Guacgate: Jack White, guacamole and student journalism

In case you haven’t already heard, nine-time Grammy Award winner Jack White and Oklahoma University’s student newspaper, The Oklahoma Daily, recently sparred off into an online spat. The beef began after the newspaper lawfully requested and published White’s performance contract rider with the university just days before his scheduled appearance on campus earlier this month.

Now, allow me first to preface the following by saying I am a fan of Jack White’s music. Less than a month ago, I stood roughly 20 feet from the guy in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena as he played with Loretta Lynn and reunited with his former band, The Raconteurs. I must also add, though, as a college journalist who supports free speech and the powers it lends, this one leaves me in quite the pickle.

Here’s an attempt to give my two cents of both sides of this coin.

The rider, released by the Daily, included specific requests from White and his tour, detailing amenities and instructions for on and offstage logistics. Such requests included a list of food and drinks that were to be provided by the university. Pretty standard, really. The grocery list requested freshly sliced prosciutto and salmon and even outlined an awfully specific guacamole recipe. Seriously, go check it out online. It sounds delicious. The list also laid out a few no-nos, one of which outlaws bananas. “This is a NO BANANA TOUR.” Interesting.

There is, however, a bigger point to all the banana and guacamole nonsense and is something I feel the Daily failed to mention. Riders are not always simply a means for divas and prima donnas to assert their preferences on hosts. Instead, it’s a tangible way for the tour’s crewmembers to keep venue logistics precise and methodically safe for them and the talent. In the rider for White’s tour, if the OU missed a step in the guacamole recipe or a detail in their laundry list of beverage requests, they might also mess up an acoustic spec, light display or even that cool flickering static TV that syncs with Jack’s guitar.

It’s not exactly a modern notion, either. Riders have been commonplace in the industry since the hair metal days of the ‘80s. Research Van Halen’s infamous “No Brown M&M” clause. They’re just a creative way to test if the host actually read the contract. And as it turns out, White’s contract rider served its purpose. He and his band experienced technical malfunctions throughout the entire performance. Whether or not OU paid close attention to the rider or not, the audio difficulties onstage proved why it’s in place.

During the performance, White ranted in between songs, saying of the Daily, “Just because you can type it on a computer doesn’t make it right.” Unfortunately for the Daily reporters, their fellow students in attendance applauded the rock star and aided his cause over their own university’s paper.

Freedom of speech, however, is a double-edged sword. Just as the Daily displayed theirs via print, White exercised his through a microphone. Was he entitled to call out and bully the paper at his show? Absolutely. He is granted the same power the paper and its writers are given. Was it right? There’s your area of gray.

Oklahoma University is a public entity that collects and spends public dollars. The Daily didn’t have to steal the contract in some cinematic heist. They did it right by lawfully retrieving the document under the Oklahoma Open Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act, therefore the contract and rider were not “leaked.” Whether White liked that the Daily fished, found and published his publicly accessible contract or not, they had every right in doing so. Was it legal? Absolutely. But was is ethical? There’s your second gray area.

In journalism, credibility is everything. It’s how we develop and maintain our sources and readership. In that, accountability must be at the center. Before writing any story, a reporter should both question its newsworthiness or value and determine its purpose. Was the Daily’s publication of White’s contract rider hard-pressed and relevant? Vaguely. At least I would like to think it wasn’t. Surely at a university of over 30,000 students there was a bigger story to tell. Did it serve a purpose? For the purpose of gaining views of the paper, absolutely.

This is just another recent example of click-bait journalism, a growing trend in today’s media. Instead of simply providing public information that White’s show would cost $80,000, the Daily used its protected and privileged platform to reel in headline-loving subscribers. If using FOIA to access how Jack White’s crew prefers their pre-show appetizers to be prepared is the best use, then add “Click Baiting 1010” or “TMZ Ethics 2200” to journalism coursework across the country.

While I know it is not their job, the Daily’s article displayed a lack of hospitality to the university’s paid guest, and it could potentially rob OU of upcoming performances. Juicy J will headline the S.O.L.O. concert in April at the Hoop. Should The Oracle outline his and the stage crew’s seemingly bizarre contract rider to gain buzz for our paper around campus? I would hope not. Could we instead dissect SGA’s funding, detailing how much the show will cost and potentially benefit Tech? Sure.

To the paper’s defense, as both a college journalist and a fan of White’s work, I’ll say it is unbecoming of a talent such as himself, who is at the top of his field, to attempt to belittle and discourage those who are at the entry level of theirs, such as he did at the campus show. As a reporter, I don’t exactly condone the Daily’s practice, and as a human being, I certainly don’t condone Jack’s, either.

The contract rider was not “leaked.” That’s become such a dirty word in today’s media. The issue here was not the Daily attempting to bash or publicly shame White, but rather a missed opportunity to ethically discern which public information to retrieve and publish.

In an era in which our line of work is held to daily censure and criticism, it would only make sense that we strive for credibility as reporters. Without it, we will continue to inch our way to increasing legal restrictions and infringements. Report what is relevant and valuable, leave out what is not. It’s really that simple. I don’t know about you, but all of this is making me crave guacamole.