Public Editor: Improving transparency and accountability at The Daily

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As The Daily kicks off a new volume, I’m excited to introduce the new public editor column. Published every Friday, this column will connect readers to the publication by bridging the gap between what goes on in the newsroom and what you see published on the website. Designed to hold The Daily accountable — whether it be in its efforts pertaining to diversity, equity and inclusion or in its editorial decision making — the public editor column will, in the words of Vol. 259’s executive leadership, “provide explanations where possible and criticism where warranted.”

The need for this column has become increasingly apparent over the past few months, as The Daily’s editors and readership grapple with how best to critically produce, read and engage with journalism.

After the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests across the country, countless publications — local and national, collegiate and professional — started publicly reckoning with the biases, discrimination, and institutional problems baked into their newsroom practices. Largely and historically led by Black, Indigenous and other reporters of color, journalists interrogated how media institutions had long underserved marginalized populations: how purportedly neutral reporting obscured deep, structural issues with the way authors sourced and framed their articles; how newsroom culture has historically and presently affected the mental health and professional development of BIPOC, female and LGBTQ+ journalists; and how editors made controversial decisions surrounding the publication of incendiary columns.

The “behind-the-scenes” process of making and doing journalism now sits at the forefront of many readers’ minds. Critical of a perceived old-school style of “objective” journalism, audiences now ask how, why, and for whom these publications serve.

The public editor column is a direct response to all of this. Some national publications like NPR and the New York Times have hired public editors to serve a similar purpose: NPR’s public editor acts as a “bridge between the newsroom and the audience,” and the Times’ public editor quipped in 2017 that her position was to “watch the watchdog” (NYT’s public editor position was notably and controversially ended that same year). But while these public editors serve vastly different newsrooms and audiences, The Daily faces many of the same problems that these publications do. In the past, Daily editors have made controversial editorial decisions that rankled its readers. The Daily’s newsroom diversity has historically failed to match that of the University’s, and it’s had to atone for reporting mistakes with “The Daily regrets this error” far too many times to count. 

Highlighting the ways Vol. 259 content grows, fails and succeeds, my goal as public editor is to explain why and how The Daily makes the editorial decisions it does. In this mission, I don’t seek to stubbornly defend The Daily’s every move, nor to solely criticize its pitfalls. Rather, this column will seek to address the following questions: Why does the Daily make the editorial decisions that it does? What does its audience think of The Daily’s editorial decisions? How can we measure the efficacy of its diversity, equity and inclusion practices? Is The Daily living up to its mission of serving the Stanford population with fair, equitable, and incisive journalism? 

The column will primarily include responses to public controversies surrounding The Daily’s news and opinions content, as well as Q&As with Daily writers and editors. It will analyze and inform readers on the editorial practices that underlie every article we publish. And it will serve as a space for me to align and connect the concerns of our readership to the goals and efforts of The Daily’s editorial staff. Just as this column serves the purpose of helping readers better understand the editorial mechanisms behind Daily coverage, it will hopefully improve The Daily by actively holding the publication accountable to the needs of the Stanford community. 

As I embark upon this position, it’s essential that our readership understands who, exactly, sits behind this column in the first place. I’m Liz, a senior from Peoria, Illinois, studying history and political science. Previously, I was the editor of opinions and the magazine, and I served as the Vol. 257 Executive Editor. I have largely remained in the editorial/opinions side of Daily coverage, working on the editorial board for four volumes and authoring a column in my freshman year.

In these positions, and throughout my past four years in this organization, I’ve seen The Daily at its best and at its worst. In leadership, I have been responsible for my fair share of editorial mistakes, and I have sat at the helm of the organization when it was first upended by the chaos of the early pandemic. In short, I deeply know and love this organization for all its flaws and inconsistencies. From experience, I understand the distinct pressures that editors and writers are under in their mission to provide fair, timely, and equitable coverage of Stanford news.

But even if my positionality might lend itself to a Daily bias, I am not afraid to recognize when the organization fails its staff or its readership. While I don’t fancy myself an ethicist, I do know how this organization runs and how it can improve. The Daily is only made better by independent accountability and transparency mechanisms that dissolve perceived barriers between those who publish and those who read The Daily. With this goal in mind, I intend to hold The Daily accountable to its goals and standards, as well as ensuring that the paper — as the oldest and largest student-run publication on campus — actively and intentionally serves the needs of its audience first.

In the coming weeks, expect to see coverage and analysis of The Daily’s newsroom practices, of controversial columns and articles, of the diversity initiatives editors are now implementing, and more. If you have suggestions or things you’d like this column to discuss, please do not hesitate to reach out to me at my email below. I look forward to serving you and to opening up the relationship between this publication and its valued readers.

Contact Elizabeth Lindqwister at liz ‘at’ stanforddaily.com. 

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Elizabeth Lindqwister is a senior from Peoria, Illinois, majoring in history. She is the Vol. 259 Public Editor, having previously served as the Vol. 257 Executive Editor and Vice President. Find her at CoHo or liz 'at' stanforddaily.com.