With California in a likely permanent dry spell, it seemed as the year began that freshmen might never experience the joy of fountain hopping. Luckily, their email inboxes have offered them a comparably named and similarly entertaining alternative with at least half the risk of drowning: the FoHo.
Since September, this semi-weekly digest of goings-on at Stanford has kept students in the loop about ASSU bills, Flipside articles and (purported) bouts of enthusiastic shear-equipped vigilante justice. Plus, while The Daily’s editorial voice can be such a bummer, the FoHo has expertly melded the cloying faux-affability of BuzzFeed with the journalistic nuance of BuzzFeed.
But things are much trickier than they seem. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with reporting the news more casually than what’s normally expected, dude. The trouble with the FoHo is that it tends to use its nonchalant affability to mask the blending of journalism with analysis, and to unduly simplify complex issues through the tone and structure of the narratives it presents. This uncomfortably frequent tendency to cross over from objective reporting into subtle (but surely noticeable) editorializing is truly, to borrow a phrase from FoHo #11, more than a little “troublesome.”
Consider the paper’s coverage of the (largely overlooked) controversy surrounding At the Fountain Theatrical (ATF)’s staging of the musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.” The show deals with the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which allowed President Jackson to push Natives living in the east to then-unsettled territory west of the Mississippi. More than 6,000 died along the way. Suffice it to say that this is still a “touchy subject” among the Native community.
As the FoHo reported, the Stanford American-Indian Organization (SAIO) registered its discontent with the show early on and met with ATF several times; ATF offered to entirely fund the production of a different show. Ultimately, SAIO found the offered concessions inadequate. Clearly, this is a complex issue about which it would be impossible for most readers (this guy included!) to really know much out of the gate. Maybe SAIO was being touchy. Maybe ATF was being unresponsive. Maybe either or both sides were being unfair in the negotiations. Heck, I sure wasn’t there; I couldn’t tell you.
Luckily, FoHo wasn’t slowed down by this “reasonable uncertainty” garbage. They went on to say, “FoHo finds [the show’s eventual cancellation] troublesome. Even as ‘the wind of freedom blows,’ a student group was compelled into creative and artistic censorship, and on such a vanilla issue: a successful Broadway show that had run, unmodified, at Harvard and other universities.”
The real issue at hand isn’t whether the play’s ultimate cancellation was troublesome, that FoHo’s categorization of the show as a “vanilla issue” when it deals with legislation that led to a veritable genocide is mind-boggling or that FoHo’s defense was simply that the play has been run successfully in the past, an argument that (interestingly enough) failed to convince President Lincoln that slavery’s long history made it a good idea.
The problem, of course, is that FoHo could have just as easily framed this event as an instance of stunning insensitivity on the part of ATF, and that nobody but the FoHo staff itself oversees the editorial direction it takes when interpreting an episode on campus. It’s that the FoHo’s slant (like that of any source) inevitably shapes public opinion on a given issue, making the fact that it includes one at all a serious problem. The news is for reporting, and Opinion pages are for editorializing. That’s why I’m writing this here, and why The Daily’s coverage of the news is elsewhere.
Even if the FoHo plans on writing casually, we should expect it to abide by reasonable journalistic standards. A simple example would be including the word “allegedly” in issue 9’s statement that, “A Stanford University professor assaults a Stanford student, draws blood, and threatens him with garden shears.” It’s no accident that the professor in question was long ago declared guilty by the court of public opinion.
I’m not a hater; heck, I’m a FoHo VIP. The emailer is entertaining and fun, and has huge potential for legitimate journalistic impact on campus. But do I expect mo’ from the FoHo? Fo sho’, bro.
Ben Kaufman ‘17
Contact Ben Kaufman at bkauf614 ‘at’ stanford.edu.
1/18/2015: A previous version of this article suggested that SAIO offered to fund the production of a new show. In fact, ATF was the organization that offered to fund the production of a new show. The article has been updated to reflect this fact. The Daily apologizes for its error.