By Kevin Eagan
NEW YORK – Drawn by lower advertising rates, extremist groups are buying space in college newspapers, leaving campus editors to balance free speech with their responsibility and accountability to readers.
That was the message that officials of The New York Times and the Anti-Defamation League offered to student editors at a meeting in New York.
When student papers run extremist ads, controversy can erupt on campus, attracting local media attention and giving the extremist group thousands of dollars of free exposure, says Jeffrey Ross, ADL’s director of campus and higher education affairs.
“It’s a snowball effect,” he says. “Local television stations and newspapers come onto the campus to cover the controversy, and these hate groups get the equivalent of free advertising.”
Ads, which typically deny the Holocaust, oppose reparations for slave descendants and boost white supremacy, often promote Web sites that link browsers to large databases of hate group Internet sites, Ross says.
College editors can refuse to print any material they believe might be offensive, says Steph Jespersen, director of advertising acceptability at the Times.
The Times declines all ads that are misleading, inaccurate or fraudulent, make unfair competitive claims or don’t meet its standards of decency and dignity, Jespersen says.
College editors say it can be difficult to refuse to run an ad because they don’t want to lose revenue.
“It was a very hard decision not to run the ‘Campus Truth’ advertising from an anti-Palestinian group,” says Kate Stepan, editor of The Hatchet at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. “That was $4,000 that our paper lost by not running the ad.”
Many student newspapers depend solely on ads for revenue, so turning down ads can hurt already tight budgets for campus media, says David Hirsch, a student journalist at Harvard University.
But accepting extremist ads can cost student media, and the school, even more by offending alumni, trustees, students and friends of the institution, says Jespersen.