What jokes cross the editorial line?


No one needs to remind a self-aware student journalist about the dangers of satire. Every April brings with it new stories of high school and college publications biting it hard after trying their hand at April Fool’s Day issues.

Most usually, the beef comes about with expectations. Young journalists try their best to be as professional as possible and then, infrequently, perhaps even just once a year, they bring out the cutting remarks and find themselves accused of libel or the sort.

So, at The Temple News, we tend to avoid such events. Still, our news blog, Broad & Cecil, remains a forum for plenty of sarcasm and editorializing. It was launched in September, having endured more than half a year without any controversy to note.

So far.

Last week, The Temple News reported on Frank Baldino, a university Board of Trustees member, whose company, Cephalon Inc., of which he is founder and CEO, is being accused of anti-competitive business practices and sued for allegedly making a deal with another pharmaceutical company delaying the production of a generic brand of his firm’s sleep-related drug Provigil.

In today’s print edition, there will be a follow up. While the story was being passed around, some staffers got to embellishing the situation. The result was a brief 20 second clip, lampooning Baldino with a mock cut-out and cartoon voice impersonation.

It is, perhaps, a prime example of where student journalists go wrong. A joke that is funny in the newsroom, but fails to extend outside of it. Our News Editor Alex Irwin provided the voice, but we all agreed he had to remain unbiased. Being the Opinion Editor and leader of the Editorial Board, it was felt I would be able to post it on our blog, a forum for sarcasm with a post by the staffer who is charged with editorializing news. But does it go too far? Does it fail to come off as funny?

The point, of course, is to shed light on a powerful segment of a large research university with a degree of levity. Board members are a public face of the school, are they not, then, open to satire?

What about one that takes the issue further, leaving the editorializing of news aside, and simply being silly. Is this worse, because it fails to base itself in fact, or better, because of the same reason, rendering it a silly way to jab at an important administrator?