Against Stanford Daily Censorship

On Tuesday, Apr. 27, The Stanford Daily ran an advertisement for a service that, in my opinion, invites students to violate the Honor Code. The exact text of the ad read: “Relax before the finals and let the professionals do your coursework for you!”  I work in advertising and I am not too critical of other agencies’ decisions to run ads of all types, but I do take offense to this ad given the Daily‘s new moral stance in creating a policy of censorship that silences many student groups.

A little more than a month before the special fees voting, the Daily‘s Editor-in-Chief, Kamil Dada, announced a substantial change in the Daily‘s editorial policy pertaining to reporting on special fees groups. He wrote in an editorial, “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.”

Furthermore, Dada wrote, “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.”

Dada’s statement makes clear a new Daily policy on news and editorial content, and pays special attention to the role of Daily reporters. It turns out that the enforcement of this policy does not stop at editorial content. The Daily‘s censorship of special fees groups extends all the way to the advertising realm as well.

In the run-up to the April election, I secured Daily Online advertising space on behalf of the Stanford News Readership Program (SNRP). The ad informed students of the free distribution of The New York Times and The San Jose Mercury News provided by SNRP.  We encouraged students to vote yes on SNRP’s special fees. The Daily‘s business staff posted the SNRP ad on The Daily’s website, which was slated to run for a week. Within 24 hours, EIC Dada took the advertisement off the website.

Dada explained his position to me the next day in a meeting. Among other things, he said that many, many special fees groups exist, and there is simply not enough space in the Daily for each group to lobby readers to vote in favor of funding. I understood this as it pertained to editorial policy, as well as the desire for the Daily to remain neutral, freeing itself from accusations of favoritism.  But when I asked why this policy extended to paid advertising, Dada responded that some groups might not be able to afford Daily advertising.

However, special fees groups should be able to budget effectively if the fate of their organization depends on the election. Furthermore, I would trust that the Daily would provide a standard and substantial discount to student groups in their advertising endeavors, as is standard practice among media companies in relation to advertisements by non-profit and charitable organizations.

By trying to be fair to all special fees groups, the Daily is being fair to none. The Daily is depriving special fees groups of both the ability to be responsible with their budget, and the ability to educate students about their services through a major platform for campus communication.

Dada’s policy stems from a desire for fairness. I laud him for his motives even if I disagree with his policy. However, for an organization trying to take an ethical stance on what it does and does not advertise, Tuesday’s unethical advertisement stands as an affront to the Honor Code and brings the Daily‘s judgment into question.

Once you start taking a moral stand on particular issues, you must be held accountable for the ground on which you stand. As a publication claiming to hold itself to a certain moral standard, the Daily is misguided and doing its audience – and this campus – a disservice.

James Driscoll is Vice President for Advertising at Stanford Student Enterprises. He has previously worked in previously worked in media (both editorial and business side) for CNBC Asia and Southland Publishing Corp. His views are solely his own, and are in no way representative of SSE or the ASSU.

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