The blog formerly known as The Dobbs Method

An Open Letter to The Watertower

Posted in College, Journalism, Politics by Taylor Dobbs on 02/09/2010

To The Watertower:,

I’m writing to share an interesting story with you about a piece of your paper that led to some interesting discussion.

A police officer knocked on my door this morning regarding something I had posted on my door. It was a comic strip of yours (the one in which a girl is talking to her grandmother, who leads her to conclude that because women give blowjobs, men should hold doors for them) which had been posted when it was published (sometime in the fall). The officer asked me to remove it, explaining to me that she personally had no issue, but that the UVM police get a lot of calls about things like that and it’s a pain to have to come all the way to the building to ask people to take it down. Since she was there on other business, she decided she’d stop to ask that I take it down right there and save her the trouble. I would have argued but I really wasn’t sure about the rules around such things, so I took it down.

Later today I approached to Brian Hooks, Residence Director of Trinity Campus (where I live) and explained the situation, hoping to get more clarity on the issue. He was extremely helpful and courteous. As most of us know, the hallways are considered “public space” and are therefore under the watchful eye of ResLife. You can’t post porn on your door same as you can’t put up Hitler posters in the lobby of Harris-Millis.

My main question in the whole issue was how something that The Watertower deemed appropriate to publish and put out in public spaces around UVM could possibly be disallowed in a University residence hall. Apparently, ResLife does not allow The Watertower to be distributed within residence halls for this very reason. They do not want to be responsible for material that could be deemed offensive to anyone. Since The Cynic has to be University-approved before it’s distributed, they’re able to distribute in the dorms.

I understand that UVM housing is a touchy issue, as it needs to be a place where people feel safe and accepted. I agree that these things are vital to the residence community, but I also think that it’s vital that these people are accepted for who they choose to be, not faceless, politically correct, machines. Sure, I’m offended by some of the things I see and hear in my hall (you’d have to be strange not to), but I’d rather stop someone and try to explain my point of view and then request that they stop rather than blindly silence them. As a straight, white, male of average height and weight, it’s obviously very hard for me to speak for any of the groups more marginalized by society. In my opinion, though, every inch of a University should be dedicated to the spread of knowledge through discussion, debate, and print.

While neither the officer involved (who was also very nice and professional) or Mr. Hooks forms this policy, I was disappointed at the small swipe at free expression at UVM. I understand not being allowed to say derogatory things about women on our whiteboards or throwing around racist slurs in the halls (which happens much more than anything offensive is posted on a door), but posting something that was deemed by The Watertower as publishable and – in my opinion – serves exactly the social purpose that a comic strip is supposed to serve, seems like it should be allowed. Cartoons are very often satire of the flaws of society and they call to the surface important issues that must be well-understood if this generation is to go on and do what the university hopes we will do: make change.

-Taylor Dobbs
Class of 2012

Update: The Watertower got my letter and asked me to write an article on the issue for them. PDF is available here.

Mashable’s “8 Must-Have Traits of Tomorrow’s Journalist” Plus One

Posted in Journalism by Taylor Dobbs on 02/08/2010

Social Media news site Mashable put out a post naming 8 traits that all journalists should have in tomorrow’s world of journalism. It was a great story, and is definitely on track to being right on, as journalists and organizations that have these traits are already seeing higher success than those who are slower to adapt. Most of the traits are essentially in reaction to a shrinking journalism workforce, but their 8th point is key, and often marginalized in discussion of journalism in the internet age. Click the link above for elaboration, but these are the eight traits listed:

  1. Entrepreneurial and Business Savvy
  2. Programmer
  3. Open-minded Experimenter
  4. Multimedia Storyteller
  5. The Social Journalist and Community Builder
  6. Blogger and Curator
  7. Multi-skilled
  8. Fundamental Journalism Skills

I’d say this list is very good, based on what I’ve seen. Another item that might be added, though, is specialization. While the media through which journalists give information is clearly becoming more dynamic with online video and audio, the road to credibility is increasingly hard to travel in the internet age. With the erosion of gatekeeping organizations, anyone, however qualified or deserving, can write about anything and be published for the same audience as the most qualified of professionals.

My #9: The Beat is Back! It’s going to be difficult to gauge someone’s credibility on a topic in an age when even the most credible of journalists are posting in personal blogs. The distinction will be made, I think, in a journalist’s focus. The more a journalist works a specific beat, the more connections they are able to keep (and maintain through social media tools), thus climbing the ladder in this field. Sure, the one-man show and  other small organizations are exempt here (and this a large portion of news orgs), but freelancers especially will need to develop a strong online portfolio in order to sell stories in a time when credibility is so central an issue.

Image Credit: reportr.net