While all kinds of smut continues to gush from the Internet pipeline, censorship is alive and well when it comes to the print media. When Metropolitan State College of Denver's student newspaper, The Metropolitan, wanted to print a full-frontal nude photo of a woman along with an article about artist Pat York's September 5 Aspen art show masked uncovered unmasked, its printer, Intermountain Color, refused, saying it was against company policy to print full-frontal nudity. The printing company, one of the biggest in the metro area, offered to run the shot with a black box covering the model's genital area, but the Metropolitan's editors felt that such a move would be unfair to the artist. As a result, The Metropolitan substituted another of York's photos for the nude in its August 28 issue.
But that wasn't the end of it.
Intermountain Color also prints the CU Denver Advocate, Metro State's neighboring paper on the Auraria campus. When Advocate editors heard about the censorship by Intermountain Color, they sent in an article accompanied by the same nude shot to test the printer. Once again, Intermountain cited company policy and refused to print the photo.
"After they refused to run the photo, we offered another solution," explains Michael de Yoanna, the Advocate's news editor. "We suggested that they just print a black box where the photo would have run with 'Censored by Intermountain Color' across it. But they refused to run that, too, which was surprising. First they object to the photo content, then they won't run our suggested text. What does that say?
"In the end, all our readers saw was a black box alongside the article."
Both papers are now in the process of looking for a new printer to handle their combined $62,000 annual printing contracts. Their respective administrations say they support the papers. Danny Martinez, CU-Denver's interim vice chancellor of student affairs, says that as long as Advocate staffers follow state guidelines regulating how university programs change vendors, the administration will stay out of the fray.
"The printer's job is to print things, not editorialize," says Metro State journalism professor James Brodell. "The decision to print something is supposed to be made by the newspaper's editorial staff, and that's a choice the editors make for business or editorial reasons. And we're not talking about any extreme obscenity here that might result in legal action against the printer. Would Intermountain Color refuse to run a photo of the Venus de Milo citing the same policy?"
Intermountain Color also prints the Rocky Mountain Oyster, a lurid phone-sex and massage-parlor advertising outlet, and follows the same policy: Bare breasts apparently are okay, but black boxes cover the nether regions of both females and males.
Officials of the printing company did not respond to requests for comment. But Gary Rosenberg, owner of Publication Printers, an Intermountain competitor that prints papers such as Rocky Mountain Sports and Computor Edge in addition to some high-school papers, says that his company would have refused to run the college papers' photo as well. However, his company, like Intermountain Color, does not provide clients with a written policy about what it will and will not print.
"I guess you could say the decision is arbitrary," says Rosenberg. "It's a touchy situation, and if you put a hard-and-fast policy in writing, it eliminates your ability to make judgment calls. But the bottom line is that it's our right to decline to print anything. We ask our employees before printing something if they find it offensive. If they think it's too raw, we won't do it."
Chris Mancuso, Metro State's interim director of student publications, says Intermountain had both papers over a barrel. "My impression," says Mancuso, "was that they weren't just picking on these papers because they're run by students. I don't think it mattered who called or went to bat for the papers--Intermountain was not going to print the photo without a censor's box.
"Really, it's not the administration's role to get involved in these types of things," he continues. "The best way for the students to learn is to tackle these things on their own. They'll take hits for things, but that's the whole idea--it's a learning publication. But of all things, they shouldn't have to worry about a printer pulling art. That's just frustrating."
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Even veteran publications, though, have run into problems recently with prudish printers. New York's Editor & Publisher, the major trade journal of the newspaper business, got censored by its printer last year when it tried to run a story about The Beat, a sexually oriented weekly newspaper out of Phoenix, Arizona. Along with its story about how Phoenix police were seizing the publication's news racks, E&P wanted to run a Beat ad page that showed several bare-breasted strippers. E&P's printer, Virginia-based Cadmus Journal Services, nixed the idea.
In a subsequent E&P story about the censorship, Cadmus's vice president, Jim Hillsman, defended his company's decision. "Today," Hillsman said, "Cadmus is squeaky clean. We don't print nudity. We don't print anything that is pornographic. Even language is something that would concern our associates. We just have an image to uphold. We're willing to jeopardize the business relationship [to uphold this image]."
E&P, like the Advocate, ended up running a blank space along with an explanation in lieu of the material Cadmus employees found offensive. E&P publisher Christopher Phillips chastised Cadmus in a subsequent E&P article, writing, "There are printers who owe their existence to the First Amendment. Does this mean there is a changed attitude out there? That what printers are saying is that it is more important to them to placate their employees than to refuse to censor material protected by the same First Amendment that protects them?"
Brodell sees a bad trend developing. "Where the hell did printers get the idea that they could censor, especially when they have a contract?" he asks. "What's next? Are printers going to look at stories and decide not to print them because they don't like the content?