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A page from Every Three Weekly, a satirical publication on the U-M campus

Safe Satire

Before mgoblog, Brian Cook founded the Every Three Weekly

by Patrick Dunn

From the December, 2015 issue

In 1999, three years after The Onion first put its satirical content online, Cook decided he wanted to replicate the publication's smart-aleck approach to news on the U-M campus. Cook is now best known for the sharp-edged, but the E3W is his longest-lived brainchild.

While pursuing his bachelor's in computer engineering, Cook had been involved in a sketch comedy troupe organized by the University Activities Center, a student-run and university-sponsored organization that facilitates a variety of programming. Cook and some fellow company members had an itch to form a new project and found a perfect opportunity in a UAC-sponsored newspaper that Cook says "nobody really wanted to do anymore." "It had been published like once or twice the previous year," he says. "We knew there was an opportunity to get that money applied to the Every Three Weekly, so we just started writing stuff over the summer."

The Every Three Weekly, named in a jokey nod to the Michigan Daily, appeared that fall. Cook and friends Amol Parulekar and Sunil Sawani were credited as "lead writers/editors" on a variety of satirical news stories ranging from campus affairs to national politics. Though all have long since moved on, sixteen years later the publication is still going strong both online and in print. UAC funds a print run of about 8,000 copies, which the all-volunteer student staff distributes on the Diag and to newspaper racks across campus. "All of us have had people come up to us when we're wearing our Every Three Weekly T-shirts and say that they love us," says current co-editor-in-chief Sam Spero. "When we're handing out papers in the Diag, people come running."

Over the years the paper has occasionally raised eyebrows among university administrators. Cook recalls an article he wrote following U-M student Courtney Cantor's fatal fall from a sixth-floor dorm window in 1998. Although Cantor's blood alcohol content was below the legal limit, her autopsy revealed traces of the date-rape drug GHB

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in her blood. Her father, Detroit News columnist George Cantor, subsequently sued the fraternity where she'd partied the previous night as well as the university, calling for safer residences and more alcohol awareness efforts on campus.

"I'm nineteen, and I have no filter, and I write an article that is titled '[George] Cantor sues lettuce, Diet Coke,' the premise of which was that it made [Courtney Cantor] thin enough to get out the window," Cook recalls. He pauses and laughs. "And that didn't go over as well as I'd hoped." Cook says a "tense meeting" with a UAC representative resulted but adds, "I don't know what they could have done, because we had already printed it, and we already put it out there," he says. "It was kind of a 'don't do this again' kind of thing."

Other former E3W staffers recall a smattering of clashes over content through the years. Most of these stories end with the university either backing down from a threat or just holding the sort of meeting Cook had after the Cantor incident. Legal precedent would likely be on the E3W's side in any of these cases, as the Supreme Court and others have repeatedly ruled in favor of students' First Amendment rights in campus-funded publications.

Bryan Kelly, who served as the E3W's editor in 2007 (and cracks that he's since "participated in a satirical run" for mayor of Ann Arbor), received perhaps the biggest rebuke from the university after the paper ran a story mocking another UAC organization. Kelly can't recall the specifics but says "it just implied something about how, for a certain type of person, you need to throw money at them to get them to hang out." In response, Kelly says UAC pulled the plug on a "bad movie night" the E3W was hosting at the time. "I felt it was [saying], 'Don't make fun of other UAC organizations,' because that struck them as dysfunctional, I guess," Kelly says.

Kelly calls that punishment "self-inflicted" and praises the U's handling of the E3W. "I thought they were very tolerant," he says. "The fact that they fund that paper, I think, is pretty big in the University of Michigan. I don't get the impression that they're very open to other views in other avenues. But the fact that they can continue to fund a paper that basically lampoons every idea held dear by the institution is a good thing."

In recent years, though, the E3W's content has gotten tamer. Karla Talley, its university staff adviser, emails that the publication has "not received pushback or criticism" during her two years on the job--something she credits to "E3W writers and editors paying attention to and respecting sensitive campus and community climate issues."

Co-editor in chief Marie Michels says she and Spero met with Talley once at the beginning and once at the end of the last academic year and were otherwise left to their own devices. "I think Michigan has been pretty good to us," Spero says. "I have a couple other friends who go to other universities and write for satirical publications that aren't funded by the university, so I think we're pretty lucky."

These days, the E3W's campus-related content is mostly generic dorm-life humor, with headlines like "Friend Announces Plan To Remain Sober, Judgmental Tonight" and "Professors Prepare For Students' Fresh Minds, Half-Assed Excuses."     (end of article)

[Originally published in December, 2015.]


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