If you are a not a University of Maine student or if you do not regularly read the Maine Campus newspaper you may have escaped the Cowing controversy raging here on campus.
Travis Cowing is a student at the university who writes a humor column for the Maine Campus newspaper. So we are all on the same page; here is a crash course in Cowing:
“So there I was, making out with some fat chick the other night. We were both drunk … well, she was anyway” (Feb. 2); “And fellas, don’t be afraid to send valentines to the girls who want nothing to do with you. … Forget about that restraining order she has on you. … Maybe you could even write a few thoughtful words like, ‘I’m watching you’ or ‘I’m gonna get you'” (Feb. 8); “You can’t so much as back-hand a hoe anymore without her pressing charges” (Feb. 28); “That’s the great thing about sluts: they have no morals and a very low self esteem, meaning they will sleep with you and then let your friends [have sex with] them” (Nov. 12).
Students and professors alike are debating whether Cowing’s articles are humorous and whether the First Amendment protects them. I would like to argue that obviously they are meant to be funny, and obviously Cowing has the right to write them and the Maine Campus has the right to print them, but should it?
Professor Lyombe Eko wrote to the Maine Campus on Dec. 10, “By ‘abusing’ free speech at the University of Maine, Cowing helps prevent it from being suffocated by the socially and sexually correct intellectuals – and newspapers of the age.” But a point just as important came from senior wildlife ecology major Claire Howard, “I respect Cowing’s need to create a reaction in the campus community though his writing but are articles like this productive or detrimental? And what is the purpose of the Maine Campus? To create a socially-ignorant, sexist student body?” (Maine Campus, Dec. 6).
The Maine Campus staff claims that Cowing’s articles get the most hits on their Web site, but does that prove that the majority of readers enjoy his work?
The Maine Campus has the right to print inaccurate stories, misleading quotes, misspelled words and unnecessary swears, but should it? Of course not, because that would take away from the integrity of the paper and readers would lose respect for the writers and editors. That, too, is the result of the Cowing articles.
Senior journalism major Kimberly Leonard wrote in defense of Cowing, “college journalism is the last real bastion of fun before we get sent into a humorless world” (Maine Campus, Dec. 6). I would argue that we could have “fun” without printing insulting, perverted, lewd columns. Just because the Maine Campus is a college paper does not mean we can print pointless, offensive drivel.
With all of the journalism and communications majors (more than 300) as well as other students with something to say at the University of Maine there are many that could use that space in the paper. There are countless groups and events that are not covered.
As a member of the Student Women’s Association, I can say that the paper covers very few of the events we put on. In fact, the last event that was covered was when members of the Student Women’s Association protested a comedy show that the Maine Campus organized – starring Travis Cowing. Cowing has brought the paper a lot of attention and the debates have sparked more interest in his pieces. But is that how they want to increase readership?
We could make the paper more respected and informative. It is not just for the students: alumni have subscriptions and it is available off campus in surrounding stores. The Maine Campus staff should stop treating the paper like a joke. In the past the paper has paid all of its writers $10 an article. This helped to keep the more seasoned writers on staff. They have cut that this year and currently only pay a handful of beat writers – who end up writing the bulk of the paper.
Perhaps this is another reason why Cowing gets his work published once a week. It seems that the $10 an article would bring more writers, and thus more variety to the paper. It is not just for on-campus students.
Others, in the “real world” of journalism, have noticed the lack of professionalism in the paper. Jay Davis, in the Maine Times, called Cowing’s work “trash.” He wrote, “Gratuitous abuse of our freedoms serves neither the writer nor the audience. That’s a lesson the university should teach.”
Of course we can print Cowing’s articles. As journalism students we should be asking, should we print Cowing’s articles. As Howard wrote, “There is a time and place for everything. That’s not censorship, that’s taste and respect.”
Beth Haney is a senior Journalism and Women’s Studies double major at the University of Maine.