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Column: A Major Journalistic Gaffe

by Josh Axelrod on November 15, 2011
Sophomore > Journalism > University of Maryland
A picture's worth a thousand words, but that headline is priceless. Photo from badjocks.com
A picture's worth a thousand words, but that headline is priceless. Photo from badjocks.com
It’s a new week, so that must mean it’s time for another college football story that isn’t actually about college football.
 
John Sieglinger, 21, made a name for himself this weekend when he decided to run on the field during the halftime show of an East Carolina University/Southern Mississippi football game, tear his clothes off, and streak across the field. No big deal, right? Streaking is one of those semi-traditions that make college football exciting and unpredictable.
 
Here’s where things get interesting: editors at ECU’s newspaper, which is creatively named The East Carolinian, published a photo of Sieglinger in all his streaking glory on their website and on the front page of the paper. The decision to publish the photo has received criticism from both the school and other media institutions, including the journalism institute Poynter.
 
 
“The decision by The East Carolinian to publish a photo of a streaker that showed full frontal nudity was in very poor taste,” said the school’s Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Virginia Hardy in a report from WNCT-9. “The leadership at East Carolina University does not agree with that decision and does not support it.”
 
The Editor in Chief of The East Carolinian, Caitlin Hale, released a statement justifying her choice to use the photo: ““This decision was made because we felt that our audience, which is primarily the ECU student body, should have access to unedited and factual photos of the streaking incident at last Saturday's ECU football game. While the photos may be seen as offensive to some, the photos were not meant to be seen as sexually suggestive or insulting, but instead an accurate account of Saturday's events.”
 
There are so many things wrong with this situation that it’s hard to figure out where to start. First and foremost, this is a huge lapse in news judgment, which is what journalists use to decide what is appropriate for publication and what should never be allowed in a respectable newspaper, let alone on the front page.
 
There is no point in being controversial for the sake of it. The East Carolinian decided to go for shock value and is quickly learning how that rarely ends well if you can’t pull it off correctly.
 
Then there’s the fact that Hale tried to defend her decision by saying she was only trying to be accurate and present ECU students with “unedited and factual photos.” I’m all for accuracy, but there’s a reason nudity is usually relegated to celebrity gossip web sites and, well, porn. It’s an extremely lowbrow form of journalism that a college paper should never use to gain some cheap attention.
 
Bad press can be crippling for a school’s image (just ask Penn State, though the two situations obviously aren’t comparable in any other regard). Right now, ECU’s image is a naked man on the cover of their newspaper. That’s what they want people to imagine when they think about ECU, right?
 
Photo: from badjocks.com
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