‘Sac State Crime’ Ad: Hornet Faculty Adviser Responds

Within collegemediatopia, what is the proper code of ethics for evaluating advertisements prior to publication? The question was at the heart of Sunday’s post, focused on an ad run recently in The State Hornet at California State University, Sacramento, that has received press attention for possibly being misleading and fearmongering about the serious issue of campus crime.

Holly Heyser serves as The State Hornet's faculty adviser and business manager, building upon nearly two decades of professional reporting and editing work. (Photo from Heyser's CSUS faculty profile page.)

In response, Hornet faculty adviser Holly Heyser, a veteran journalist and CSUS professional in residence, offers some insight into the staff’s decision to run the full-page spot.  She also seeks input about the lengths j-students and their advisers should go in ensuring an ad’s veracity– and whether such a distinction is even identifiable amid the endless exaggerations and slick sales pitches.

In Heyser’s words:

This ad was the subject of a lot of discussion at the State Hornet. We actually rejected the first version that was submitted to us because it did seem to imply that the chief could have prevented all of those crimes, and it did not state who paid for the ad.

As for the version that ultimately ran, it struck me as being no more exaggerated and fearmongering than any of the gazillions of campaign ads I covered for major metro dailies in three states during my political reporting/editing career. That such an ad would run in a campus newspaper may be unusual, but the tone itself is not.

The reality is that the university did experience an unusual– for us– number of sexual assaults last semester.  And while some of them might not be indicative of a crime wave, the one in which a student was dragged into a van and raped in one of our dorm parking lots was (rightfully) terrifying to many women on campus.  It is also true that the police department recently increased its management staff.  I’ve seen much smaller grains of truth in campaign ads.

But I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on this: How far are we supposed to go in vetting ads? Because while this one was unusual, let’s be honest: Most ads employ exaggeration, distortion and emotional imagery to persuade a target audience to do something.  It’s just usually persuasion to buy— beer/apartment complex/phone service– not persuasion to revolt.

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