Editor’s Note on the weekly sex column

Many of you probably picked up today’s paper expecting to read the next topic in our weekly sex column. I fear many of you will be disappointed.

Instead, I feel this is a more appropriate response to the recent controversy that erupted over our publication’s decision to run last Thursday’s “Whose pleasure is it anyway?” sex column about oral sex and an accompanying photo illustration depicting the sexual act.

As copies of the print version hit stands on Thursday and the story went up online, response to the third sex column we printed eclipsed the previous two by a fervent and substantial amount.

Some of our readers — those who chose to comment on our Web site, write a letter to the editor or simply voice their opinions in person — reacted strongly to the material.
Many felt we made an error in judgment and felt we had jeopardized the credibility and reputation of our student newspaper. Others felt we had resorted to an easy and sensationalist approach at attracting readers and driving up our online traffic.

Some readers felt we had disrespected the victims of the Metrolink crash by featuring the column in the same issue with stories of the tragedy.

But as a student newspaper, we work diligently to ensure we cover student and campus life as accurately as we can. Our rationale behind starting a sex column, as we stated in the introductory article that ran the first week of school, was to provide a weekly column that would offer insight, advice and expert opinions on a vast array of topics dealing with sex and human sexuality.

Many college newspapers across the country have similar columns, some far more graphic than ours. Not all of them, however, choose to run photo illustrations in conjunction. Many of the people I have spoken to remark on the relatively tame nature of the column and what they characterized as a provocative photograph.

It is always difficult to predict the boundary of what is acceptable by a variety of viewpoints in society. We are a diverse and large campus and to cater to any one demographic or viewpoint would be to misrepresent our community.

This has been a teachable moment for us as a staff and we are more confident than ever in our commitment to free speech, and are grateful to be at a university that understands the role and freedom the media plays.

Moving forward, we recognize that to strengthen our column, we must include expert voices, statistics and other valuable information that can help to educate and inform our readers.

A very small portion of the comments online echoed a sense that the column was no big deal and that people needed to feel more comfortable with the topic.

We also encountered a peculiar case of one individual who commented multiple times, identifying himself as different people and expressing his extreme disgust with the paper and his desire to see our publication shut down. This person also took it upon himself or herself to contact administration officials, local media and people who advertise with the Sundial to let them know that we had printed the column.

We identified this person’s comments on our Web site and delegated them to a separate page where we spoke of online commenting ethics and our moderating policy.

As a staff we have had to examine our reasoning process behind running the column and photo illustration and critically explore if we made the right decisions in doing so. We want our readers to know that the decision to run the column was not made in haste and underwent much scrutiny by members of the editing staff.

Ultimately, however, as the editor in chief I am responsible for the content in the newspaper and stand by the reporter, photographer and section editor. The verdict on whether or not running this column was appropriate, tasteful or necessary is not one I have the right to make.

Readers decide, and some make known, their judgments on the content we print.

I do not subscribe to the notion of perfection and am ready to admit that mistakes will be and are sometimes made by us as a staff. All I can guarantee is that with everything this paper publishes, transparency, accuracy, ethics and accountability are at the core of what we as student journalists aim to accomplish at the Sundial.

Sincerely,
Lilianna Oustinovskaya
Editor In Chief, Daily Sundial