The Koala: The Most Controversial Student Newspaper in America

Every time The Koala makes news, there is controversy.  The “student newspaper everyone loves to hate”– now publishing at the University of California, San Diego, San Diego State University, and California State University, San Marcos– is known for pushing the envelope on parody and commentary.  Staffers regularly insert content perceived as racist, vulgar, and downright obscene onto its pages and on air during its affiliated broadcast program.

As the San Diego Union-Tribune notes, “In years past, Koala TV has been temporarily unplugged at least once for airing pornographic material.  The Koala publication has poked fun at Muslims, Latinos, and Asians for years, and has been repeatedly criticized by the administration.”

The cover page of a recent issue.

The North County Times similarly reports, “The tabloid, which bills itself as a parody, features explicit violent and sexual content, including lists such as ‘top five excuses for rape,’ and ‘top 10 breakup lines to use on a girl you kidnapped.’”

Its most publicized recent controversies:

1) In February 2010, the paper’s editor used the phrase “ungrateful n—ers” while speaking on Koala TV at UCSD.  The on-air N-word stirred student anger already brewing over a controversial campus party called “Compton Cookout,” whose main theme was an overt mockery of Black History Month.  In the aftermath, a “racial state of emergency” was declared and funding for all school-supported student media at UCSD was temporarily frozen.

2) Last February, the paper called a UCSD female student government representative a “fat whore” in a headline.  The story that followed similarly condemned her as a “thick-necked uppity skank” and a “homely unf-ckable bovine.” Nearby, the layout featured a photo of the student crudely doctored to include a cutout of male genitalia spread across her face.

According to local news media, the student believed Koala staffers were taking revenge for her vote to cut the newspaper’s funding.  She said that upon seeing the half-page spread, “[I] just kind of fell apart and called my mom.”

A statement released at the time by UCSD administrators: “The university does not endorse, condone or approve of the material the Koala publishes.  Under the First Amendment, the university is severely limited in the actions it can take in response to content published by students.”

3) Most recently, the paper’s editor caused a campus election to be canceled (hat tip Romenesko).  Matt Weaver was arrested for “allegedly tamper[ing] with election files on a university computer.”  He had been running for CSUSM student body president, apparently not publicly mentioning his Koala affiliation while campaigning.  Was his candidacy simply a stunt?  It seems likely, given the paper’s penchant for pranks and its promotion of the coverage Weaver had been receiving while running.

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