CONTACT: Stanford University News Service (650) 723-2558
Candor in the news business may have reached its zenith during the Civil War, with the headline:
That caveat should be applied to any news, particularly in trying times, when anxiety erodes trust and encourages rumor. Such times place a special premium on open information, and on candor about how reliable that information is.
The history of openness and candor at Stanford was a major reason I came in April to be director of the News Service. As we open another year of what could continue to be trying times, let me be open and candid about what you should expect from the News Service under new management.
The News Service staff and tenets are the same as in the past. Having spent my career in newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, and public universities, I believe in openness and integrity, both by reflex and by rule.
As a matter of principle and of practicality, we will continue to report the bad news as well as the good, to promote access to information, and to seek to fully inform all the stakeholders in Stanford - faculty and staff, administrators and students, alumni and supporters, journalists and the public.
Too often, the News Service has found most of its resources and coverage devoted to Stanford's process (administration, committee work and the like) at the expense of Stanford's product - research, teaching and students. Our goal is to strike a proper balance.
To that end, we recently made two changes. Our writers have been reorganized on a formal beat system, so each can develop better knowledge and contact with the units, people and missions on each beat. The result should be better stories from more sources.
And we have inaugurated Stanford Story Source, monthly packages of stories - one designed for newsfeature writers and another for science writers - that highlight newsworthy research, teaching and students.
I believe both changes will help draw consistent attention, on campus and off, to the excellence of Stanford's product.
I do not believe a news office should be an intellectual auto- parts shop, putting disconnected facts and stories on the shelf like so many spark plugs, oil filters and wiper blades. We will attempt to assemble all the parts on a particular issue - the facts, the background, the context - so everyone can get a complete and accurate view of what the car looks like, how it runs and where it is going.
Put simply, I want to help our readers to go beyond knowing something about an issue to understanding the issue.
We won't suppress or water down a story; we will run a story when -- but only when -- we believe we have it right.
We won't run some stories at all - stories that aren't news and stories based on rumor, or selective or shaky information. Some believe that the latter are fit to print if they include the word "reportedly" or are attributed to a source, named or unnamed, credible or not. I didn't believe that when I was with the Times and I don't believe it at Stanford News Service.
When we get a lead on a story, we will attempt to check it out to the best of our ability. When we believe we have full, fair and accurate news, we will go with it; when we don't, we won't.
Thomas Jefferson proposed dividing newspapers into four clearly labeled sections: Truths, "information from such sources as the editor would be willing to risk his own reputation for their truth"; Probabilities, which "would contain what, from a mature consideration of all circumstances, his judgment should conclude to be probably true. This, however, should rather contain too little than too much"; and Possibilities and Lies, "for those readers who would rather have lies for their money than the blank paper they would occupy."
We'll stick to the first two categories. You won't see everything in Campus Report or a Stanford news release, but our goal is that you can believe everything you see. That said . . .
As humans, we all look for someone to tell us the pure and simple truth. Yet, as Oscar Wilde said, the truth is rarely pure, and never simple. And, I would add, rarely is any individual in possession of it. What we will offer is our best effort at providing sound information that will aid you in your own pursuit of truth.
Great universities are founded on the free and open pursuit of knowledge and truth, without embellishment or slant, both for their own sake and for the benefit of all. As part of a truly great university, the Stanford News Service aspires to that high standard.
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