Virginia Student Newspapers’ Alcohol Advertising Fight Now in Year 5

In Virginia, the alcohol ads case is currently being considered by the state’s supreme court.  Now in year five, The Cavalier Daily at the University of Virginia and The Collegiate Times at Virginia Tech continue to battle a Va. law that prohibits college newspapers from running almost any type of alcohol advertisement.

The latest wrinkle: an attempt by the CT and CD to get around the restriction by requesting a redefinition of what constitutes a college newspaper.  Their argument: a publication serving a diverse audience of students, faculty, staff, alums, and community members should not fall under a law whose sole aim is preventing under-21 undergrads from being tempted to drink.

While the decision regarding that specific fight is still being considered, the larger question remains: Should student media be allowed, or be inclined, to run advertisements promoting alcohol?

From my perspective, the main reasons student media should consider running advertisements promoting alcohol, in moderation:

  • Alcohol is a legal product, unlike, say, marijuana.  Why shouldn’t it have the right to be promoted like everything else?

  • Editorial content and advertising are separate species.  A student newspaper that publishes a quarter-page ad about an establishment’s weekday drinks special is not endorsing the drinks special.  It is simply providing the establishment with a spot to tell people about it.

  • Alcohol advertisements, at least explicitly, promote only drinking, not underage drinking.

  • Alcohol ads are moneymakers.  There are a lot of clubs, bars, restaurants, liquor stores, etc. near campuses.  Why?  Because a lot of legal-age students, staff, and faculty drink.  A quality student media outlet is known as the voice of its school.  Why shouldn’t it allow popular places a chance to speak to the people they are obviously already regularly serving?

  • Not all ads apply to everyone.  The under-21 student set simply has to wait until drinking promos apply to them, similar to the broke students who have to wait until they have enough money to afford the advertised spring break cruises.

  • If allowed, alcohol advertising won’t be insane.  There will not be an anarchic explosion of ‘drink until you die’ inserts.

  • Campus pubs already publish pieces about drinking– bar reviews, party scene recaps, special reports on fake IDs, commentaries involving underage drinking, etc.  Student journalists are talking about, at times even advocating, drinking.  What makes an ad any different?

  • Alcohol ads are already EVERYWHERE, across all media.  (The Budweiser frogs and Clydesdales are basically national treasures.)  Children much younger than an incoming freshman see these ads.  Life goes on.

  • And finally, the non-alcohol argument… Above all, student media must be free to make their own decisions on what to run, within editorial content AND advertising.

The main reasons many student media do not run alcohol ads:

  • Most undergraduates are under 21, making drinking promos tantalizing but irrelevant to a majority of student media’s core audience.

  • Many student press outlets are school-controlled, making administrators wary of even the slightest semblance of drinking promotion coming from something under their watch.

  • Legality is not an end-all, be-all argument here.  Advertising is also a matter of discretion or taste.  For example, should student media run ads for strip clubs, sex shops, firearms, the KKK or get-rich-quick schemes?  The bottom line: Ads for numerous legal organizations, entities, and activities do not often or ever appear within a campus pub’s pages.

  • And finally, the moral argument… Drinking is a problem for some students. And many students are still coming of age.  An ad for alcohol may pressure them into behavior for which they are not yet ready or able to handle.

What am I missing from either list? And what do you think overall of the sobering lack of drinking ads within the student press?

2 Responses to “Virginia Student Newspapers’ Alcohol Advertising Fight Now in Year 5”
  1. Binge drinking and underage drinking in college is a huge issue. In the past month, since the beginning of the semester, I’ve already seen five stories of college students dying of alcohol poisoning, mainly freshmen and sophomores. There are so many companies who would love to advertise in a college newspaper, so why are the newspapers so focused on alcohol ads?

    This mentality that “getting drunk is cool” needs to change. It isn’t fun getting a hangover the next day or waking up next to a stranger naked because you completely blacked out.

    Yes, people should be smart enough to not do these things, but when you are in college and away from your parents, college kids usually succumb to that.

    If college newspapers want to run alcohol ads, then I hope that right next to these ads, they have ads for drinking responsibly and healthy lifestyle ads.

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