Friday, February 07, 2014

A Reaction to UVU's Student Newspaper 2/7/2014

Today the student newspaper ran four (4) stories. If they had only published one of these stories, I might not have reacted to it. But they published all four at the same time. I see a pattern. It is a pattern I don't like.

1. "UVU students conduct research on depression among LDS men." The results suggest that "Mormon theology and culture can cause distress."

Well, yes. Yes, it does. So does every other subculture. We are people with many various sources of stress. Driving a bus can cause depression.  Working at a desk all day can cause depression. Genetics can influence depression. The season of the year can influence depression.

First of all, it bothers me that news outlets write stuff like this. The UVU student newspaper is just following the herd in this case. This isn't really news. Even so, articles should have sources listed.Or show the statistical models used to evaluate the data. Or something to try to show validity.

Second of all, UVU is an undergraduate school, and the professors usually don't have to publish any research. I don't think of the majority of the professors at UVU as doing rigorous research. I don't think that many professors could teach the students to do quality research. I doubt their study can really isolate that Mormonism is a cause of depression. I wonder if another "study" could prove that Mormon theology can help alleviate depression. Homer Simpson once said, "You can prove anything with facts." Did the research group set out with the goal in mind to prove that Mormonism causes depression? Or was it a legitimate finding of their study?

Third of all, it bothers me more that people believe things like this without thinking. Even if sources were listed, we should evaluate the credibility of the sources and the credibility of the research study. Scientists and researchers who do real studies have to be so careful about their variables and test groups and statistical data. They then write a report and try to publish in peer-reviewed academic journals. If something is published, it means that the research group took enough care of all the test variables that a group of their research peers approved of it enough to print it. That still doesn't mean that it is true or false. Other researchers then read and criticize and try to duplicate or disprove the findings. Again, "You can prove anything with facts."

UVU should be embarrassed by this research study and the way it was reported. They should aim for better research and better reporting.

2. An opinion article got a full page to itself (unusual when space is limited) titled "Waking up from Zion." The author states, "My life has become a balancing act between what I can accept in my church and what I can’t. I’ll probably never leave. For good or bad, the church has affected my childhood and grown into too much of my life for me to uproot it. It’s possible I’ll eventually be excommunicated, kicked out like my grandfather. A bishop will worry about my “extreme views” and criticisms of the prophet, and I’ll be told to leave. Until then, I keep walking in an ever-widening spiral, a white motherf***er waking up from Zion."

This is an opinion article. People can say whatever they want in opinion articles. I am not upset because of his opinion. I am not upset with his swearing.

I am concerned with why this article was given a full page. The article took up half a page, and the picture accompanying the article was half a page. Really? The picture got half a page? I thought it was important to balance cost of publishing with advertising. Or important to balance differing viewpoints to avoid appearing biased. The newspaper business IS changing. Maybe they couldn't find any real news or other opinions to publish. 

I feel like you can see the personal bias of the editor. I think it would have been better to publish two different viewpoints, each taking half a page, thus making the overall effect of the newspaper unbiased.

UVU should be embarrassed that the way the newspaper printed this shows bias and prejudice. They should aim for balance in the opinions.

 3. Behind the Zion Curtain. Calling for a change in Utah's liquor laws. The author writes, "Here’s how illogical these argument sound to everyone else, “I am on a gluten free diet. I do not eat gluten, my children do not eat gluten, and we should not be subjected to watching others eat gluten when we are at a restaurant. Also, we should not have to walk into a grocery store where gluten is brazenly sold to those who do eat gluten. Ban private gluten sales, ban gluten sales at the grocery store, and ban gluten from being served in front of my children.”

This is another opinion article. This one only got half a page--well, the article took up one quarter of a page, and the picture took up one quarter. This article is better. It is a reaction to current legislative debates going on in Utah. It is a well thought out, well written opinion article. This author makes good use of rhetoric to advance her opinion. I really like the gluten free diet analogy. I don't have any problems with this article. 

Except it is one of four similarly themed articles published on the same day.

4. Professor Phil Gordon--On a Mission. A UVU professor talks about how he is waging a war on conservativism and Mormonism, and he is winning.
He says, “I’m on a mission from God to teach the Mormons to be liberal, and I’m succeeding!" and “I always was a political-progressive, radical liberal. Even as a kid, I didn’t like saying the Pledge of Allegiance. There’s something ugly about it to me. It feels like Fascism.”

I don't understand why this is news. They don't interview a different professor every week. It isn't in the opinion section. What is the point of this article? Why was it included? 

If the newspaper ran a story about how a professor on campus claimed to be on a mission to convince homosexuals that they are wrong, it would be in so much trouble. Or about a professor out to persuade Muslims to leave their religion. Or a professor waging a war on liberalism. Why is it ok to show prejudice toward conservative Christians? 

UVU should be embarrassed by this professor waging his personal war. It wouldn't be appropriate for a professor to wage his personal war against homosexuals. It wouldn't be appropriate for a professor to wage his personal war against blacks. Why is it ok for him to wage his personal war against conservative Christians? And why publish it in the newspaper?

Taken individually, these articles might not be so alarming. But published as a group, these articles are presented with a clear bias on the part of the newspaper editor.  If these articles were printed about any other group (like maybe Muslims or Jews or homosexuals) the newspaper would be criticized for prejudice. If you wouldn't say it about one group, don't make it ok to say about another group. This kind of rhetoric is not appropriate, especially not en masse. At least try to publish opposing viewpoints so that the overall effect of the newspaper is unbiased.

 So, in conclusion, my point:  
1. Report real news, not rhetorical spin on non-news.
2. Avoid bias. Avoid prejudice.
3. Treat all people with equal respect. 

And as a post script, am I becoming a weirdo? Like Great Uncle Reid with his Accuracy In Media vigilante group?

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