Article By: Stephanie Hayne
Artwork by: Michelle Zeller
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
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?"
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
"(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.