Novelist Says University of Arkansas Student Newspaper Rejected Ad for Her ‘Big Chicken’ Book

Did The Arkansas Traveler really turn down an advertisement due to its poultry perspective?

According to author Sijin Belle, the University of Arkansas student newspaper “declined to run a pre-paid display ad for my novel, a satire set in a poultry plant.”

Belle’s book, Big Chicken, purports to do “for Big Poultry what Christopher Buckley’s Thank You for Smoking did for Big Tobacco.”  The plot teaser: “Reluctant corporate investigator Greta Greenberry picks her way through a minefield of body parts in tasty hot wing buckets, crooked executives, skeevy lawyers, chucklehead rednecks, oleaginous clergy, hapless workers, gun-toting federales, and piles of dead bodies (not counting the chickens) to find herself hog-tied in a freezer face-to-face with a grisly truth.”

In a message early this morning, Belle told me:

“Tim Barger, publisher of Selwa Digital in Vista, Calif., submitted the ad for Big Chicken in an email Wednesday to [Traveler] advertising manager Elizabeth Birkinsha.  The four-column-inch ad shows a picture of the book’s cover and reads ‘If you ever worked at Tyson, you won’t be able to stop laughing.  This is your story– you’ve been there and most likely have done that too.  Check it out at Amazon or B&’, along with available formats and prices.  [Copy of the ad below.]

“Ms. Birkinsha replied by email ‘We will not run this ad in our paper.’  The paper did not respond to Tim’s follow-up emails, one asking for clarification and another re-submitting the ad with the word Tyson replaced by Poultry Xtra– the fictional company in the book.

“It is important to note that Tim has placed a number of similar ads referring to other large poultry companies, e.g., Pilgrim’s Pride, in newspapers in other areas known for poultry processing.  These ads have helped drive our ebook sales in particular.  The Traveler seemed a logical marketing outlet because Tyson Foods’ corporate headquarters is in nearby Springdale and the campus is home to the John W. Tyson Poultry Science Building.

“The Travelers current advertising rate sheet states ‘All advertising submitted to the Arkansas Traveler for publication is subject to review, rejection or acceptance by the editor,’ so we understand the paper’s prerogative, and that the editors don’t have to explain.  Moreover, it’s not a First Amendment matter.  But in my mind, the Traveler has committed a shady sort of prior restraint.

“For this one-time news-hound, the idea that student journalists don’t want their audience even to know about a book (granted, one with a different view of poultry processing than students are likely see in class) raises a number of questions.  For starters:

  • were the students pressured directly or otherwise to commit this tiny act of suppression?
  • were they afraid running the ad would jeopardize other more lucrative ad sales or offend benefactors?
  • is this public, land-grant university a place that values a free flow of ideas and freedom of expression or not?

“Obviously, I have a vested interest in being able to publicize my work, and there certainly are other advertising outlets.  But this episode is troubling in many ways, not the least because students of journalism– a profession in critical flux struggling to ‘monetize’ itself into the future– turned down ad revenue apparently for no good reason.”

I have reached out to Birkinsha and Traveler editor-in-chief Chad Woodard for a response.

4 Responses to “Novelist Says University of Arkansas Student Newspaper Rejected Ad for Her ‘Big Chicken’ Book”
  1. jeni alterman says:

    Irony or Coincidence?

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