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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp attends the Class of 1972 50-year reunion in Kyle Field on April 20, 2022.
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Churnalism’ at its finest

If you haven’t heard of the term “churnalism,” go type Westboro Baptist Church and something about A&M in a Google or Facebook search bar.
If you scan the search results listed on the computer screen, you’ll find that as you scroll along, details of the story just aren’t quite there.
The attention media gives certain topics is interesting. College Station isn’t a small town, but it feels like one. Campus news is local news. And on slow days in nearby cities, picking up a story that will quickly garner plenty of pageviews is practically an art form.
News outlets know their readers and often cater their content to topics that are buzz-worthy. University sports get a lot of play, but student protests? Those are golden. Plaster a photo of Kyle Field during an official Aggie yell practice and attach a headline with something reading “Westboro” and you’ve struck gold.
On a conservative campus like A&M where protests are few and far between, page views will be fought for.
So let’s get a few facts straight about the Westboro Baptist Church’s arrival to campus Monday morning. It wasn’t a “face-down,” and there wasn’t a “shouting down” between Aggies and Westboro. But if you read some headlines published by larger news media sites as well as news-aggregating blogs, you’d think otherwise.
Monday morning started off quiet. It was cold and students slowly trickled onto Simpson Drill Field. The five or six students who volunteered to lead yells stood to the side practicing 10 to 20 minutes before more students began showing up.
To be honest, looking at a small group huddled together around 7:15 a.m., I was worried about the amount of students who would actually show up. As 7:30 a.m approached, though, more and more students began to show up.
Several students wandered onto Simpson out of curiosity with a “Did I miss the memo?” kind of attitude, but this yell practice was hardly as “impromptu” as local news reported it. It was actually thoroughly planned out with some kinks along the way.
The Facebook event “Maroon Wall 2.0” was created a little more than two weeks ago, and if you ask a college student that’s analogous to a lifetime. Do we have a silent protest or do we pummel Westboro to the ground? Thankfully a middle ground was settled. Students decided to hold a yell.
While the yell was held on Simpson, the Westboro members were in Rudder Plaza, where some students interacted with them. Some of those students chose to spread their messages with poster boards. Others wanted to make fun of Westboro with baiting conversation. Some students were just on their way to class and stopped to see the show.
Westboro optimizes controversy and the media loves to report on them. Westboro eats up attention and lawsuits like it’s cake, and frankly our click-bait culture just fuels their cause.
It’s wonderful that Aggies wanted to make a point and show the Aggie camaraderie we know and love in the face of something ugly. But this wasn’t the 2012 Maroon Wall at Central Baptist and I don’t think we rocked the world of Westboro Monday. I don’t think we really even nudged it.
We could say over and over again that that yell practice was to make a point to Westboro — that we’re capable of being the “bigger person.” But I think that this yell practice was more for the students. It was a means to reconcile the hate spewed by Westboro.
The media, however, would paint Monday to be what people want to hear about — a group of people overpowering Westboro’s message.
For Westboro, this media attention only gives their cause a spotlight by putting it on the public agenda.
We didn’t bully them away. We didn’t even give them pause. They left on their merry way with plenty of time to drive off and “take down” the mayor of Houston later that evening.

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