Local Spin: Risque Business
In the dog-eat-dog world of news, who’s wearing Milkbone underwear?
Thursday, September 22, 2011
It’s hard to choose a favorite among the many comic moments from KION-TV’s parsing last week of the Weekly’s Smart Guide. There was the on-air intro, a stern Marc Cota-Robles leading with random nouns: “Hemp! Bongs! Sex toys!” There’s co-anchor Jasmine “Jas” Viel metaphorically clutching a strand of pearls in a near swoon as she says, “It looks innocent enough, but let’s give you a closer look.” Then there was field reporter Susanne Brunner (whom I half suspect uses adorable bumbling as a cagey interviewing technique), shocked to find herself in a room with a Weekly video camera focused on her, a photographer shooting stills and me taking notes.
“What’s this for?” she asked.
“Posterity,” responded videographer Joel Ede.
Newspaper, journalists… yeah, I’d be stumped too.
First, the backstory on the story.
Two weeks ago, the Weekly published its annual Smart Guide, a 44-page, glossy-cover, magazine-style roadmap to life for Monterey Bay-area college students. We billed it as “the essential resource for the student in all of us.” We inserted it into the regular paper, and also dropped off stacks of the guide on the campuses of CSU-Monterey Bay, Hartnell College, the Monterey Institute of International Studies, the Defense Language Institute, the Naval Postgraduate School and Monterey Peninsula College.
The introduction to the book began with the words, “A college education can be all-consuming,” and the cover featured eight college students cavorting on the beach. Of the eight, seven were members of our 2011 intern class: Two are Stanford University seniors, another just started at Villanova, another is an Iraq War vet-turned MIIS student and a few more are mighty Otters at CSUMB.
Working with these interns was like working in an episode of Leave it to Beaver – their level of earnestness sometimes made my temples throb. They spent long hours, under the direction of intern fascist/managing editor Mark Anderson, putting the guide together. They sent it out into the world so fellow students could find out where to take their parents to a nice dinner, where to scarf down the best burritos, where to do their laundry and where to find the best happy hours and free appetizer deals around town. The sales team at the Weekly matched this content by selling ads to local businesses interested in reaching the more than 40,000 students enrolled at local colleges and universities.
All was well. Or so I thought until I picked up the phone last Tuesday afternoon and found Brunner on the other end of the line. “Yeah, hi, I’m calling about your student guide… Don’t get me wrong, people really like it, but there are some concerns about the content, that it might be age inappropriate,” she said.
“Age inappropriate? The student guide? You mean the guide for college students?” I asked, emphasis on “college students.”
Yeah, that one. And there had been complaints, made (not to us, but to KION) by Marina recreation director Terry Siegrist and Marina Police Chief Eddie Rodriguez. The greatness of the guide, Siegrist and Rodriguez told me Tuesday, was overshadowed by ads for local head shops (Mary Jane’z, Twisted Roots, Hellam’s Tobacco and Nor Cal Smoke Shop), a medical marijuana collective (Ethnobotanica) and the fancy underpinnings/dirty magazine shop (Nu-Art Theater and Fremont Adult Bookstore). And the booze too (our list of the best happy hours and ample ads for places that serve alcohol).
Here’s the thing. Siegrist says he was alerted to the guide by high school students. I can’t argue that the content is wholly appropriate for high school students (although, if you have one of your own, toss their rooms, pump them for information and prepare to be astounded at what you don’t know). But the guide wasn’t directed at high school students.
I can argue that KION’s intent wasn’t to take a balanced and unopinionated look at the guide, despite Cota-Robles’ claim on Facebook that he had no real issue with the guide, that they were doing the story because they were contacted about it. If their lead anchor had no problem with it, why do the story?
KION threw the whole mess up on Facebook, telling their fans the guide was “full of ads for alcohol, marijuana and sex toys” and asked if it was inappropriate or realistic. Of the 100-plus responses, more than 90 said it was realistic.
Two Facebook posts later, and KION asked if shows like Toddlers & Tiaras, a gem about beauty pageants for todders, went too far by featuring a toddler dressed like the Julia Roberts hooker character from Pretty Woman. And of course, it posted the picture of the toddler.
I won’t even ask the question. I’ll just make the statement: In asking if other forms of media go too far, KION can’t hide its puritanical hypocrisy behind the guise of objective journalism.
The Weekly may be many things, but we’re not puritanical hypocrites.
Mary Duan is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.