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Article By: Stephanie Hayne
Artwork by: Michelle Zeller
January 2002

 

The headline could have read, "UWO should feel cheated."
It could have read, "UWO gets ripped off."
Instead, a front page headline in the September 20 issue of The Gazette read, "UWO gets gypped."

‘What's the big deal?' you might ask. You, and hundreds of other Westerners, may have simply turned the page. You may have paused and thought it strange, but continued reading.
Or, like one UWO student, you may have called the editor of The Gazette to complain.
Aaron Wherry says in addition to that complaint, he received a letter from a USC Councillor. He wasn't surprised the word ‘gyp' created a stir, recalling there was some initial concern about using it in the first place.

Wherry and his co-workers turned to the dictionary for the final answer. And they weren't disappointed. Webster's defines ‘gyp' as a verb that means to swindle, cheat or defraud. It says nothing about the word's origin as a root of the word gypsy. And nothing about its connotations - are all gypsies swindlers, cheats or frauds?

One could argue The Gazette staff did their homework. One could argue they printed the word in good faith.

But, what happens when even one reader is offended by something in the campus daily? Wherry says his response to the complaint was standard. If it is a complaint about a factual error or something that is potentially libelous, The Gazette is open to running a correction or clarification. If you are offended by something you read, your only source of recourse is the Opinions page. Translation: try writing a Letter to the Editor.

No letter was written, but Wherry did say he researched the word after he received the complaints and found there to be a lot of debate over its meaning.

"You could make a case that it wasn't offensive," he says. "But when it's put out there in a public forum, I guess it's not as cut and dry."

And that might be the problem. Having no governing body, The Gazette appears free from anything cut and dry. While Werry says his staff considers the content of the paper seriously, the decision on whether or not to use a potentially offensive word may rest on the outcome of a late-night, blurry-eyed conversation between two editors.

At CHRW, it's a different story. Governed by the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission, Radio Western must follow specific regulations or face having its license revoked.

Station Manager Mario Circelli says in the 10 years he's worked there, he's had seven or eight complaints. But those have been about musical profanity. He says he hasn't received a single complaint about the material his volunteers produce and deliver on-air.
He credits the volunteers with professional behaviour, but admits the watchful eye of the CRTC has more than a little to do with it.

"We are scrutinized daily," he says. "Everything is monitored by our audience, therefore we take what we do quite seriously."

That would seem to be true. Announcers move through eight training stages before they get a permanent CHRW volunteer card. And the station has worked hard to provide Western students with a diverse show schedule.
CHRW has 13 different multicultural shows - what Circelli says is more multi-cultural programming than any campus or community radio station in the country.
He says if someone did complain about the content of a show, he would respond directly to the individual and is compelled to forward his response to the CRTC, as well. If the individual isn't satisfied with his response, they could approach the board of directors for Radio Western or go directly to the CRTC.

"Of course, as a campus radio station, we're going to take more risks, we're going to push more boundaries," he says. "But if I can't defend it to the CRTC, it's not going to happen."
So, what about the word, ‘gyp?' Is it defensible?
At first Circelli doesn't see a problem. In fact, he uses the word in a sentence and turns the question on the reporter. "What's wrong with that?" he asks.
Upon hearing that ‘gyp' comes from ‘gypsy,' Circelli is surprised. He didn't know.
He says the difference between the term ‘gypped' and other derogatory terms is simple: ignorance.

Wherry agrees. He says there was no malicious intent behind the use of the word.
"I would imagine that word will never appear again in the paper," he adds.
But is that good enough?
Does it suffice to claim ignorance until otherwise informed? Or is doing one's homework more about connecting with your audience and less about referring to Webster's Dictionary?
Campus media shouldn't need a regulatory body to ensure they do what both men agree is their job; to give a fair and accurate report of the day's news. And in the world of journalism, part of that job includes language.

But there's seems to be a hesitancy to claim any connection to that ‘world of journalism.'
"(The Gazette) has the unenviable task of floating in the abyss between student and professional paper," says Wherry.
Some of us aren't convinced it can't - or shouldn't - be both.

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