To the Editor:
We noted your thorough and thoughtful Feb. 21 Editorial (“FoHo and the paradox of accountability reporting by an unaccountable press”). We write here to respond to the points raised and to share with a wider audience our thoughts on The Daily’s financing.
After the administration banned hard alcohol last September, FoHo broke a previously unreported internal dialog between furious RAs and obtuse student deans. In the spirit of impact-based, audience-driven news, we followed up our story by sending a letter of students’ opinions to Greg Boardman.
Meanwhile, The Daily published an article that neglected to represent the view of even a single student the policy would affect, an op-ed in support of the hard alcohol ban and an op-ed from five administrators entitled “Affirming the University’s alcohol policy.”
Last October, Stanford begrudgingly reinstated Full Moon on the Quad. One publication got inside a FMOTQ committee and confirmed long-standing suspicions of administrators’ acrimony towards the beloved campus tradition and wanted any excuse to be rid of it.
Another publication’s sole reaction was to publish an article that paraphrases of a university press release.
One January morning, one Stanford publication published a regular blotter report, noting that “An individual was arrested and transported to the San Jose Main Jail for attempted rape at 1 a.m. near Lomita Court.” That’s it. No follow-up, no digging, no investigation, not even a phone call. It was left to another “unaccountable” publication to call District Attorneys, cops and work sources to break what will likely be the most important Stanford story of the decade.
Only one Stanford publication has revealed OAPE’s confidential transport numbers, got the inside story on the administration’s slow suffocation of Band, dug up evidence of rampant fraud by SSE’s ex-CEO (who paid himself $140k of student money and hired his girlfriend — fresh from the Nevada School of Massage — to assist) and revealed the miserly incompetence of Stanford’s first and short-lived Title IX coordinator.
One of these publications is The Stanford Daily. The other is The Fountain Hopper. FoHo has operated for 29 months on a budget of less than $5,000, comprised entirely of student donations. In that time, The Daily has spent a quarter-million dollars of students’ money — and hundreds of thousands more of local advertisers’ — to be what might be charitably described as irrelevant to the campus dialogue.
We’d like to individually address some of the attacks The Daily recently made on our publication — attacks we found uncalled for. Yes, FoHo mixes opinions and news. Stanford students are, with unfortunate exceptions, pretty bright. We trust our readers to tell the difference. We also publish things people send us; otherwise, we imagine people would stop sending us things.
Despite The Daily’s accusations to the contrary, we issue corrections. See here for two separate examples.
We also have an excellent relationship with many Stanford administrators, and they provide useful sourcing for much of our reporting. (Indeed, some of our best stories started with leaks from administrators.) We make a point of always requesting University comment before publishing stories about Stanford and publish their side of the story when we hear back.
It’s All About The Money
As your editorial notes, Stanford students pay $100,000 annually to The Daily in printing costs. But as any student will attest, the paper edition’s readership is miserly. A single-digit percentage (anecdotally) of the 8,000 printed editions a day gets picked up; even fewer get read. The vast majority of the million annually printed copies of The Daily (138 editions, 8,000 print run) end up in the trash without ever being opened — wasting time, money and trees.
Each year, The Stanford Daily spends $100,000 producing a physical product that has next to no value for anyone besides the iPhone-less wizened professor in the med school and University Archives.
The simple fact of the matter is that no one beyond the librarian and people too terrified of The Daily’s appalling mobile website cares about the print edition of The Daily.
Why not, then, scrap an expensive and unused print edition and focus efforts elsewhere? Over the years, The Fountain Hopper has debated this point with many a (well-compensated) Daily employee.
Turns out that without printing a physical, daily paper, The Daily loses its main revenue stream — print ads.
The Daily charges $2,394 for a full-page print ad and gets away with it because it can tell advertisers that their ad will be printed 8,000 times. What they neglect to tell their advertisers is that only a tiny fraction of those 8,000 copies will ever be picked up by readers and seen by potential customers.
If students didn’t pay for printing costs, The Daily wouldn’t be able to charge (completely unjustified) print rates, which would ruin their revenue model.
Perhaps you think that online ads would cover the difference? Not even close. If an advertiser paid the industry standard $2 per thousand impressions to put their ads on The Daily website, The Daily would have to receive 1.2 million impressions a day to make back the $2,394 it charges for a full-page ad (that no one sees anyway).
The truth of the matter is that The Daily finds itself in the position of practically every other small and mid-sized newspaper publisher, but with one key difference. While others have seen their print circulation decline precipitously (and with that decline in circulation comes a decline in print ad revenue), The Daily just keeps on printing and distributing literal trash.
So while other newspapers are forced to try new things, find new business models, pivot and generally be innovative or die, The Daily can continue sliding into abject irrelevancy. The virtual guarantee of financial backing for its exorbitant, unnecessary and wasteful print run underpins a profitable but flawed business model of selling worthless ads to unsuspecting small businesses around Stanford campus.
But none of this is news to us — FoHo has been aware of this for as long as we’ve been around. So why haven’t we spoken up?
The Daily’s editorial board writes that they do what they do “because, chances are, somebody cares.” To us and to student taxpayers, that’s not good enough. They should leave the “chances are, someone cares” stories alone and focus. The Daily isn’t here to serve someone. They’re here to serve students.
We love citing The Daily, and we love it when they do things people actually care about. Unfortunately for the entire campus community, this barely ever happens.
The Daily has the money (north of $1 million in assets in their 501(c)(3)), contacts and brand recognition to scrape real, relevant, interesting news out of the slurry oozing from the cesspit of bureaucratic administrativa that this fine university is burdened with. Instead, they choose to delude themselves, frolicking in a fiscal fantasyland and failing to find long-term solutions to their flawed financials.
A few undergrads with no formal journalism training, no assets and no experience continue to wipe the floor with The Daily, journalistically speaking. The best defense The Daily can muster is to moan about the fact FoHo is “unaccountable.”
Beyond relevance, The Daily’s other stated goal has been to teach students of today how to become the journalists of tomorrow. There has never been a more important time to do this. At this, The Daily fails once again. We went through the past eight Daily mastheads (that’s four years of staff) and could find a grand total of just one Daily alumnus from the past four years of Daily executive leadership working in journalism. (It’s of course possible we missed someone — see our work here). For what it’s worth, FoHo has alumni doing national award-winning investigative journalism at Reuters, PR at Apple and venture-backed media startups in San Francisco.
We call on The Stanford Daily to innovate! Try new things. Stop defrauding local businesses and selling them print ads no one sees. Use the $100,000 of student money you get every year to be the innovative news publication Stanford deserves, not to print 1.1 million print editions of landfill detritus.
The Fountain Hopper Editorial Board
Note: The Stanford Daily’s policy on letters to the editor is to not edit content, even when inaccurate. Read The Stanford Daily Editorial Board’s response here.