April 1990; page 14; Volume 1, No. 5

Utmost and critical journalism

Dear editors:

As an avid reader of your paper, I completely agree with the basis of your article, "Free Speech at UT: The Truth Shall Set You Free" (February 1990). But as editor of UTmost, I feel it necessary to point out serious factual errors that distort your portrayal of our magazine. If you had taken the time to check them, I think you would have come to different conclusions.

First of all, I have never taken a journalism class in my life, and the article claims that I had to take five to become editor of the magazine. Only The Daily Texan has such requirements. So I question the validity of the argument that the UT department of journalism exerts an "intellectual hegemony" over Utmost.

Later in the story, you argue that Utmost's potential advertisers are "hoodwinked" because we can afford to hire a consulting firm to estimate a readership at far higher than circulation. What you left out: Readership figures are a standard measure for publications, so the "Utmost farce" doesn't exist, unless you chastise all magazines in general. Even if advertisers aren't familiar with the difference between circulation and readership, we make the distinction for them. Also, we didn't hire anyone to come up with our readership figure - we wouldn't have been able to afford it. The study was organized by the UT advertising department for free.

This "brand of reportage that systematically bows to the prerogatives of authority figures" does not happen at Utmost, either. In fact, there are those of us who are offended that you lumped us together with The Texan under the label "bureaucratized mainstream UT press." This label contradicts our basic philosophy about journalism; in fact, we feel that Utmost has more in common with Polemicist than The Texan. Utmost has a history of investigative reporting that challenges the administration. Unfortunately, a Polemicist reader would have no idea of this because Polemicist chose to ignore it. For instance, while you ridiculed Texan editor Karen Adams for clinging to the "overcrowding myth" throughout last semester, you failed to mention that during the same period of time, an Utmost cover story, "Overcrowding: The big lie," (Winter 1989), lambasted the administration for its screwed policies and PR pap. We've managed to cause enough trouble that Jess Latham, a Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board member, has responded to us, as well as Gonzalo Barrientos, a state senator. UT President William Cunningham has even called Students' Association members in a panic, trying to schedule an emergency meeting because of this Utmost article.

I have looked forward to reading Polemicist articles (and still will be), but I have been disappointed in this one. Still, while we think it necessary to chastise you for shoddy reporting about Utmost, we do appreciate the excellent work of the earlier issues. So Utmost is enclosing an ad for your next issue to show our support. After all, we're working toward the same goal.

Jennifer Wong
Editor, Utmost

Polemicist responds:

We appreciate the financial support, and repent for our errors in reporting the Utmost editor requirements. Still, Wong's editorship was approved by the TSP board. And her explanation of the readership/circulation question, as well as her assertion of Utmost's alleged "investigative reporting" demand rebuttal. First, she declares that "Readership figures are a standard measure for publications, so the 'Utmost farce' doesn't exist, unless you chastise all magazines in general." No, Jennifer, we don't have to chastise all magazines. Go look through an issue of Fact Sheet Five - it contains several thousand grassroots magazines, the vast majority of which don't use "readership" figures. Wong goes on the explain that Utmost "didn't hire anyone to come up with our readership figure - we wouldn't have been able to afford it." She then adds the clincher: "The study was organized by the UT advertising department for free." No, Jennifer, it wasn't free; the communications school that you disdain subsidized your journal to perform that study. Will the advertising department now provide the same service for TWAT, Griot, Tejas, Suburban Nightmare, or Polemicist?

As for critical journalism, the article "Overcrowding: The Big Lie" Wong champions isn't nearly as polemical or incisive as the title implies. Susan Hays, the author, utterly misses the entire point of the understaffing crisis, which is that the administration diverts education money into subsidies for the private sector. She acts as if the administration boosts research just for prestige and because it's "easier to make it look like they're accomplishing something" to the Legislature. That's a shallow critique indeed.

She hauls out former UT President Peter Flawn as a kind of savior. She writes that "administrators must take the intiative and begin stressing substance and standards more than image and tangible monetary returns on investment in higher education. They might begin by listening to ex-President Flawn." But Flawn, whose academic background lies in oil geology, was an early booster and architect of the industrial policy that still plagues students. Yet Wong holds up this article as an example of how Utmost doesn't "systematically bow to the prerogatives of authority figures."

In harking back to the golden age of Flawn, and in applying such a cosmetic critique to the understaffing crisis, Utmost wasn't printing critical thinking; in this case, it's engaging in a slave morality. We'll never solve the understaffing crisis by listening to any adminstrator. Polemicist attack Cunningham because he serves the interests of outside constituencies and marginalizes students - not because we think if he leaves all our problems will solve themselves.

Images must be stopped

Dear editor:

My fellow students: What is this thing called Images?

If not a garish unnecessary rag concocted by a mediocre college daily in a pathetic attempt to make up for lost funds caused by years of mismanagement, arrogantly elbowing into the Thursday entertainment weekly market while enjoying the advantages of state support and tax-free printing press and yet brazenly trying to woo advertisers away from Austin's beloved, nonprofit Chronicle? What if not this?

To try to redress these imbalances, I have found myself employing the following tactic at places that carry both publications. First, divide the stack of Images in half. Then put a stack of Chronicles on top of each. Thus, Images becomes a sort of consolation, or booby prize for people who missed The Chronicle. It's easy! It's fun! And I haven't been caught yet! Plus I think that if the tactic is applied on a wide scale, it should have a measurable impact on comparative return rates, and the comparative advertising revenues.

A. Student