Student Newspapers: Stanford Students Debate Value of Student Publications

The value of this and other papers’ existence was the topic of debate at a SPU-sponsored debate on February 2nd. Highlights of the event included the mention of Editor Emeritus Luukas Ilves 3 times, Shelley Gao’s obvious displeasure at recent Daily coverage of ASSU Senate meetings, and a suggestion from one debater that the Model UN team needed additional coverage in the pages of the Daily.

The night began with a six-minute address from the former Editor-In-Chief of the Stanford Daily James Hohmann, who argued in favor this university’s many newspapers and publications. Initially, Hohmann expressed “dismay” at the thought of “having this debate at all” because of the obvious good that published writing provides. According to Hohmann, the benefits of a publication like the Daily are many.

He maintained that campus newspapers act as a “watchdog for interests of students” and as a “deterrent against administrators ignoring our interests.” He cited the work of past Daily reporters who exposed malignant actions taken by a past swimming coach, among others. Without university journalism, he claimed, “these stories wouldn’t be told.” Hohmann argued further that campus publications act as a training ground for those seeking careers in elite media—he cited many current Daily writers that will go on to work for major mainstream newspapers next year, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Mercury News.

The con side, represented by Justin Brooke, co-editor of The Dualist, and Danny Crichton, former layout editor for the Journal of International Relations, concerned themselves mainly with personal anecdotes of times the Daily and other publications let them down. Major complaints directed toward the Daily included: a lack of coverage of graduate students, a lack of coverage of Palo Alto news, and a lack of coverage of student groups. The pro side later cleared up these falsities, reminding the audience of the Daily’s weekly coverage of graduate life and of Palo Alto community meetings. When asked by this reporter to provide further examples of inadequacies in the Daily’s coverage, Brooke relayed the tale of his failed attempts for three years to lobby the Daily to write more about the Model UN team (an organization of which he is a part). Subsequent complaints levied by the con debaters included a claim that the Daily inaccurately reported that Stanford began use of the Common Application in 2006 (it was actually in 2008) and the Daily’s failure to report on the removal of a ramp nearby campus.

Eventually, the debaters also commented on other campus papers, arguing over the benefits of the proliferation of so-called “niche publications.” Adam Adler of the pro side contended that niche publications provided both valuable content for narrower reader bases and additional opportunities for students to write, express, and engage. Crichton and Brooke replied with a statement of their confusion resulting from the vast numbers of papers and magazines on campus – they, in their words, “don’t know what to pick up.” They suggested that there existed a lack of accountability in the publication funding process and criticized the administration for facilitating the creation of so many new rhetorical forums. When asked by this reporter which publications should face the chopping block, Brooke refused to name any but maintained that twenty was far too many.

Crichton of the con side concluded with this remark, referring to the work of this paper and others: “If you want to write polemics, make a pamphlet.”

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