The story the Chronicle wouldn't print

By Jennifer Wong
February 1991; page 4; Volume 2, No. 4
Polemicist

I approached the Austin Chronicle with the hopes of informing the community about the KOOP-KTSB frequency battle. The Chronicle, as a popular weekly specializing in the Austin music and politics, seemed to be the best forum for disseminating this information.

The article was timed to come out the week of December 7, just days before the two groups were to meet to negotiate a second (and final) time. Pressure from the community at this point could have averted what seemed to be an inevitable slide down to radio war - a comparative hearing. But at the last minute, Chronicle editors decided to hold the story until the following week. This prevented any community participation until after the crucial KTSB-KOOP meeting. Furthermore, the story failed to reach many UT students, who were busy taking finals or packing up for the holidays.

I protested the delay, but Mike Hall, the managing editor, told me that the Chronicle editors and publisher need to talk about what position they wanted to take. Since it was an important issue, he said, they wanted to make sure they did it right. They also were concerned with another writer's story about the problems at KTSB (an article they didn't want me to write because, as a three-year staff member at KTSB, I would be knowledgeable, but too biased). The other writer, Mimi McKay, had reached the same conclusion that I had: Owned by the UT Board of Regents and nicely tucked away within the machinery of institutional bureaucracy, KTSB could never serve as the innovative, independent voice that Austin needed.

This theory didn't seem to sit well with the editors. For instance, when I tried to argue that the institutional structure of KTSB was fundamentally flawed, the managing editor told me that TSP "wasn't really that bad" and that working with "ex-hippies" could be worse. Then, the Chronicle editors assigned another writer to rewrite the KTSB story, rather than give McKay the extra time to work on her article. Apparently, by circumventing McKay, they would have more control over the content. The second writer, however, came to a similar conclusion, although he approached the issue in a milder, more "objective" way. Chronicle editor Louis Black then pressed him to change the ending of his story to make KTSB look more viable.

The version appearing in the Chronicle reflects this heavy-handed editing. After bringing up example after example of ways that college radio bows to the whims of administrators, and discussing the gradual but inevitable process of formalization, the KTSB story ends abruptly with: "Then again, the next wave of students could be the most radical in twenty years and keep the station on an experimental path through sheer dogedness and force of numbers."

This is Black's theory - oft quoted but unrealistic, given that the trend towards "professionalism" is obvious even in KTSB's short three-year history. Black, by the way, has frequently theorized that KOOP might turn into an ACTV of the airwaves, a possibility he dislikes because he doesn't want to listen to special-interest groups "whine" for hours about how society treats them.

Even within the narrow confines of my story, which by November had been compromised into a "technical overview" rather than a real analysis, Chronicle editors found passages that didn't straddle the fence quite enough for their liking. These passages, which happened to contain some of the most substantive arguments, were removed without my knowledge. Because the final version came out so short, I can't conclude that space limitations caused that many inches of copy to be lost.