Students and activists assembled outside the offices of The Daily Texan this afternoon, demanding answers about the controversial Trayvon Martin editorial cartoon the student newspaper ran Tuesday. What editorial process vetted the cartoon? Will the firestorm result in any changes at the Texan? And is the cartoon’s publication symptomatic of a broader problem on campus?
About 40 people engaged in a tense discussion with members of the Texan’s editorial staff. Staff members apologized for running the cartoon, promising a formal apology to supplement a terse statement the paper released yesterday and another the cartoonist sent today.
Discussion dwelt on the editorial process that oversaw the comic’s publication. Viviana Aldous, Texan Editor in Chief, said at least five editors at the paper vetted the cartoon before publication – the five members of the editorial team, plus copy editors.
While apologetic, Aldous said the editorial team interpreted the cartoon as how author Stephanie Eisner described it – a critique of media coverage surrounding the case, and not as a racist. But protesters argued that with the cartoon’s use of language like “colored” to refer to Martin, the issues were inseparable.
“We have to decide on a regular basis, at what point are we censoring versus just doing our jobs,” said Aldous. “And that was a difficult question that was brought up Monday night, and I guess we made the wrong decision – we made the wrong decision, and we’re sorry for that.”
Despite being student run, the Texan does employ a more experienced journalist to critique some of the paper’s work.
Doug Warren is the Editorial Adviser at The Daily Texan. “I offer input when it’s requested, and a daily critique of the Texan’s reporting in print and on the website,” he told KUT.
If I know there’s a big story happening or something that’s of interest to me that I'm concerned about, I can go up to them and say ‘Maybe we can take a look at this’ or something. But that wasn’t the case in this situation."
“I didn’t see it until it was in the paper," he continued. "The students control the content in The Daily Texan ... If they have a concern in advance, they can come to me and talk about it. They didn’t in this case.”
Several people at the protest argued the Texan’s publication illustrates a broader issue at the paper and the University – that African-American issues go unadressed, or in this case, are marginalized. Many demanded that the editors that approved the comic be fired.
UT’s Fall 2011 enrollment figures – the most recently available – tallies African-Americans as 4.5% of the student population. According to the U.S census, African-Americans account for 11.8% of the state's population.
“I think what happens a lot of the time is, we’re not even taken onto consideration,” said UT senior Erica Puckett, who attended the protest. “It’s like … we don’t matter. Because they think were so small, that we won’t make noise. But what people are failing to realize is, this is not the time or the day to come at us incorrectly. We’re pissed off.”