On advertising, free speech and dreary Mondays


Kernel Opinions Sig

Bailey Vandiver

I woke up this morning, put on my yellow rain jacket because the forecast called for rain, and went to the Kernel newsroom. 

This is what I do nearly every morning— minus the rain jacket sometimes, of course. 

I write this not because I think many people care about my daily routine but because this morning also started with a probably not-so-surprising realization: Many people don’t understand exactly what my position entails at the Kernel, nor how newspaper advertising works, nor how my position relates to advertising.  

What prompted this realization was a reaction to an advertisement that ran on the back page of the March 19 edition of the Kentucky Kernel. Paid for by the organization Pro-Life Wildcats, it advertised an event at which “The Feminist Case against Abortion” would be discussed. 

Kernel in Print: March 19, 2019

While I didn’t see a large quantity of people opposing our publishing of that advertisement (though there could have been more I’m not aware of), what I did see was a strong enough reaction that an explanation is warranted. In the climate of journalism today, a little added transparency can never hurt.

Our advertising department, which right now is made up of one professional staffer and one student, sells advertisements for the Kernel. We follow the established journalistic tradition when it comes to advertising: It is kept separate from the editorial side so we can uphold objectivity.

However, Kernel policy is that the editor-in-chief has the final say on whether an advertisement runs in the newspaper or not. Right now, that job falls to me. 

When we start working on an edition of the paper, which we print weekly, the first thing we do is look at how many ads we have and place them on the page. So a few weeks ago, when we began working on the March 19 edition, we marked off a space for Pro-Life Wildcats’ full-page ad. 

Managing editor McKenna Horsley asked me then if I was planning to run the ad. I hadn’t yet seen the content of the ad, so I was holding off final judgment, but yes, I was planning to run it. 

Why? Because I believe in the freedom of speech tenet of the First Amendment just as strongly as I believe in freedom of the press. Anyone has the right to offer us a check and ask us to run an advertisement, whether the content of the ad agrees with the opinions of our editorial board or me specifically. In fact, if I ever stop an ad from running solely because I disagree with its content, I will have failed at my job. 

There are circumstances in which I would refuse to run an ad. For example, if the ad in this scenario had called for violence against abortion clinics, I would not have run it— because speech that incites violence ceases to be protected as free speech (shout out to my media law professor for that knowledge). 

This advertisement did not incite violence against anyone; in contrast, it is inviting people to talk and to listen about a controversial issue. As a journalist, I will never view that as wrong. 

So while I understand the confusion, and welcome the opportunity to be a little more transparent about what we do at the Kernel, I believe the Kernel practiced standard and responsible journalism in this case.

As always, we welcome feedback from our readers. If you would like to submit a letter to the editor or op-ed, please email editor@kykernel or opinions@kykernel.