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New student publication aims for thoughtful discourse
STANFORD -- They could be called the odd couple of Stanford publications.
Senior Ryan Bounds is a libertarian who serves as opinions editor for the conservative Stanford Review. Sophomore Nick Thompson is an environmental activist who describes himself as "pretty far to the left."
But when the two met for the first time at the Coffee House last fall, they found that they had one thing in common: the desire for a neutral forum in which Stanford students and others could express their opposing viewpoints in an open, thoughtful manner.
"Ever since I've been at Stanford, I've felt a need to have another campus publication," said Thompson, an earth systems and public policy major who is active in the Student Environmental Action Coalition.
"The Stanford Daily rarely prints thought-provoking articles and the Review is too far to the right to merit attention from most of the student body," he said. "The Thinker is part of a solution, and I hope it provokes and will continue to provoke interesting debate."
Distributed during the school year to dorms and drop sites around campus, Bounds and Thompson's Thinker is a four-page newsprint tabloid containing opinion pieces by students and scholars from Stanford and the Hoover Institution. Each issue generally is devoted to a single topic. About 3,000 copies are printed every other week.
The first issue, in January, looked at affirmative action. It featured opposing columns written by two African Americans: Sally Dickson, director of Stanford's Office for Multicultural Development, and Ed Malone, a junior majoring in political science and former news editor of the Stanford Review.
Subsequent issues have included debates on California's "three strikes" law; whether Stanford's priorities are properly balanced between the arts and athletics; whether fraternities and sororities should be housed; and what sort of bearing cost-benefit analysis should have on environmental questions.
The paper's philosophy is summed up on its masthead: "For every issue, there is another side; think about it."
"It used to irritate me that there were some issues that I couldn't talk about honestly on this campus," said the conservative Bounds, an Oregon native who is graduating this month with a bachelor's degree in political science and psychology. "If you express an opinion here that's not in line with the common liberal idea, people can be very dismissive; that's why I got involved in the Review."
Bounds still thinks it is "a service to have a forum like the Review where people don't toe the liberal line." But he added, "it makes no sense to have the Review and the Daily coming out at different times, making their own points in their own little ways. In The Thinker, people with opposing viewpoints can meet on common ground."
Working out of a small office in the Press Building, Bounds and Thompson have been assisted this year by about seven other students, including managing editor Matt Garlinghouse, a freshman Stanford Daily photographer who has provided the pair with some technical expertise.
"Matt is the mediating influence," said Bounds, laughing. "When we lay out the paper on Friday afternoons it's definitely a festival of sarcasm -- Nick will throw out remarks about how I'm in favor of all kinds of nasty things, and we'll make up all kinds of hyperbolic charges against each other. But it's always good fun."
The real beauty of their odd partnership, Bounds added, "is that Nick has a rapport and connections with a whole part of the campus that I almost never talk to, and I have connections with the opposite side. We agree on very few things, and on matters of public policy almost never. But we're both equally dedicated to neutrality in the paper."
Thompson agrees. "Surprisingly, despite our divergent political views, Ryan and I get along well," he said. "We bicker every now and then, but we both agree that open discourse is more important than boxing oneself into an ideology. We're both relatively open to having our minds changed."
With Bounds' graduation, Thompson will become editor-in-chief of the publication next year. He hopes to expand the paper to an eight- page format, adding columnists, more cartoons and more graphics.
"This year, I'll admit, our paper has been a little boring at times," he said. "There's been too much text and it has been difficult to read. Another problem we've run into is that we always struggle to find writers. It's sort of a chicken-and-egg phenomenon: to get people to write we need to get out in the open with good material, but we won't be out in the open and well known if people don't write.
"This year, we've relied a little too much on getting articles from personal friends and we haven't really branched out to the community. I suppose that, as we get better and more interesting, faculty and students will be more excited about submitting pieces."
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