There is always a potential for conflicts of interest in non-profit journalism. As a registered 501(c) non-profit corporation, The Daily is dependent on relatively few funders. The old adage, “Whoever pays the piper calls the tune,” is certainly a warning that is applicable to journalism.
Indeed, the line between the funding source and journalism can be sometimes seem opaque. How should a student reporter cover stories involving his or her newspaper’s own donor?
One of our sources of funding comes from special fees. Over the last couple of weeks, we have been scrutinizing the new policies and analyzing debates surrounding the ASSU and the Undergraduate Senate Appropriations Committee. However, The Daily too, has a horse in the special fees race: as an organization, we are requesting student signatures to receive a spot on the special fees ballot.
Our funders, including students at large who pay special fees, do not receive any special access to our reporters, do not control what stories get written and do not have a say in how the stories are written. This policy will continue.
Needless to say, our reporters have a vested interest in the continued success of their newspaper. Such is the reality of University journalism and the financial situation of our non-profit. We won’t pretend that isn’t the case, but we also assure you: our election reporters will continue to strive for fairness and accuracy, as they do throughout the year. If, as you read The Daily in the coming weeks, you feel as though we’re not doing our jobs correctly, tell us. Write a letter to the editor. Start a conversation on our Web site. Pen an op-ed.
As in past elections, our election reporters will follow strict reporting standards regarding other groups and candidates: they will not join any individual’s or student group’s campaign, display promotional material or sign petitions.
Another question that comes up during election season is the role of The Daily’s editorial board. The editorial board comprises a diverse group of six Stanford students, led by a chair. Every year, the editorial board endorses an executive slate. However, the candidates they chose are entirely at the discretion of the editorial board and their selection does not indicate tacit support for the candidates by the rest of The Daily’s staff.
In line with our coverage, our op-ed and letter to the editor policy also needs to be reiterated. I welcome and encourage you to write to The Daily about issues that you feel strongly about. In terms of letters to the editor, as always, please feel free to critique, comment or respond to The Daily’s coverage.
However, some guidelines are needed. I do not wish to run any op-eds that relate to student groups declaring why they deserve special fees or should be on the ballot. Groups could fill our opinion page for weeks well outlasting election season with legitimate cases for why they deserve to be on the ballot and it isn’t The Daily’s role to promote or publicize these groups.
On the other hand, if there is a specific issue relating to elections that is relevant to all student groups, then a case can be made for running an op-ed on the subject. Essentially, the op-ed should be appropriate to a wide variety of student groups and within our general word limit for op-eds, which is 650 words.
The very nature of journalism means that clear, transparent and ethical rules must not only be set in place, but also strictly observed. I look forward to reading your feedback, hearing your scrutiny and enjoying a lively election season.