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Editorial Board: FoHo and the paradox of accountability reporting by an unaccountable press
(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Editorial Board: FoHo and the paradox of accountability reporting by an unaccountable press

On Friday morning, the latest edition of the Fountain Hopper (FoHo), a tabloid-esque, semi-regular email digest, went out to the publication’s subscribers. The FoHo has frequently taken aim at our journalistic methods, and in its latest “FAKE (real) NEWS SPECIAL EDITION,” it levelled several charges of implied malpractice at our writers and editors. In the following editorial, we respond to these claims and explore how the FoHo’s disturbing modus operandi, as characterized by its recent attacks, should be of great concern to all students.

 

An accountable press

A responsible press is an accountable press. This has been a central tenet of media ethics for a long time. Yet, the FoHo is as unaccountable as they come. FoHo stories are never ascribed to authors, reporters or editors, and, when sourcing, the FoHo frequently utilizes an unattributed email (FoHo@gmail.com), so sources haven’t the slightest idea with whom they may be speaking. This means that a given story could be affected by significant bias. A known opponent of a professor, for instance, could slander her in a mass email and remain hidden behind a blanket of safe, anonymous snark.

Moreover, should you be slandered by the FoHo, as in the above example, the FoHo does not provide right of response. The FoHo does not print corrections. This isn’t because the FoHo is never wrong. Everyone in journalism errs at one time or another (even the New York Times has a dedicated corrections page). What this means is that there is no forum for you to contest a claim made by the FoHo or its reporters. No corrections. No addendums. No Letters to the Editor.

The FoHo therefore represents a paradox: accountability reporting by an unaccountable press.

In Friday’s “FoHo #40 Mega Edition,” the Fountain Hopper suggested the following:

  • That Daily reporters fail to fact-check their pieces, specifically with regard to our article on the University’s firing of a sexual assault lawyer, Crystal Riggins, who criticized Stanford’s Title IX process.
  • That The Daily deliberately removed an article about the University’s handling of a sexual harassment case (in the FoHo, the article’s disappearance was characterized as “mysterious”), not because of technical issues but because of “something more relevant” according to a sourcing email sent to a Daily writer.
  • And, most ominously, that The Daily’s use of “$100K a year from the University” makes us puppets of the Stanford administration.

If the FoHo did, in fact, provide right of response (i.e. printed corrections), we at The Daily would currently be clarifying that:

  • The Daily spoke to both Crystal Riggins and the administration regarding the case. Because each source presented contrasting narratives, we included all received facts and quotes in order to provide readers with a complete account of what transpired. Our article on Riggins’ firing was scrupulously edited and fact-checked.
  • The link to the sexual harassment article was broken during updates to our website – as were a number of others. It was not taken down, nor were we ever asked to take it down.
  • Marc Tessier-Lavigne doesn’t just float $100K our way in a secret Main Quad briefcase hand-off to keep us in his pocket. We receive $100K in special fees from the ASSU each year because the student body elects to subscribe to our print product. And the “quiet little 501(c)(3)” referenced by the FoHo is in fact a subsidiary of The Daily meant specifically for fundraising through our alumni (more on our financials below).

Add to this the fact that FoHo reporters rarely make their accusations explicit, but instead omit facts and write in a condescending, if-you-don’t-agree-you’re-an-imbecile tone to imply their points. For example, in its last issue, the FoHo did not directly accuse The Daily of taking down the aforementioned article pertaining to sexual harassment, but instead stated “Mysteriously, when we went to press, the article had vanished from The Daily … [insert emojis here].” If brought to task for the insinuation, the FoHo can simply dodge accountability by saying it didn’t outright make the contested claim.

As a final example, take the FoHo’s subscribers, who are signed up for the digest without their express consent. They are then coerced into remaining subscribers by an unsubscribe warning that informs them that, should they choose to cut the cord, they will never be able to subscribe again. And here we thought, after the FERPA fiasco, the FoHo would be a champion of open access to information.

 

Objective reporting

This brings us to the broader problem with FoHo’s brand of reporting: the selective use of information that ignores the routines of objective reporting.

The FoHo did in fact reach out to The Daily for quotes on our financials. However, it failed to include most of the information we provided over email (for example, that ASSU funds are only used for printing costs). Instead of relaying the complete story – which the reporters had received – it chose facts that furthered its point, which, in this case, portrayed The Daily in a negative light.

Further, in calling the quotes in our article regarding the firing of Crystal Riggins “fake news,” the FoHo misses the importance of balanced reporting. Printing a quote does not imply that we endorse that perspective but rather that we believe it’s important for students to hear – we don’t pass judgment on how sources choose to justify their words.

Unlike the FoHo, The Daily has a relationship with administrators, and we are proud of this relationship. It is not that of blackmailer and blackmailed as the FoHo might have you believe, but is instead one of mutual respect. Good journalism is premised on objective reporting. And objective reporting is premised on the hearing of oppositional voices. Every student deserves to hear multiple perspectives, to synthesize this information and to develop their own opinions, free of wanton and excessive mediation. Part of our job as a news organization is to keep the administration accountable, and we have a duty to hear and attempt to understand the University’s account – to include direct quotes from Stanford officials in our articles.

So, yes. We talk to administrators. The FoHo, on the other hand, does not. For those interested, it is University policy not to comment on FoHo stories because the FoHo is not an official student organization. This means, at any given time, the FoHo is only privy to one perspective (its side, or the side of its sources). You may agree with this perspective, but you should nonetheless be concerned. This means that if you take everything written in the FoHo at face value, your understanding will only ever be half-complete.

 

On The Daily’s financials

We’d like to end this article by responding to FoHo’s questioning of our financials (or, in its own words, “why The Daily’s kowtowing to Stanford’s admin”). Yes, The Daily does receive money from the University. But we’re not hiding anything, nor have we ever.

The FoHo continues to promulgate the narrative of the University’s influence over what we cover. Here’s how we imagine the FoHo pictures the typical Daily meeting:

Marc Tessier-Lavigne: [twirls mustache] Don’t write that or you don’t get this $161K.

Victor Xu, Editor-in-Chief: [salivating noticeably] Fuck, OK.

[MTL tosses a wad of cash onto the floor and Victor pounces, slurping it up like spaghetti or, IDK, coffee]

This, of course, is not the case.

Take a look at this breakdown of our revenue from the University; our financials are and always have been publicly available. In fiscal year 2015, we received $161K to cover the cost of printing and delivering our print publications — $100K of this comes from special fees voted upon by students, and the remainder is provided by the University to cover the cost of distribution on behalf of students. This $161K is not an open fund we can deplete at our leisure. Special fees are only provided upon the direct submission of receipts from our printers to the ASSU, while the distribution fee is solely used for the salaries of our professional distributors and the cost/maintenance of their equipment.

This is not, by any means, unprecedented or shocking. Consider that the San Francisco Chronicle expects readers to pay for its paper. The Chronicle would not exist without charging its customers, and likewise it’s a nonsensical expectation for The Daily to print 8,000 papers a day, every weekday, without some sort of compensation from our readers. The fact that we charge a subscription and delivery fee does not mean we’re beholden to the administration.

With regard to the “quiet little 501(c)(3)” mentioned in the FoHo, the Friends of The Daily is a subsidiary of The Daily that serves as our unofficial alumni association. It operates events, funds scholarships, helps with our archiving expenses and serves broadly as our graduate fundraising arm. The assets of the Friends come from alumni donations solicited over time. We have never deposited student fees into Friends accounts. Far from being a conflict of interest, the accounts of the Friends actually help us maintain our editorial independence, as they ensure we have a financial reserve in case the University ever violated our agreements and threatened to use our student fees as leverage.

And, to further ensure our editorial independence, The Daily has negotiated multiple contracts with the University that ensure our freedom of expression. In 1978, we even took a case to the Supreme Court to defend this freedom.

If, after reading this, you still take issue with The Daily’s financials, we invite you to talk with us or reach out (our names and email addresses are public knowledge). But, as the Editorial Board of The Daily, we can assure you that the $161K in fees that can be traced to Stanford has never had an impact on our content. Never has a writer or editor been threatened with the revocation of these fees. That would be patently absurd and would be a significant cause for alarm.

***

We don’t mean to suggest that the FoHo doesn’t serve a purpose. It does. Despite its questionable journalistic ethics, the FoHo pushes buttons, and that is vital to progress. Its demand for accountability should be applauded, and in some respects, the FoHo has even forced us to evaluate the way we develop our stories.

Our concern, however, is that the FoHo exists in an obscure echo chamber where there is only room for one voice: its own.

We know The Daily is flawed, and we are always working to improve our writing and our reporting. Printing a daily paper is hard, and at times we fail to stir up shit and ask the tough questions. But even when we’re not disrupting the status quo, the journalism we do is of consequence.

Unlike the FoHo, we don’t just arise from the ether when someone does something that might make for an entertaining read. We are out there every morning and every night, printing the news. You may not care when a new building has been commissioned or that Dance Marathon is partnering with Lucille Packard this year, but it’s important that these objective facts are made accessible. Because, chances are, somebody cares. Like, for instance, the FoHo. Have you ever noticed how the FoHo, in emails decrying our practices, continues to cite our reporting (48 times this academic year, to be exact)?

We hope that the next time you’re reading some sarcastic yarn spun by the anonymous reporters over at FoHo, you’ll take a moment to reflect on what they stand for and to consider the very real possibility that you’re not getting the entire picture.

About Editorial Board

Editorials represent the views of The Stanford Daily, an independent newspaper serving Stanford and the surrounding community. The Daily's Editorial Board consists of President and Editor-in-Chief Victor Xu '17, Executive Editor Will Ferrer '18, Managing Editor of Opinions Michael Gioia '17, Desk Editor of Opinions Jimmy Stephens '17, Senior Staff Writer Kylie Jue '17, Senior Staff Writer Olivia Hummer '17 and Senior Staff Writer Andrew Vogeley '17. To contact the Editorial Board chair, submit an op-ed (limited to 700 words) or submit a letter to the editor (limited to 500 words) at eic@stanforddaily.com.
  • Joe Citizen

    Well, I actually got some news in the Daily – that there is an alternate media source, the FoHo, and I probably ought to be reading it.

    What’s the real problem with the Daily? In my view, the lack of journalists on the staff. There is little to no INVESTIGATION of important issues, even when the people to talk to, the documents to read, the events occurring are very close at hand.

    Let’s take a look at the BIGGEST POSSIBLE STORY IN THE HISTORY OF STANFORD – THE BROCK TURNER CASE.
    I want to be clear, not necessarily the most important story from the standpoint of Stanford itself, or the most important story in terms of the actual effect on the world at large – but the BIGGEST – the BIGGEST because the growth of social media, and the promotion of the narrative the activist professor wanted to use, gave it worldwide publicity. Far more people know who Brock Turner is, and imagine they know what he did, than have ever heard the name Leland Stanford – or probably, had heard of Stanford University at all before the Brock Turner case.
    And this HUGE story takes place, or begins, ON CAMPUS – right in the Daily’s backyard – right here – the three main protagonists – “Emily Doe”, Michele Dauber, and Turner himself – are all right here. It’s true Turner and Doe shunned publicity – but do real reporters let that stop them? They have friends, family, former classmates, team mates – but, as best I could see from reviewing Daily articles, no effort was made to actually investigate these people.

    So, since it’s apparently just too darn hard to actually go get information from unwilling people – can you imagine if Nixon had had to deal only with Daily reporters? He’d have served out his second term as the most popular President ever, and if you asked 99% of people living today about “Watergate” they would just look at your blankly and ask if that is some kind of dam – couldn’t they at LEAST have put in some effort to investigate the single person more important to the entire matter, someone who made herself a public figure, Professor Michele Dauber?
    The opportunities for any actual JOURNALIST in this story were simply immense – almost incalculable. Researching the case, it becomes clear Emily Doe, a person known to Dauber as a local schoolgirl approximately her own kid’s age – was used by Dauber as a vehicle for promotion of an agenda – as Leah Francis was almost certainly used before, less successfully, – an agenda claiming that sexual assault is a huge problem on campuses, an agenda to remove due process from the sexual misconduct discipline proceedings, and so forth.

    The use of social media to influence public opinion – which Dauber is very good at – I recommend, I am very serious, anyone interested in this topic read “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” to understand just how much a completely unscrupulous and very energetic person can create entirely false beliefs in large numbers of people – was a HUGE OPPORTUNITY FOR JOURNALISM – both thoughtful, intellectual examination of the problem of factually informing the public, and gotcha journalism of catching those in power in lies and deceptive memes –
    The influence of a non-lawyer, non public official, not even elected head of any private organization on the actions and decisions of an important public official, the cowardly District Attorney Jeff Rosen – another story of great significance, particularly in this social media age when anyone who manages to get control of the meme can scare the government official into taking the actions she wants – as long as he is cowardly and unethical enough anyway.

    The falsity of the information put out by Dauber – in a rally the day Turner was released, she put on an event where two women were presented as “Survivors” of sexual assault – that is almost certainly not true, a simply check on Google confirms that – in fact, one of them apparently offered false evidence to the police and should have face felony charges for it – and where State Senator Kevin De Leon misrepresented the facts of another case involving a Latino man to inflame Latino anger at Judge Persky – all of this is very fertile grounds for an actual JOURNALIST to investigate.
    In fact, you had a HUGE “Fake News” story right there, right in front of you -and did not even notice, it appears.

    In fact, the only source of most of this information has been my own Comments in the Daily – which could mean I am way out in left field, but I can back it all up, and not with assumptions and theories – hard facts, and lots of them – facts which the Daily could easily verify.

    You don’t have any reporters worth a damn, or if you do they are somehow suppressed, maybe they write up great stories and the editors don’t let them be printed.

    You were ground zero in one of the biggest stories of 2015/2016, worldwide, and you simply repeated the various press releases, as any robot with an audio recorder could have done, rather than ANY investigation of any value.

    That’s what’s wrong with your paper from my standpoint. I can’t see any of you making it in any kind of journalism worthy of the name. What kind of manna would have to fall on your heads before you’d recognize it as manna, and not just run indoors to get out of the rain? You are either witless or gutless, probably both, but anyway, you simply do not produce anything of much value. Again, your opportunity was IMMENSE – all squandered. It’s just pitiful.

  • Joe Citizen

    To the Comment below I only wish to add – check the Comments after nearly every Daily article – there are generally none – I realize not everyone cares to comment – Zero Comments does not mean Zero Readers – but instead of the financials for the Daily, what would be really interesting to see would be how many readers various articles get – which they must have some pretty good estimate of – how many clicks, and, figuring the typical reading speed, how long before the visitor clicks on something else.

    Typically college students don’t read the newspaper much – but administrators, staff, faculty, grads and postdocs do.

    I suspect the readership is dismally low, because, as outlined below, they simply don’t have any vision, can’t recognize a great story when it falls on their heads.

  • Cotton Mather

    Thumbs up, JC! The Brock Turner affair, and Crystal Riggins, and even the (misuse of) Title IX, all newsworthy events that have deeply impacted Stanford students, were never critically examined by the Daily. There were often more information provided in the reader’s comments than in any of the news articles that were written. Sadly, this squandered journalistic opportunity to speak up for the silent majority of the student body, instead of functioning as an amplifier for a small but very vocal and active minority, is nothing new under the sun. Peter Thiel and David Sacks wrote The Diversity Myth to challenge politically correct trends that were already apparent at Stanford back in 1998, and things have only become more entrenched over the subsequent two decades that have followed. I encourage today’s students to read and circulated this sad recounting from a time they were still in diapers, and begin to understand the Orwellian entities that Stanford and other elite colleges have since evolved into.