Stanford Politics and the Daily are currently locked in an op-ed war which began when Stanford Politics accused the Daily of running low-quality “last-minute articles” due to the exigencies of their, well, daily model of circulation. The Editorial Board took offense, and the editor-in-chief of Politics defended the original piece in turn. Who’s in the right?
On the opinions and campus life side, the claim that the Daily is forced to waive editorial rigor to fill page counts is more or less true. I’ve written for The Grind — the campus life section — on more than one occasion, and each time my piece was published with no edits whatsoever. Once I asked for help editing my draft in the email I sent to the editor, and heard nothing back for several weeks until I got a response saying, to my surprise, that it had already run as-is in that morning’s paper. This is, of course, not due to any failing on behalf of the editors, who are quite capable and are doing their best, but is rather quite simply the consequence of the daily format. The need to churn out pieces often rules out the chance for close scrutiny and multiple drafts.
Certainly this isn’t true across the board. News pieces I have no personal experience writing, but they appear rarely to cut corners. I write regularly for the Arts & Life section, whose editors are often able to be more energetic. As for the copy editors, however, they have often failed me by mangling perfectly correct sentences and publishing pieces without allowing me to dispute their style edits. The lack of scrutiny of opinion pieces on one occasion led a friend of mine who writes for the Daily opinion section to seek my input on a piece before it ran. The notion that the Review maintains higher editorial standards than the Daily might seem preposterous to those who read only the most provocative Review articles, but it’s borne out by experience. We make authors submit outlines before writing pieces, always go through multiple drafts, and have multiple editors check for style and content before pieces are published — after all, we don’t have to publish every day.
The Daily publishes such a raft of content each day that certainly it would be remiss to suggest all or even most of it is low-quality. Closer to the truth would be to say that most non-news pieces are just as good as they are written on a first draft. Many talented writers can put together a very good rough draft, and these end as excellent Daily pieces.
As far as news goes, the Daily seems often to play the role of sweeping up after the Fountain Hopper when the latter publication breaks stories in their usual cavalier way. I see no problem with this dynamic: the FoHo breaks stories that the Daily, with its institutional inertia and closer affiliation with the University, probably would not. Once the FoHo has broken the story, however, it is the Daily which compiles a more meticulously accurate and verifiable version. We hardly want to rely on the FoHo alone for news, but they serve an important role in jolting the Daily to life. Focusing more on in-depth investigative reporting, as the Stanford Politics article suggested, might alter this dynamic, but I have my doubts that such changes will materialize.
The image of piles of rubber-banded copies of the Daily moldering on doorsteps from GovCo to Kairos is accurate, but might drive us to a wrong conclusion. The Review no longer publishes a print version and past editors-in-chief have likewise seen print runs as wasteful. Still, the importance of a large print presence is not to be dismissed. Not only does the Daily’s extensive print run allow it to reach more grad students, but it accords it a nearly exclusive hold over Stanford professors. Online publications like Stanford Politics, the Sphere, and the Review simply don’t appear in professors’ feeds — or else they still rely on print to get their content. Professors may be few in number but they possess disproportionate influence and are an important audience to target. The Daily’s print distribution strategy could probably better reflect this fact (target public university spaces, not student residences), but they should be careful not to lose their edge. Indeed, the other publications on campus, ourselves included, would do well to expand or reinstate our print circulations.
If the opinion and campus life sections of the Daily don’t always impress, it’s all the more encouraging that a renaissance of alternate editorial papers is currently going on on campus. Contrary to popular opinion as ever, we continue to publish quality editorials, and have recently been branching out into ground formerly claimed by The Grind. The left-wing Sphere, founded in the fall, runs good if sporadic pieces by an impressive set of writers. And Stanford Politics has been lately expanding its opinion section — although its constant onslaughts on the Review occasionally blur the line between news and opinion, and are beginning to threaten its self-portrayal as an “award-winning, non-partisan” magazine. (By the way, can anyone tell me what award, exactly, did the magazine win?)
In short, both sides of the great daily Daily debate have some grounds to their arguments. It would be fine for Daily editors to cut their run to four days a week, and they would do well to focus on doing more in-depth investigative work, but they should maintain a robust print presence. They continue to serve a vital role in campus news, and if their op-eds are often lacking by design, we (and our opposite numbers at the other magazines) are happy to fill in the gaps.