Letter to the Editor

Feb. 26, 2010, 12:28 a.m.

Dear Editor,

I have been reading recent issues of The Stanford Daily and am aware of changes in the Student Fee program and the scrutiny of student groups applying for funds in these tough economic times.  I feel that I can shed additional light on the finances of The Daily.

I was the first President of The Stanford Daily Publishing Corporation as its Editor in Chief in 1973.  A group of students had taken The Daily independent then in response to a raid by Palo Alto police in 1971 with a search warrant looking for photo evidence of a student demonstration at Stanford.  This was the first search of a newspaper in the US without a subpoena.  We took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost 5-3 in 1977, and this ruling added to a national call for protecting newspapers which resulted in the Privacy Protection Act.  Several states passed shield laws, adding levels of protection to journalists nationwide.  More stringent protection legislation has been proposed in the current Congress.  From 1971 to 1977, students and Daily alumni raised $25,000 to prosecute the case, Daily v. Zurcher (the Palo Alto Police Chief).   We became independent from the University at that time so we were free to operate as an independent news gathering organization.

Since 1973, The Daily has been governed by a volunteer Board of Directors with a majority being students with the help of four outside directors, one each from business, law journalism, and the Stanford faculty, to provide continuity as the student members turn over every year.  None of these Board members has ever been compensated for their work on the Board or received any expense reimbursement.  I was Chairman of this Board for almost 20 years.  During that time, the Daily’s finances were alternately weak and robust.  Many years we applied for and received fee assessments, some years we did not apply.  Also, from 1975 forward, alumni gathered for the Big Game and a banquet.  Alumni from the 1930’s to present have gathered in numbers up to 150.

During the recession of 1990-91, it became clear that the Daily might not survive unless we found a way to fund it in hard times.  Accordingly, we formed the Friends of the Stanford Daily as a cohesive group of Daily alumni to support the paper.  I have served as President of the Friends since its inception.  We have had an all volunteer Board with a majority being members of the Daily Board and the majority of that Board is students.

Over the years, in lean times, the Friends have donated almost $3.6 million to the Daily to support the paper in tough financial times and to help replace the old Daily building which was not earthquake safe.  The largest gift was donated by Stanford benefactor and Daily alumnus Lorry Lokey.  Without this, The Daily probably would not exist today in its current form.  Also, we have provided over $120,000 over 15 years in summer intern scholarships to Daily staff, a number of whom have gone on to careers in professional journalism at leading publications.  In good years when The Daily had excess funds, it placed those funds with The Friends for a rainy day.  Over the years, this has totaled about $1.8 million, roughly half of what The Friends has returned to The Daily.

This year may be the worst financial year for print journalism in the U.S.  The Daily and all print newspapers across the country are facing dire times.  Craig’s List has largely replaced classified advertising.  National and recruiter advertising are down sharply.   The Daily’s own revenues are down by 50%.  The paper is adjusting to the new paradigm and working on monetizing The Daily on the web.  This will take time and The Friends are there to help make sure The Daily survives to thrive in the new electronic environment.

To be able to help, The Friends have mobilized its alumni from the 1930’s on.  The Friends have worked closely with the University through the years on mailing lists and is grateful for its support.  Obviously, the University was critical element in providing a central campus site for the Daily, which is an important component of student life.  I believe that The Friends are a model for student organizations mobilizing their alumni to support them.  Every year, top writers and editors from leading newspapers come to The Daily to give talks and run workshops.

The Daily delivers about 1.16 million issues per year to the campus and surrounding areas for free.  The Daily covers the vast majority of its operating costs through advertising revenues.  In addition, The Daily collects a modest subscription fee from students via the ASSU fee request.

Stanford students have always voted positively for The Daily’s fee requests.    The Daily almost always is the first or second leading vote recipient.  I believe that The Daily deserves this support.  We appreciate the support and The Daily students strive (sometimes imperfectly) to provide a good product that is informative, fair and reflective of Stanford student life.  For pennies a day, it is a bargain.

I want to assure you that The Friends is an open and transparent organization.   We are a group of interested alumni for whom working at The Daily was a formative experience when we were students like you.  We exist to make sure that The Daily survives the worst of times and has the facilities needed to serve the community.  Our mission also includes providing scholarships, career opportunities and journalistic training for Stanford Daily students, which we do on a volunteer basis regularly.

In this recession, The Friends has and will continue to help The Daily.  After completing the building project, a decade long project, we need together with the student body to support The Daily.

– Charlie Hoffman, B.A. 1973, MBA 1976

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