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Fountain Hopper editor-in-chief ousted from role by predecessor

Removal raises questions of alumni involvement in anonymous campus publication

(FRANCES GUO/The Stanford Daily)

The editor-in-chief of The Fountain Hopper (FoHo) — an anonymously written campus newsletter distributed via email — was removed from his position last month by his predecessor, Emma Johanningsmeier ’18, after she deemed him “unfit” for the role.

Johanningsmeier’s power to fire her successor — as well as the active role of publication founder Ilya Mouzykantskii ’16 in providing editorial advice — raises broader questions about alumni involvement in a student organization that is already shrouded in secrecy, despite its significant institutional impact.

The decision followed publication of an early October edition of the FoHo alleging that a Stanford Law professor directed a racial slur toward an Asian man at a pickup basketball game — a story that Johanningsmeier said revealed a number of concerns about the former editor’s leadership capability.

“He proved unable to handle the pressure that comes with the role he accepted months ago,” Johanningsmeier, who now interns for The New York Times in Rome, wrote in an email to The Daily.

Johanningsmeier added that her rationale for removing him transcended the basketball story: “He was irrationally afraid of getting sued, and afraid of offending people. [His removal was] not because of any specific decisions he made that I disagreed with.”

The removed editor declined to comment on the matter.

Johanningsmeier said that his vision for the FoHo lacked a focus on investigative journalism, which she felt differed fundamentally from what the publication’s purpose should be.

“Investigative journalism is the heart and soul of FoHo,” Johanningsmeier wrote. “I have been doing what I can to ensure that the FoHo can continue to produce quality investigative journalism in the future.”

Despite being offered a regular FoHo staff position shortly after his removal from leadership, the editor disassociated himself from the publication entirely.

Johanningsmeier has since appointed a new editor-in-chief, who declined to comment for this article.

The removed editor conveyed the institutional disagreements precipitating his departure in a series of messages sent to select FoHo staffers and obtained by The Daily.

In the messages, the removed editor wrote that Johanningsmeier and Mouzykantskii “re-took editorial control” and locked him out of the publication’s email and other online accounts. He added that the two former editors’ vision for the FoHo was “inconsistent with [his] moral framework.”

“Based on my conversations with them,” he said, “my view of the FoHo has changed significantly.”

Mouzykantskii, who now works in the cryptocurrency industry and as a freelance journalist, came to campus and met with the then-editor to express severe reservations about the individual’s editorship.

“Running FoHo is really hard,” Mouzykantskii wrote in an email to The Daily. “The job is tiring, painful, at times risky and requires significant sacrifice. Running FoHo also requires massive (non-gendered) balls. Not everyone has those.”

However, the ousted editor stood by his reporting on the basketball story, even suggesting to staffers that he constrained the extent to which he subjected John Donohue — the law professor in question, who denied having said a slur — to scrutiny.

“After much debate, I asserted my editorial power and published only what I saw fit, nothing more,” he wrote in the leaked group messages.

But some say the story — the Fountain Hopper’s second email blast of the year and the only edition to contain original reporting — was rife with questionable editorial calls. Despite naming Donohue, the publication did not clarify what slur he allegedly said. The report also falsely insinuated that the basketball player filed a police report. In reality, Donohue called authorities after a second basketball player punched him, causing a concussion.

Furthermore, Donohue’s two sons, who were both on the basketball court at the time, were not contacted for comment prior to the FoHo story’s publication. Donohue himself was only given a few hours in the middle of a work day to provide comment.

 

Role of alumni

The most recent editor’s removal paints an unlikely portrait of Stanford’s watchdog publication in which its alumna leader holds significant operational power over her former organization from a continent away. This framework raises further questions about the future of FoHo, a publication that has had a significant role in steering the direction of campus discourse since its inception in 2014.

Over the years, The Fountain Hopper has broken numerous stories of consequence — including Brock Turner’s 2015 sexual assault, a method through which students could see their admissions files and a non-Stanford affiliate’s suspected drugging of students at a Sigma Chi party last winter. But only last June in a Stanford Politics profile was Johanningsmeier publicly identified as its 2017-18 editor-in-chief. Mouzykantskii, for his part, was identified as FoHo founder in a Sept. 2015 Ozy article, and signed his penultimate Fountain Hopper edition, published three weeks prior to his graduation, but published other FoHo issues without disclosing authorship. 

Questions of alumni involvement in student publications were also raised last year by a Stanford Politics article exploring the ongoing ties between libertarian venture capitalist Peter Thiel ’89 and The Stanford Review, which Thiel co-founded as an undergraduate. Stanford Politics reported that Thiel continues to meet with new Review editors and that a network of former Review staffers plays a significant role in funding the publication and setting members up with jobs at big-name firms, including Palantir Technologies (co-founded by Thiel).

The Daily also relies in part on alumni for financial support, although former staffers maintain no continued editorial or leadership oversight of day-to-day operations.

While Johanningsmeier still plays a clear role in personnel decisions and confirmed that she provided her successor with advice in his reporting, she and Mouzykantskii both asserted that they have not made any final editorial decisions following the conclusion of their tenures.

“[My] views are sometimes solicited by the person running FoHo,” Mouzykantskii said. “It’s up to them to take them into account or ignore them.”

During his tenure, Mouzykantskii’s editorial choices sometimes drew ethical concerns. In what was deemed a “bloop” by Stanford Politics, Mouzykantskii’s March 2015 report on a School of Medicine student who had been poisoning her labmates’ water bottles with paraformaldehyde named both the perpetrator and victims. This was in contrast to Vice’s version of the story — which came out simultaneously and in collaboration with the FoHo — in which names were withheld out of “respect for the privacy of all involved” and concern for the victims’ “families and careers.”

As the publication’s founder, Mouzykantskii spearheaded the tabloid-esque style of the FoHo — an influence which he has openly acknowledged. As editor, he made it a habit to declare “the FoHo’s” opinion on news covered in the publication, telling Stanford Politics that he felt confident doing so out of respect for Stanford students’ intelligence.

“Yes, we have opinions,” he said. “But I trust [readers] to be able to tell what a fact is and what an opinion is.”

Under Johanningsmeier, the FoHo saw an intentional decrease in the level of editorializing in its content, according to Stanford Politics, which cited as an example the FoHo’s coverage of a class action lawsuit filed against Stanford alleging discriminatory treatment of those with mental health disabilities.

“I’m not categorically condemning opinion-writing in the FoHo,” Johanningsmeier told Stanford Politics. “But I’ve really tried to focus on the reporting.”

Facing forward, the extent of Johanningsmeier’s involvement will be determined, she says, “not by choice, but by necessity.” She added that she would “rather not be involved at all.”

Mouzykantskii echoed a similar sentiment, writing that he is involved “to a limited degree and in a limited capacity.”

“[It] would be great if someone else would do it,” he added. 

 

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Mouzykantskii played a role in the appointment of the new Fountain Hopper editor-in-chief. The article also previously stated that Mouzykantskii was first revealed as a former Fountain Hopper editor in the 2018 Stanford Politics piece; he had identified himself as editor prior. 

This article has been updated to clarify that Johanningsmeier is an intern at The New York Times. 

 

Contact Julia Ingram at jmingram ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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