COLUMBIA — The Booze News, a newspaper boasting “Today’s News ... Under the Influence,” is under fire from MU students just four weeks after it started publishing.
True to its title, the publication discusses drinking, as well as entertainment and relationships.
“We spotlight local bartenders, conduct alcohol reviews and have corresponding recipes,” co-founder Atish Doshi wrote in an e-mail.
The publication, as well as its Web site, theboozenews.com, features photographs of students drinking alcohol and articles with titles such as “Sex and the U: Hickeys” and “Alcohoroscopes.”
Doshi and his partner, Derek Chin, started the paper at the University of Illinois’ Urbana-Champaign campus as a joke.
“We thought the university needed something more than just the typical news that the school paper put out,” Doshi said.
The Booze News staff sold ads to bars and put together a 12-page spread. They found a publisher in Chicago and circulated about 4,000 copies.
The students loved it, Doshi said.
The Booze News has since expanded to other campuses across the Midwest, including MU, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Iowa and Indiana University.
Copies of the MU version, which first appeared in August, were anonymously left at 19 businesses, and the publication listed those places — mostly bars and restaurants popular with students — as distributors. Some of the listed establishments were not aware of the list before it was published.
The Booze News was also delivered to Greek houses.
In the paper’s second issue, an article titled “By the Cover,” a book review series that reviews books solely based on their covers, offended some students.
The book chosen for that week, “Daddy, Papa and Me.” As depicted on the cover illustration, the story is about a black child who is adopted by two white men.
The author of the book review reviewed the book in what Kyle Ali, as well as other MU student leaders, called a “crude and vulgar” way. The review ridicules issues such as sex changes, race and homosexual parents.
The reviewer, whose real name is not known, signed the article “Madeline.”
When the article first came out, Ali, an MU senior, wrote a letter, on behalf of the Student Wellness Center, to student organizations and leaders on campus, as well as to Cathy Scroggs, vice chancellor of student affairs, directing their attention to the article.
Kirby Wells, former managing editor of the Columbia edition of The Booze News, wrote a response to readers’ distaste in the next edition, admitting that while the paper might have gone a bit over the top, readers should slap themselves, remember what paper they’re reading and go “get laid.”
Ali then met with members of several organizations who were also outraged by the article’s content and Wells’ statement in the following edition.
Together, the students decided to discuss their concerns through the paper’s listed distributors.
Ali drafted a letter addressed to the businesses, highlighting the students’ issues with the paper’s content.
Even before receiving these letters, Chipotle threw out its copies of The Booze News as it received them.
Lori Young, manager of Envy, requested to be taken off of the distribution list, and Shakespeare’s Pizza posted a sign saying that it will not distribute or support The Booze News.
Some Greek “house moms and dads,” women and men hired to oversee maintenance and management of Greek houses, threw the papers away before their members could read them.
The fourth and most recent edition of The Booze News did not include a list of distribution locations.
“We did that mostly to keep those places from being harassed,” said Doshi, who said he was unaware of Ali’s letters.
Doshi said that before bringing The Booze News to a new campus, he tries to touch base with people that work with Student Wellness. In addition to telling them about the publication’s existence, he offers to place advertisements related to student health at no charge. For example, he would not charge for an advertisement for Alcohol Prevention Week.
MU’s Wellness Center declined Doshi’s offer.
“I said I had no clue what their paper was about and asked him to send me a copy,” said Kim Dude, Wellness Resource Center director. “He responded and said that the paper would come out in about a month. ... He clearly didn’t want to tell me about it.”
Dude said now that she’s seen a few issues, she would never put an advertisement in the paper.
“I can’t counter with one ad what eight pages promotes. My goal is for that newspaper to not be distributed in the community,” she said. “He’s sensationalizing the use and abuse of alcohol, the exploitation of women and homophobia. Everything about it is offensive.”
Some students question how the paper is not considered legally obscene.
“I’m no legal expert or anything, but from what I can find looking online, I thought it met all the criteria,” Ali said.
Sandra Davidson, professor of communications law at MU, as well as the attorney for The Missourian, explained that to be found obscene, something must be “patently offensive, appeal to prurient interest and lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”
Ali and other students said they think the publication, particularly the “By the Cover” article, fits the legal definition of obscenity.
“I’d call it offensive,” Davidson said. “But offensive, tasteless and tacky (writings) are all protected by the First Amendment.”
Doshi said he takes complete responsibility for the article, and that the writer was fired.
“It should never have been published,” he said. “We didn’t look it over and we should have. It was definitely wrong.”
The Booze News plans to expand to 10 to 15 more schools across the nation in January.
“I understand how that article could deter a lot of people. I only hope they give it a second shot,” he said. “Most schools have welcomed (The Booze News) with open arms.”