Today the Badger Herald posted the names of 30 students who bought low-price (in relative terms) student tickets for the Rose Bowl and then put them for sale at inflated prices online. It's a practice that has been around forever, but has taken off at especially vicious rates since sites like Facebook began offering places for students to reach thousands of potential buyers very quickly. It's always been controversial, but in my memory, never widely-publicized in the student press.
Truly, there is a special place in Hell for people who buy Rose Bowl tickets with the sole intention of profiting from them. It is entirely unfair to those who actually love this football team and were counting on a cheap face value ticket in order to make the trip to Pasadena an economic reality.
...We'll keep printing names of those we catch on Facebook marketplace. And feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you know of anybody whose name should be added to the list -- particularly the 100 people who have already made a listing on Craigslist.
Interestingly, this was not a piece done by the Herald editorial board. Neither was it attributed to a single author, which strikes me as a bit of a cop-out. I assume that means Editor-in-Chief Kevin Bargnes takes responsibility for it.
Unsurprisingly, the story has blown up online. All the Wisconsin news outlets are reporting on it, as well as some national blogs. Channel 3000 reports my former employer is getting 10,000 hits per hour now.
My view: The Herald was not wrong to publish the names. It will further the long-term goal of decreasing the unfair practice. I only hope that it was vigilant in its selection of the names it published. There are undoubtedly people who bought tickets and then realized they wouldn't be able to make it to California, and had to sell their tickets.
On the other hand, the UW should take more blame for its handling of ticket policies. I don't know about the Rose Bowl, but during the regular season there should simply be more seats for students. It is supposed to be the team of University of Wisconsin students but somehow they are only entitled to a fraction of the seats. That's unfair. Not that I have any ideas for how to change the system and keep the team competitive.
One Twitter follower asked me the following question: Is this journalism or harassment? I responded that it was probably both. Journalism can certainly be viewed as harassment by those who are exposed by its light in an unflattering manner.
In a similar vein, Facebook friend Stu Levitan asked me to stop referring to the mayor of Madison as Mayor Dave. "You are a professional journalist, aren't you?" he asked.
Which of course brings up the question: What is a professional journalist? If it's somebody who makes a living wage in the pursuit of journalism, then count me out.
Standards of journalism, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, are changing. Media organizations, forced by cable news, the internet and tight budgets, to make their news coverage more interactive and entertaining, are loosening some of the rules that constrained the Saturday Evening Post.
College papers and alternative weeklies have a certain advantage in this climate because they always operated with a different set of rules. They are supposed to represent an alternative voice to that of mainstream journalism.
The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal continue to refer to people as "Mr." and "Ms." despite the fact that prefixes are practically extinct in most of America. Why? Because they did it in 1890. That's the essence of their brand.
Unfortunately, the New York Times brand is barely profitable. And it is even less profitable for those who might try to replicate it --including 22-year-old baristas in Wisconsin.