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Monday, April 9, 2012

Trangressive Journalism at University of Missouri?

Have you heard of the word "trangressive"?  Here's a definition:

Transgressive may mean:

Journalism was not listed in these descriptions of trangressive practices, probably because journalism was originally taught and centered on reporting the facts.   The female student editor of the University of Missouri student newspaper, The Maneater, wrote a "trangressive" journalistic piece for April Fools Day that wasn't appreciated by many readers.  She used terminology offending certain groups and like the word "teabaggers", she used a word which insinuated sexual practices.  From the editor's mea culpa letter:

Although many parts of this edition were vulgar and offensive, I want to first take the time to explain the masthead. I truly did not know that “carpet eater” is a derogatory term used for a lesbian. Had I known, I would never have even considered using it. I chose the masthead because I thought the pairing of the play on words of “The Maneater” with the sexual innuendo of that term could be funny. I realized there was a sexual connotation in this term, but I did not realize it was derogatory toward the LGBTQ community. Not knowing is not an excuse, however, and I’m sure that if I had brought this to every member of the 24-person editorial board, and made sure that every single person had read it, someone would have known this was a slur. Unfortunately, I did not do this, and my ignorance has harmed other people. I could not be more sorry about this. I’d also like to note that the negative connotation that masthead carries does not reflect the opinion of the editorial board. 

Other derogatory words toward women were also printed in this edition, such as “cunt,” “slut” and “whore.” This was a massive oversight on our part. I allowed these to be printed because my thinking was that, as they were used in a satirical way and mostly as plays on words, the context in which they were used did not speak to women and the treatment of women. My poorly thought out rationale, which I realize now was wrong and potentially dangerous, was that since they were not used in a way that glorifies the mistreatment or objectification of women, they were not offensive. I realize now that these words in and of themselves can contribute to further prejudice, no matter the context. In addition to offending people on a personal level, the April Fool’s issue could detract from the work campus organizations and individuals have done to create a more inclusive campus. These words communicate beliefs that neither The Maneater editorial board nor I believe. Language and context is a false dichotomy, and the language in this edition was not at all acceptable. 

I can't locate a copy of the original April Fools piece but there are several sites reporting on the Maneater publishing a questionable article.  The reader comments from letters to The Maneater's editor are quite interesting.

Jill said:

How many times are we expected to accept apologies from this newspaper? This is at least the third egregiously offensive Maneater publishing that's taken place this semester. (The first two being "Grindr lovin', had me aghast" by Emma Woodhouse, and 'Jane Eyre: Prude 'n' proud" by Claire Landsbaum.) As an MU student I cannot stress enough how sick and tired I am of hearing about what the Maneater's done now. Do you realize that every offensive, insensitive, disgusting thing you print negatively affects the image of our entire university? And our journalism school? If any of you expect to be taken seriously in the world of journalism, I'd advise that you think cautiously about what exactly you've permanently tagged your names to, and remember that future employers, and professors, and classmates, won't forget your names or this garbage you've written. Like a previous comment stated you are not the Onion. You are not the New Yorker, you are not even the Missourian. You are the Maneater. Trying to 'shock' people into reading your paper, writing 'humor' that does not translate, or having to release a letter of apology once a month doesn't bode well to increase the credibility of your product, or of you as individuals. So grow up, knock it off, and remember that you represent our university. 

A different point of view:

Mark said:

The fact that this apology needs to be written is offensive to me. Not because I was displeased by any article in the April Fool's edition, but because no one seems to have a sense of humor or skin thicker than tissue paper. The offense that people have taken to this issue is more disgusting to me than every profanity, slur, vulgarity in the English language. Since I am so outrageously offended by other people's offense, I demand the immediate apology from everyone who claimed to be harmed, because overly-sensitive, self-righteous, sanctimonious umbrage is repulsive to me. Oh wait, that's not how things work. If you're offended by words used purely for humor's sake then your offense is completely manufactured and corresponds to nothing in the real world. Words are not inherently offensive; they are only hateful when they are intended to demean or degrade another person. As anyone with an I.Q. above 14 would be able to tell you, the April Fool's edition clearly did not use the terms maliciously, so any hurt feelings are purely the result of someone looking to be offended. If you think the word choice was childish, immature, or otherwise below the journalistic standards that the Maneater ought to adhere to, then you'll find no argument from me. If you're upset because you think the word "cunt" is always, in every circumstance, in any context whatsoever, unacceptable, then you are incalculably more immature and unprofessional and pathetic than anything contained in the April Fool's edition of the Maneater. Grow up. If you're legally an adult, you should start behaving like one.

Enter "transgressive" journalism 101:

Jordan said:

I applaud the Maneater for owning up when their words caused backlash. However, if you can't take risks at a student paper, then where else can you? I know the April Fools issue offended some, but I don't believe that the writers were trying to be hurtful. Being transgressive is important; especially for our young journalists. (emphasis added)

And to end the comments:

Sara said:

I'm sorry. I understand this is an apology but how are you that unaware that the word "Carpetbagger" was not extremely offensive? It is sad that the people supposed to have the most knowledge of the world and it's culture can be so socially unaware of this. And also unaware that printing the word "cunt" is not satire, and if this was any other journalist they'd be shamed and fired. I understand this was supposed to be a "joke". But really, your priority is to the students you write to first. And you did not humor them, you insulted. The letter to the editor said it perfectly- "This is not journalism."


  • If what The Maneater (apparently is has happened before) writes is NOT journalism, then what is it?
  • Can/should journalism be described or permitted to be "transgressive"? 
  • Why is being "trangressive" important for young journalists?  Is such writing factual or opinion oriented?  
  • Is there any difference today between journalism and satire? 
  • Is there any difference today between journalism and fiction writing?
  • Is it permissible to write derisively about some groups (teabaggers vs carpet eaters) and not others?
  • Are these questions raised in journalism classes not only at the University of Missouri but also nationwide?  

Here is an article on this issue ("How The Maneater Pissed Off Mizzou's Campus...Again") from J-School Buzz, a student-run blog about the Missouri School of Journalism that publishes content without prior review from journalism school faculty.  J-School Buzz describes itself:

JSB Editors operate this blog out of a commitment to keeping this journalism school as one of the best in the world. That commitment is expressed through questions and careful examination, with the hope that this blog will only improve the Missouri School of Journalism. JSB wants this J-School to be known as the kind of place that fosters the entrepreneurial spirit and innovation that is more important now than ever in journalism.

It appears JSB does a better job in journalistic techniques and possesses more journalistic integrity than does the school sponsored and state funded journalistic newspaper, The Maneater: "The student voice of MU since 1955".


  1. As a journalism student at the university I'd like to say a few things. First off, The Maneater is not "school sponsored and state funded" as it is operated completely independently of the university. The paper even pays rent to maintain space on campus in an effort to stay independent from both the University of Missouri and the Missouri School of Journalism.

    Secondly, JSB is not necessarily doing a better job, as much of the content is laden with errors, snark and satire - much of the content not necessarily being news. In fact, because of prior posts, it's become known that some future employers are not interested in J school graduates. JSB is often criticized by journalism students at the university, and many are ashamed it exists.

    On a last note, while what was published at The Maneater was wrong in many ways, the paper is comprised mainly of freshman and sophomore students (and not all journalism). The Maneater is considered a "learning paper" because students have not formally entered the journalism school until junior and senior year.

    Please consider some of this information in this and future posts. Thank you!

    1. Thanks for this information Nicole. It is helpful. However, I came across this information while researching The Maneater:

      "The Maneater is the independent, student-run newspaper at MU. It covers issues mostly relating to students and aims to serve primarily a campus readership. It is distributed throughout campus and the city twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays."

      Technically you are correct. It is not school sponsored but it would be interesting to see how many of these students receive scholarships funded by the state. But your point is well taken.

      You know more about what happens on the Columbia campus; based on this particular incident, I thought the JSB did better "reporting" on this issue than did The Maneater.

      I appreciate you passing on this information. Regardless of if these students were freshmen or sophomores, this never should have been published and the words "transgressive" and "journalism" should not appear together. Satire, fiction, opinion, etc can be trangressive. But if journalists are taught to write factually, they are doing their profession a severe disservice.

    2. I don't want to beat up on the author, because he or she is trying to make a point.
      If anything however, please, please, please consider refraining from starting a piece with the definition of a word. Give your reader the benefit of the doubt of knowing the word's definition, ability to look it up on their own, or, at worst, define it in brief and quickly move on.
      Definitions at the beginning of piece just delay the point/meat of the story. Definition beginnings are cliche.

  2. Oh my goodness! Beginning a 'piece' with a definition! Eegads! Next thing you know they'll be ending sentences with prepositions... and... and... that is just the sort of thing up with which we shall not put!


  3. Definitions as a beginning are a cliche, but that aside...how can you judge these people's ability to report when you can't do so yourself? As Nicole stated, a simple Google search would have turned up the result that The Maneater is not a school-sponsored newspaper. And even if the students at The Maneater "receive scholarships funded by the state," what is the point you are trying to make there? I'm sure the students at JSB also receive state-funded scholarships.

    Also, you say, "I thought the JSB did better "reporting" on this issue than did The Maneater." Because that makes sense, The Maneater reporting on an issue that it created. You obviously have not seen or read the April Fools issue that is the cause of such controversy. I am not sure how The Maneater would "break news" that it offended a large portion of the campus.

    Both JSB and The Maneater are entities separate from the university and both serve different roles on the campus. Please do more research on the function of said publications before you attempt to compare one's journalistic integrity over the other.

  4. I'm still waiting for one of you to respond to the author's questions at the end of the piece. Focusing on the writing style choices of the author or whether or not the paper receives funding or recognition from the school is beside the point. If this paper is a learning paper for younger students, then is the lesson about transgressive journalism that they are apparently being taught appropriate? Are we in an age where the lines between journalism, satire and opinion have become so hopelessly blurred that anything written in a paper is considered true journalism? If the Maneater has had to apologize for its content three times in the last semester, have they actually been learning anything (other than how to write an unfelt apology)? Answers to those questions would provide far more interesting commentary folks. Trolls pick at the chip in the plate while ignoring the steak on it.


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