Vanech: Mending reader distrust of The Daily — a two-way street

Opinion by Tristan Vanech
June 18, 2018, 10:44 a.m.

When I was a senior in high school I was as excited about The Daily as I was about Stanford itself. I wrote about it in my roommate essay, made gushing comments on that became the butt of many a joke of my co-editors a couple years later, boasted in my Twitter bio that I would one day be the editor-in-chief (I ran and lost) and even referred to the publication as “the paper of my dreams” in my Daily application.

Some of my most defining and memorable Stanford moments have been at that building behind TAP which Stanford students pass by all the time but seldom know exists. Like other long-time staffers, I divvy up phases of my time here by volume number. A significant portion of people I care about most have worked for The Daily. Though it brought me a great deal of stress, The Daily was also a lot of fun. I not only learned how to write news better, but also refined my editorial and managerial skills. Targeted recruitment of Daily editors led to the full-time job I am about to start.

I have also been disappointed by The Daily on several occasions and have heard countless complaints about the paper from my peers.

Criticisms can range from The Daily’s financial nebulousness to its lack of investigative journalism to the frequency of its printing. Because these have already been scrutinized (and rebutted) quite well, I will focus on the fragile relationship between The Daily and its sources.

In a community as small as Stanford, an unfavorable portrayal in the school paper can make one feel as if their reputation has been tarnished. This fact has two consequences: sources who are subjects of such articles or who feel they have been mistreated as a source immediately distrust The Daily, and writers have to tread carefully if they are to ever build up that trust again.

I have seen several instances of Daily writers handling sources poorly throughout my four years at the paper. Whether it’s misquoting, being unprofessional in approach or not making it clear to the source that they are on the record, The Daily has had an unfortunate history of ending relations with sources before they begin. This is not to say mistreating sources is the norm; indeed, it is the exception. However, when the exception occurs as often as it seems to at The Daily, it is troublesome both to the news outlet and to their source.

When sources do get frustrated with the way something was covered, they generally do a good job of responding through a letter to the editor or an op-ed in another publication. However, for those who have shut out The Daily after feeling alienated by mistreatment of you or someone you know, I encourage you to consider dialogue rather than hostile distrust.

A letter to the editor isn’t the only way to voice concern, either – you can email a writer you have qualms with or meet them in person for an off-the-record conversation (every article has contact information at the bottom so readers can easily respond to stories). If only those who cast aspersions at The Daily as if it were some nefarious, monolithic organization were to meet the people who have written articles that rubbed them the wrong way, they would realize that it is actually filled with some of the nicest, most considerate folks around and that it is anything but monolithic – the staff come from a diverse array of backgrounds with a panoply of talents, temperaments and convictions.

The onus is on both parties to communicate more, though. The Daily has begun some laudable efforts in bridging this gap to readership in its new emphasis on recruiting and liaising from diverse corners of campus and in editor-in-chief office hours open to the Stanford community at large starting this fall. It has also improved writer and desk editor training on interviewing so that fewer mishaps happen.

In spite of these initiatives, The Daily also has room for growth in how it handles sources. Writers could make a more diligent effort to explain the difference between on the record, off the record and on background at the outset of all sensitive interviews. They could also build a working relationship with sources through informal, off-the-record meetings instead of only reaching out when news breaks (to be fair, the editorial board does sit down with the University president on a regular basis).

Another way The Daily could mend relations with sources is through staff editorials. Often I have heard subjects of stories refer to articles about themselves as “biased” when really their concern is that The Daily didn’t provide some sort of editorial commentary (bias) on the matter. They will grow angry that their story was told from an objective standpoint when clearly they were the side to be favored. Accordingly, The Daily’s editorial board should weigh in more frequently on the most controversial news articles of the week. In this way, story subjects who feel that an objective, balanced narrative does a disservice to the situation could receive more explanation on why a story was covered in a certain way, and even might find that The Daily, while obligated to report the news objectively, could come down with an editorial validating their perspective.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to choose how to react to any news story. You can be up in arms or you can reach out to those responsible for the news. The Daily office is always open for anyone to come in and meet the faces behind the names.

Dialogue might be difficult, but at the end of the day an awkward, heated or unfruitful discussion is way better than none at all.

As the next generation of Daily writers who may or may not be joining the paper of their dreams comes in, I hope they make it as easy as possible for readers to open a channel of communication with them. But more importantly, I urge you, the potentially distrustful party, to be receptive to these opportunities for discussion when you are on the verge of blacklisting The Daily.

Contact Tristan Vanech at tvanech ‘at’

Tristan Vanech is a sports managing editor and former news desk editor on the campus life beat. A Symbolic Systems major from Venice, CA, Tristan loves playing basketball and football. His most notable accomplishment at The Daily is leading its flag football team as quarterback to break a three-year drought in the annual Ink Bowl against the Daily Cal. Ball is life. Email him at [email protected].

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