UNL paper's architecture sex story prompts backlash



A Daily Nebraskan article that discusses the sex lives of University of Nebraska-Lincoln architecture students has caused a flurry of controversy for the newspaper.

The story, which appeared in the arts and entertainment section, quotes multiple sources by their first names only, with an illustration alongside showing two students having sex on a drafting table. The writer, Kelsey Lee, details the atmosphere within the studios as the students work. She said Architecture Hall leads to hooking up because of its “dim staircases and dark corners.”

Lee describes the fourth-year architects as they gossip about hook-ups between teaching assistants and students. Another student is quoted saying, “Beer, women, wine and sex — those are the things for architects.”

Daily Nebraskan Edior-in-Chief Jenna Gibson said the story didn’t turn out as originally planned; however, the newspaper did verify that all the anonymous sources were real people.

“It wasn’t necessarily that it was supposed to be satire, but it didn’t end up the way that it was originally intended,” she said. “We have all of the students who were quoted with first names only … we have verified those are real people and they stand behind their statements, they just did not want to be fully named for fear of repercussions.”

Gibson said the newspaper has been dealing with a lot of different opinions about the story, both positive and negative.

“There have only been a couple of people who have gone beyond that,” she said. “In the most extreme example, someone sent letters to all of our advertisers asking them to boycott us, but I don’t think that’s had any effect.”

A story in the Lincoln Journal Star quoted university spokeswoman Kelly Bartling saying Chancellor Harvey Perlman was disappointed about the article. However, Gibson said the newspaper hasn’t heard anything official from the administration.

Daily Nebraskan editors received several letters after publication, including one from College of Architecture Dean Wayne Drummond and Associate Dean Mark A. Hoistad.

“While we strongly believe in ‘freedom of the press,’ we and many faculty, staff and students in the College of Architecture are absolutely appalled and offended by the lead article on Feb. 2 in the Arts and Entertainment section of the Daily Nebraskan,” the deans said.

Drummond and Hoistad describe the article as “unfortunate and hurtful,” and call for an apology from the Daily Nebraskan to the campus architecture community and the entire university.

The deans also said they will be talking about acceptable behavior to architecture students, faculty and assistants, because of unfortunate reporting that “darkens the reputations of all of our best students.”

A columnist, Andrew Lacy, resigned after the article appeared, writing in his final column, “The article has nothing but rumors and gossip and a series of anonymous sources that lead me to believe most of it was completely made up.”

Lacy also called the newspaper staff “hipsters,” and wrote that to fit into the newsroom, one needs to smoke, as well as listen to “crappy music” and NPR.

Gibson said the staff decided not to respond to the columnist or his “misconceptions.”

“I would say that his perception of the DN is isolated to the few people he bothered to talk to here,” she said. “He can think what he wants; we weren’t going to censor his opinion, that’s how he feels.”

After the letters and angry e-mails, the editorial board responded with a staff editorial. They explain the “original assignment was to write about the sex lives of students who spend a large amount of their time hard at work in Architecture Hall.”

The editorial promises more scrutiny of potentially controversial material in the future, but stopped short of explicitly apologizing. Gibson said there are plans for more discussion between editorial board members when articles like this are assigned.

She said the larger problem would be if the staff didn’t learn from this issue.

“We are students, we try to do our best, but in the end we do make mistakes sometimes,” Gibson said.

Tagged: ethics, newsgathering, Student Media/Journalism - General News