Wisc. paper examines policies following controversial Web advertisement

WISCONSIN -- After a negative community reaction to a recent Web ad linking to a Holocaust denial site, the staff of The Badger Herald at the University of Wisconsin - Madison is reevaluating its policies for accepting advertisements.

The student newspaper accepted $75 to host a Web ad for a month, but the short 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 is considering policy changes, altering their ad vetting process and increasing training of ad sales representatives to prevent something like this from happening again.

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

"We're learning as well, that our policies aren't as up to grade as they should be," Penzenstadler said.

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

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

Herald's Web site. In an editorial posted on the Herald's Web site, Smathers calls the ad "a vile, reprehensible and absurd recreation of history that would be rejected as blatant lies and fantasy by any rational student on campus."

At the panel discussion, he said the Herald's only current criteria 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, the director for the Center of Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the logic behind hosting this ad is skewed.

"This is wrong. The First Amendment, the free speech doctrine, does not require newspapers to link to anything they don't wish to link to," 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 the decision to post the "regrettable" ad, but that it should be taken down now. He added that the paper should develop better policies to deal with situations like this in the future.

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