College 'Booze News' Paper Raises Eyebrows in Midwest
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Ah, college life. All-night study sessions in the library. Professors challenging the conventional wisdom. Snowball battles on the quad.
For students at the University of Missouri-Columbia, college is all about casual sex, meddling parents, foul-mouthed friendships and partying until you puke. At least that's the portrayal in The Booze News, a new weekly newspaper that glorifies the wonders of excessive drinking.
The publication's founders, a pair of University of Illinois graduates, call The Booze News (motto: "Today's News ... Under the Influence") an over-the-top satire modeled after The Onion, the popular parody newspaper started by college students in Madison, Wis. that has since gone global.
But some Missouri students and local business owners aren't laughing. A Booze News book review about interracial gay adoption that referred to the two male parents as "freaks" drew a formal protest and request that university officials censure the paper.
Several downtown business owners have thrown out the free paper, which has published four issues, afraid of offending customer sensibilities. Even some campus Greek houses deem the material too edgy for members.
"The paper is not for 8-year olds," said co-founder Atish Doshi, a 2004 Illinois graduate from suburban Detroit. "It's about being immature college kids. That's what makes it successful. We don't take ourselves seriously."
Success has come quickly for Doshi and fellow Illinois graduate Derek Chin, who said they started the paper three years ago "as a complete joke."
The Booze News can now be found at Illinois State, Indiana, Iowa and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, along with Missouri and Illinois.
Doshi, who works in Chicago with a full-time staff of six, said he expects to expand to another dozen campuses in the next year. The future looks even brighter.
"I would love to be at as many schools as possible," Doshi said. "There will always be college students."
For Missouri senior Kyle Ali, a Chicago native, such a scenario is troubling. As a peer educator who works to control drug and alcohol abuse, Ali said The Booze News sends the wrong message, humorous or not.
"This is a publication that clearly condones high-risk behavior," he said. "There's nothing that talks about alcohol poisoning, or drunk-driving."
A recent issue of the Missouri edition does contain a public service announcement by the U.S. Department of Transportation about the dangers of drunk driving. There's also a small disclaimer that the paper "in no way promotes, encourages or supports binge drinking and/or underage drinking."
"This newspaper is designed for entertainment purposes only," the disclaimer reads.
More prominent, though, are features on the local bartender of the week, alcohol reviews, drink recipes, drinking game instructions and guidelines on how to beat hangovers.
The paper's Web site boasts that its writers, editors and advertising sales crew members "are drunk at least four hours a day, six days a week" but assures readers that "we are not obnoxious drunks."
The recent article about the adoptive gay couple — a supposed book review in which the unidentified author looked solely at the cover of the children's book — crossed the line from satire to threatening speech, said Ali.
He wrote a letter to other campus activists and the university's vice chancellor of student affairs urging a potential boycott of local businesses that distribute the weekly paper.
"That article was specifically threatening to the social environment on this campus," he said.
The paper's managing editor — who has since stepped down from the job — acknowledged in a note to readers that the article "went a little far" but "was all in good fun." Doshi said he regretted publishing that article, adding that the article's writer has since been fired.
Broader community acceptance in Columbia will come with time, said Doshi, citing the paper's solid standing in Champaign-Urbana, where The Booze News has earned a reputation with such features as trading cards illustrating local homeless men.
In the meantime, the paper will continue smashing taboos.
"Everyone thinks and does the same thing at some point in life, but when they see it in print and have it become a realization, all of a sudden it's morally wrong," Doshi said.