Wisc. paper examines policies following controversial Web advertisement

WISCONSIN — After a negative community reaction to a recent Web adlinking to a Holocaust denial site, the staff of The Badger Herald at theUniversity of Wisconsin – Madison is reevaluating its policies for acceptingadvertisements.

The student newspaper accepted $75 to host a Web ad for a month, but theshort link on the page links to a Web site run by a Holocaust denier, said Nick Penzenstadler, publisher of the Herald .

Penzenstadler said the staff isconsidering policy changes, altering their ad vetting process and increasingtraining of ad sales representatives to prevent something like this fromhappening again.

He also said he hopes that the community and the paper can both learn fromthis.

“We’re learning as well, that our policies aren’t as upto grade as they should be,” Penzenstadler said.

Jason Smathers, editor-in-chief of the Herald, the paper that hoststhe ad, spoke at a recent on-campus forum, which included professors and studentjournalists, to discuss the situation, according to an article on theHerald’s Web site.

Smathers said the ad was accepted because the Herald trusted thecommunity to recognize the information it presented as false and the staffdidn’t want to ignore the issue completely. He added he was keeping the adon the Web site for ethical reasons, according to an article posted on the

Herald’s Web site. In an editorial posted on theHerald’s Web site, Smathers calls the ad “a vile,reprehensible and absurd recreation of history that would be rejected as blatantlies and fantasy by any rational student on campus.”

At the panel discussion, he said the Herald’s only currentcriteria for rejecting an ad it that it is libelous, threatening or obscene,according to the article.

Another member of Thursday’s panel, Professor Stephen Ward, thedirector for the Center of Journalism Ethics at the University ofWisconsin-Madison, said the logic behind hosting this ad is skewed.

“This is wrong. The First Amendment, the free speech doctrine, doesnot require newspapers to link to anything they don’t wish to linkto,” Ward said. “And if it violates professional journalistic norms,you are certainly under no obligation to do so.”

Ward said he believes that the paper put time and thought into thedecision to post the “regrettable” ad, but that it should be takendown now. He added that the paper should develop better policies to deal withsituations like this in the future.