North Florida Spinnaker Adviser John Timpe Discusses ‘Sex Cover,’ His Role in News Production

John Timpe does not vet Spinnaker content prior to its publication.  The adviser of the student newspaper at the University of North Florida wants to clear up the misconception “that I am involved in producing the paper,” including the recent controversial “sex cover.”

The cover image– hyping a story on the link between oral sex and HPV– stirred pockets of criticism on campus and subsequent press attention and online debate.

In an email sent to me last week, Timpe, a veteran journalist, outlined his role in the newspaper’s production and the guidance he provides when controversial content is being considered:

I don’t preview the paper before it goes out the door, so I didn’t give an OK or nix the cover and inside images.  I’ve been letting fellow university employees know that my role is similar to that of a teacher. I impart lessons and guidance, go away as the students take their ‘test,’ and once they turn it in (the newspaper is printed), I grade— critique— it.

I let the students know what they did right, let them know what didn’t work, break down what happened, and give tips on how to make it better next time.  The difference, here of course, is that at least 12,000 students a week look over the Spinnaker’s test.  In some ways, places around the country have seen their exam this past week.


John Timpe, adviser, The Spinnaker, University of North Florida

As part of the guidance I give, I recommend that they consider the following when a controversial idea comes up:

1.    Is the article newsworthy, and is it written as such?

2.    Does the art element fit the story, including its tenor and subject?

3.    Is the art element shocking just for titillation?

4.    Will the art element detract from the impact of the story?

5.    Is the element solid artistically?

6.    Have all repercussions been considered? While repercussions shouldn’t necessarily stop you, are you prepared for the hit to advertising, for community feelings?  Have you done preemptive work such as contacting other papers who have done something similar, as well as your adviser and other experienced journalists?

[About the cover]: The media board that oversees the newspaper expressed a range of opinions [last] Monday, and then voted 8-0 to reaffirm the Spinnaker’s right to have independent control over its content.  The university’s president told the local daily newspaper that he thought the cover crossed the line. He also said he understands that college newspapers produce edgy content. He has expressed on other occasions the sentiment that the success and failure a college newspaper experiences is part of the educational experience. We’re fortunate to have a president who understands that.

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