This interview was conducted over Facebook between Gabriel Schneider, editor-in-chief of the Triton, and Gabe Cohen, editor-in-chief of the Koala. It’s worth noting that The Triton believes strongly in freedom of speech and the right to publish. The interview will hopefully shed some light beyond simple discussion of freedom of speech, why the Koala publishes what they do and why it’s supposedly “funny.”
The Triton: So, just for posterity and those that don’t know – what is the Koala? I’m fairly familiar with the organization, but not necessarily with how it operates. Are you just on the UCSD campus or are there other school branches/chapters to the organization?
Cohen: The Koala is a satire paper that has been around since 1982. We’ve existed at SDSU since 2004. There are rumors of The Koala starting up in Berkeley, we no longer operate at CSU San Marcos. We pride ourself on lack of censorship, allowing our student writers to publish whatever they want, expressing themselves as fully as possible, as long as they’re funny.
The Triton: And you’re the Editor in Chief, correct? What kind of responsibilities do you have in that role, since you don’t necessarily have a regular publishing schedule? How many people are involved with the Koala and what’s distribution like?
Cohen: Yep. First and foremost it’s my job to keep my staff drunk. My other responsibilities include laying out the paper, delegating responsibilities to the executive board, recruiting new members, improving the writing ability of the staff, keeping the paper funny, running the meetings, dealing with the press, lawyers, alumni, and other student orgs. I make many decisions that keep the ship sailing smoothly.
Around 20 people are actively involved with The Koala. If you include alumni and some floaters, that number’s higher. We’ve grown substantially in the past two years.
The Triton: With the notices being sent out by the [ACLU] and the SPLC [Student Press Law Center], is anything you’d like to say to the student body in regards to the first amendment?
Cohen: The First Amendment is incredibly important. As I’ve said before in other interviews, the way to combat speech you don’t like is more and better speech, not less. Taking support away from voices you do not want to hear is clearly censorship, and I’m incredibly disappointed that A.S. supports cutting funding to some voices they don’t agree with. The fact of the matter is A.S. funds plenty of speech. Every time A.S. funds a student organization’s meeting, fundraiser, or activity they are funding speech. And guess what? Not all students agree with everything these student orgs put out, or the opinions they hold.
Cutting funding to print media stifles intellectualism, and sends a bad message to students who hold opinions that might not be popular. Students learn by considering opinions that differ from their own, not shutting them out completely. It’s always a choice to pick up a copy of The Koala, and plenty of students do. That’s why we’re still here.
It is apparent from attending the A.S. council meeting this week, listening to discussions on social media, and talking to students personally that many do not have a grasp on the rules and regulations that govern our country. It’s disappointing that students are in favor of removing the First Amendment, because there’s a newspaper that says some questionable things. Feelings are much less important than the First Amendment, and I’m glad that the ACLU, SPLC, FIRE, and others have come to offer support in defending the First Amendment on our campus.
The Triton: So, you said that you pride yourselves on “lack of censorship, allowing our student writers to publish whatever they want, expressing themselves as fully as possible, as long as they’re funny.” So nothing is off limits, correct? What is “satire” to you and why is it important? Or put more simply, “what’s funny?”
Cohen: As a general rule, nothing is off limits. That does not mean we do not carefully consider what gets published. We are absolutely aware of the risks in publishing some of our content, and we often have discussions about pieces we consider publishing.
Satire to me is similar to the dictionary definition of satire – “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” We use humor to draw light to issues that affect all of us, allowing people to consider controversial topics in an alternative light. We play on people’s sensibilities, and it works. Look how many people on our campus are talking about serious, important issues that need to be addressed by the students at UCSD. I’m not saying that would not have happened without The Koala, but we certainly have sparked necessary discussion. But at the end of the day I’m the dictator who decides what is funny and what isn’t, that’s the benefit of being Editor-In-Chief.
The Triton: In the interview with Bill O’Reilly, after the infamous TTV incident, former editor of the Koala Steve York said he’d received “a number of job offers” and is “open to anything” after college. What about you? What are you studying and where does the Koala fit into the rest of your life?
Cohen: I like to keep my personal life separate from The Koala. I’m also insulted that you’ve compared me to Steve York.
The Triton: Steve York was a previous editor of the Koala correct? The Koala provides a video of the interview on the website. That’s the only link I know of. Do you want to clarify anything in regards to this or how has the Koala differentiated itself since Steve York was a part of it? I don’t think the student body has any other context than that. And neither do I, so feel free to clarify.
Cohen: No, I don’t want to talk about Steve York.
The Triton: Reasonable. I just don’t understand the insult to comparison when you were both editors. There’s no context for me or the student body in that regard, but we can switch gears.
The Triton: So in having “sparked necessary discussion,” for example by making jokes about rape on campus in the 2015 Fall Issue, do you think you’re benefiting the campus by creating discussion? Referring specifically to the “SARC advertisement” on page 5?
Cohen: The goal of the paper is not to spark necessary discussion, though it may have been a side effect. If people think that we are benefitting the campus by creating discussion then that’s great. Our goal is to promote free speech and make people laugh.
The Triton: So the “SARC” rape jokes and jokes like it are just there to make people laugh? And promote free speech, for example?
Cohen: People are free to interpret the paper’s content however they want, whether they laugh or use it to spark a discussion.
The Triton: Why do you think the Koala works so well on UCSD’s campus, few if any other campuses have something similar. Why hasn’t it spread around the U.S?
Cohen: PC culture is incredibly prevalent on UC campuses. For every extreme PC sensitive individual there are many more students who are completely apathetic towards what goes on here, and enjoy reading our paper. I doubt the paper is well known outside of UCSD and SDSU, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was interest on other college campuses in having a Koala-like paper.
The Triton: Well, I think that’s about all I have to ask you. Is there anything else you’d like to tell the student body or any final statements you’d like to make?
Cohen: Drink more beer.