Distorter cover changed at administrator’s request, profanity removed, prints discarded

Concerns raised by RIT administrators about a phrase on the cover of the April Fools’ issue of Reporter led to the removal of the phrase.

The issue was printed earlier this week, with a planned publication date of April 6. After the cover change, pages from the printed issue were reportedly discarded.

(Full disclosure: I worked for Reporter in various positions since 2007. I am currently employed as the equivalent of a freelance writer, though I now write infrequently and dedicate most of my efforts to this site. I did, however, write an unpaid story which is slated to appear in the April Fools’ issue. Infinity Quad is in no way affiliated with Reporter.)

Heath Boice-Pardee, associate vice president for Student Affairs, said he became concerned with the content of the cover, which said “FUCK CATS,” earlier today after the magazine’s printer, the RIT Printing Applications Lab, sent him a PDF copy of the issue with its own concerns.

Bill Garno, director of PAL, said the printing lab sent the copy not to convey any concern it might have, but rather to make sure Student Affairs was aware of what was being printed.

“I don’t have any control over the content,” he said. But he does have an obligation to protect the institute from liability, he said. As far as he is concerned, Student Affairs has authority over the content in Reporter.

When the April Fools’ issue of Reporter, named Distorter, was printed earlier this week, students, staff and a customer walking through PAL questioned the cover, according to Garno. So PAL alerted Student Affairs and sent a PDF copy of the issue.

After Boice-Pardee received the PDF, he sent it to other administrators, including Chief Communications Officer Bob Finnerty, some of whom agreed that the content was concerning. The concern was that the word “fuck” was offensive, Boice-Pardee said, and others raised a concern that “cats” might be interpreted as a reference to women female anatomy.

Update: After readers expressed confusion about “cats” as a reference to women, I followed up with Boice-Pardee, who confirmed that there was a concern by some that the reference was to not just women, but rather a term for female anatomy. “This was not my interpretation,” he said, but it was a concern others had.

Boice-Pardee set up a meeting with Alex Rogala, editor in chief of Reporter.

“Alex and I had a conversation and we agreed it would be in the best interest of Reporter‘s integrity and RIT’s integrity if we changed the cover,” he said by phone.

“I just think that it doesn’t reflect well on an award-winning magazine,” he added. “It was not a satire or anything, just some potty humor that didn’t reflect the integrity that Reporter should have or RIT should have.”

Rogala, reached by phone, declined to comment for this story.

Brendan Cahill, Reporter managing editor, said Reporter agreed to make the change because it wanted the issue to be published. The decision to review the magazine prior to its publication, however, did raise some questions, he said.

Most of the time, Reporter is not asked to make changes prior to publication, and editorial decisions are made by students.

“The Reporter Magazine shall retain all of the rights of a free press,” reads a copy of the magazine’s bylaws posted to an internal staff website. “However, freedom carries obligations, and chief among them is responsibility,” it continues. “The publication is expected to report in an objective, balanced, and impartial fashion, encourage debate and dialogue, and be responsive to the readership’s interests.”

The Distorter issue in 2009.

Objections are sometimes raised after publication by a panel of school administrators and faculty. Finnerty and Mary-Beth Cooper, vice president for Student Affairs, which provides funding to Reporter and controls its budget, chair the panel.

Occasionally, the administration decides to take stronger measures.

“This has happened in the past with Reporter,” said Garno. “It happens around this time of year.”

In 2009, Cooper ordered the removal of a Distorter April Fools’ issue from stands after having similar concerns about the content. A decision by President Bill Destler eventually allowed Reporter to distribute the issue, but only from a stand near its office door.