insert about an issue, seperate from a business ad from a Shopko or Target as an example, makes readers feel the paper is taking one side or the other. That is why I brought up gay marriage, which I very much support. Having said that I would not want a 12-page insert into the New York Times about gay marriage to land on my doorstep. There is a stark difference between having Shopko be inserted into my paper, and a culture war issue of of one type or another. I love the OP-ED pages of papers where these issues can be debated with logic. Please note that there have been times that a national column now and then has been pulled from a paper as it did not meet the standards of a certain paper. So even then there is a judgement that can be made.

    I made a clear call about the paper in my post, and it needs to be noted my call was in agreement with the newspaper.

  7. Skip permalink
    October 6, 2009 12:25 PM

    “the role and objective nature of the paper comes before the business end.”

    For you as someone who does not own a newspaper that may be true but that doesn’t mean that you get to play god and make pronouncements about other people’s businesses. You might like newspapers to have certain priorities but that doesn’t make it so and just because you have a preference doesn’t make it the best of all possible preferences.

    Any “objectivity”, which I think is misplaced here, a paper may have is not compromised by such an insert. As long as a pro-choice group can also put a 12-page insert into the paper then there’s no partisanship about the issue as regards advertising. Newspapers have op-ed columns – how “objective” is The Cap Times which declares its biases up front by labeling itself “progressive”? Letters to the editor, ads for all manner of things from objects for sale to escorts – why do you not consider these things as compromises? Newspapers are filled to the brim with opinions, the meaningless puffery of advertisers, etc.

  8. October 6, 2009 11:54 AM

    My point was, and I think all newspapers consider it at times like this, what should the paper be a ‘wrapper’ for? It is one thing to have an ad placed in the paper, and another to have a 12-page insert as a seperate piece delivered along with the paper. I fully understand that this is paid ads that generate reveune, but the role and objective nature of the paper comes before the business end.

    And you make my point about the DVD. That too was something that newspapers should not have been allowed to be inserted.

  9. Sam permalink
    October 6, 2009 11:48 AM

    You whine about the death of printed newspapers. But, then you say papers should turn away paid advertising revenue. Unless this paper has a different policy, you pay a paper to have your insert put in it – that’s advertising revenue. Paid advertising is their life blood.

    Have you even seen the 12 page flyer?

    Weren’t you also one of the people, last year, who was opposing newspapers inserting advertising (a dvd you had never viewed) about radical Islam?

  10. Skip permalink
    October 6, 2009 11:11 AM

    Newspapers are about selling advertising and making money. What’s the qualitative difference between including an anti-abortion or pro-gay marriage insert and inserting an ad promoting Froot Loops?

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