When will journalists learn April Fool’s should be removed from their official calendars?

There is a controversy at the University of Missouri, my alma mater, over the April Fool’s edition of the campus newspaper The Maneater.  The newspaper, which is not part of the school’s journalism school, was renamed “Carpeteater” in a sex-filled parody issue. The blog J-School Buzz has the details.

The controversy has enveloped the paper’s editorial leadership and prompted a letter from the Maneater editor Abby Spudlich.Here are the highlights:

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.

The managing editor learned an important lesson: a diverse staff and a staff sensitive to various communities can save you a lot of embarrassment and anguish. It also appears this will be the last April Fool’s issue in awhile.

Before I get to the bulk of my apology, I want to say that next year’s executive editors, Kelly Olejnik and Pat Iversen, have decided to cancel next year’s April Fool’s edition, and this has received the full support of the current editorial board. This isn’t the first time our April Fool’s content has been upsetting for the MU community, and we’ve decided that it’s not worth offending members of our community for an attempt at a few laughs. We hold our readers, advertisers and sources in high regard, and we don’t want this to overshadow the journalistic work we do throughout the year. By definition, this edition was supposed to step outside our usual role, but we took it way too far.

I don’t think of myself as humorless. In fact, I think the LGBT community sometimes overreacts when comedians go over the line with their humor and say insensitive things. But most journalists aren’t paid to be funny and satire only works in the most skilled hands. Stereotypes, that often come off as offensive, are the lazy fallback for people who think the are trying to be funny but just aren’t very good at it. That’s where the Maneater messed up. They tried to be funny and they just weren’t very good at it, or apparently very smart about it. That’s why it’s best to avoid April Fool’s Day and just stick to the news.