CONTROVERSIAL 'WILDCAT' COMIC LEADS TO TOUGH LESSONS
It's safe to say that after a week's worth of backlash, the Arizona Daily Wildcat will have a more-rigorous editing process for its comics page.
The controversy started last week when D.C. Parsons, a cartoonist for the student newspaper, put together what he admits in retrospect was a tasteless strip that featured a child and a parent talking about homosexuality. Panels prior to the punch line feature the parent threatening violent measures if the child ever said he was gay. (I won't go into specifics here. Feel free to track down screen shots of the comic strip should you be interested.)
What followed after the strip went to print was a significant protest from offended members of the community. And from that came a litany of apologies and regrets, and changes in policy.
"This whole thing has taught me how much my words can hurt others," said Parsons, who was fired because of the incident, via email. "In the past, I believed jokes to be all in good fun. I am now aware that they can really hurt people, and I have to be conscientious of that. I will absolutely rethink all of my work, my jokes, my comics, my cartoons and my videos. I feel that the backlash was warranted, and this whole situation was a huge mistake that should have never happened."
Meanwhile, the incident has been a wake-up call for the Wildcat, which has taken steps to improve its editing processes as a result.
"I was really careless; I was rushing to get pages finalized before deadline, and I did not pay attention," Wildcat editor Kristina Bui said in an email. "And having just one person responsible for the comics page meant there was no one else to pick up the slack. This was my mistake, and it's one I regret more than I can explain.
"The Wildcat staff and I began discussing on Wednesday night (the strip ran in the Tuesday, Oct. 16, edition) what enabled me to make my mistake, and by Thursday had established a policy that requires that the comics page not wait until the last moment. It also requires the approval of three editors before it is sent to the presses.
"Satire has to be offensive, but it also has to contribute to a truly meaningful discussion. When it doesn't, it's just hurtful, and I should have recognized this, no matter how much of a rush I was in or how distracted I was."
The parties involved have been up-front about taking responsibility for the process that led to the controversy. However, Parsons said the Wildcat treated him as the lone scapegoat.
"It was a mistake," said Parsons, a senior. "This is a student paper. This is the time and place where we make mistakes, and then learn from them. Even though the Wildcat has systematically thrown me under the bus, for their mistake, repeatedly slandering my name and my strip, they made a mistake, just like anyone else could have. I do take exception to their blaming the entirety of this on me."
Aside from Parsons, Wildcat personnel remain in their respective positions with the publication.
"I can't take everything that happened back, and my resignation or termination would not un-publish the comic strip," Bui said. "But I'm learning from it every day."
It marks the second time a strip penned by Parsons generated controversy.
"I repeatedly told the editor, 'Censor me,' because I don't know where I can and cannot draw the line. I'm an adamant believer in the idea (that) if it's not OK to make fun of everyone, then it's not OK to make fun of anyone," said Parsons, who said he still hopes to pursue the craft of cartooning. "Last semester, my editor received a complaint on a strip I won't repeat. Afterward, he edited me down to doing a pseudo-edgy "Family Circus." After that experience, I warned this year's editor to be careful, but I believe the editors were trying to be some sort of ultra-edgy student paper. At the beginning of the semester, they wrote an article advocating our rights as students and using the F-word twice. Unfortunately, the only thing they told me not to satire was anything regarding taboo racial subject matter, to which I readily adhered. I had a feeling we were going to have trouble, and now here we are, even though I warned them.
"This wasn't an expression of my opinion," Parsons said. "It was just a crude joke. I don't even feel it was an oversensitive reaction (from the public). It was a bad joke from my childhood that should have never been printed."
MCCOMBS LEAVES 'STAR' FOR THE AP
Arizona Daily Star border and political reporter Brady McCombs has accepted a position as supervisory correspondent for The Associated Press in Salt Lake City.
"I am sad to leave the Arizona Daily Star, but this is a great opportunity for me and my family," McCombs said via email. "I am grateful to the Star for the opportunity they gave me and to my editors and colleagues for the support and guidance they have provided me since I arrived in February 2006. I have enjoyed my time in the desert immensely, learned a ton, and I will always have very fond memories of my time in Tucson."
It's just the latest big-name departure for the Star in recent months. Reporter Rob O'Dell, managing editor Teri Hayt and columnist Josh Brodesky preceded McCombs out the door.
The Arizona Newspaper Association named McCombs Journalist of the Year in 2007, 2008 and 2011. He won the Arizona Press Club's Virg Hill Arizona Journalist of the Year award in 2007.