Read All About It
As the voice of students for more than a century, the Daily speaks volumes about the life and times of Stanford.
By Joannie Fischer
He was trapped. Just ahead, a riot squad brandishing sticks was closing in. Behind, a throng of yelling students blocked the doors of the Old Union. Alone in the middle, he stood frozen, until a warning—oddly distinct over the uproar—echoed down from the sky. “Jaroslovsky, you’ll be killed!” The 17-year-old looked up to see his editor perched on one of Stanford’s red rooftops. But it was too late to seek refuge, so he opened his notebook and scribbled furiously as bodies clashed all around him.
It was January 1972, and freshman Rich Jaroslovsky’s introduction to reporting for the Stanford Daily was a startling shift from writing for his high school paper, where he had tackled such stories as whether coffee should be served in the cafeteria. Covering a campus roiling with tension would force him to grow up fast, and over the next four years, working on the paper would yield the most vivid memories, and most enduring lessons, from his time at Stanford.
Jaroslovsky and thousands of other Daily staffers who came before and after not only witnessed crucial moments in Stanford history, but also at times helped change the course of events. Their recollections of the stories behind the stories offer a poignant, ground-level tale of life at Stanford and how it has evolved.
The Daily has undergone such a massive transformation since its start in 1892 that the first issue bears no resemblance to today’s paper. Inaugurated as the Daily Palo Alto, the fledgling publication was little more than a pamphlet, four small pages of briefs announcing dances and theater productions. Owned by the University, it was printed by the Stanford Press shop in the southwest corner of campus, near Roble Hall. A few hundred copies sufficed for the small student body.
But over the next 110 years, the paper would come into its own, gaining independence and becoming the voice of students rather than a mouthpiece sanctioned by the administration. Today, it’s a full-fledged business, bringing in revenues of up to $1.5 million a year, with 13,000 copies distributed across campus and at 50 sites throughout Palo Alto.
Through it all, the Daily has been Stanford’s only news outlet operating continuously since the birth of the University. As such, it is “the tapestry upon which the stories of Stanford have been woven,” says former Stanford Alumni Association president William Stone, ’67, MBA ’69. As a student, Stone was the student association’s financial manager and technically the Daily publisher, and he kept in close contact with the paper throughout his 30-year administrative career on campus. “It is one of the only ways that Stanford has to talk to itself about what kind of university it is and wants to become,” he says.
Stanford's daily rag was almost aborted before the first issue ran, because President David Starr Jordan and others questioned the need for a student paper. What strikes the modern observer looking at that era’s dusty archival volumes—often perched perilously close to bins full of sticky cans of Hawaiian Punch, Budweiser and Safeway Select soda in the modest, messy Daily offices—is the bland quality of what early students felt compelled, or allowed, to express. Reporting seems little more than stenography; the paper’s pages are largely devoted to lengthy reports on Jordan’s “wonderful” Sunday sermons or the “faithful” choir practicing for Commencement.
Fifty years later, President Wallace Sterling would say, “The great principle of freedom of the press should operate just as freely on campus as elsewhere,” but that sentiment was absent at the turn of the century. Students had good reason for playing it safe. In 1906, editor-in-chief Ben Allen, ’07, wrote an editorial lamenting the placement of student monitors in Encina Hall, then the men’s dorm, to report on excessive roughhousing. The administration took Allen to task for presuming a student editor “was justified in opposing any movement by any governing body of the University,” and within the week he was kicked out of Stanford.
“The funny thing is that Dr. Jordan was very fond of my father,” recalls Allen’s son Bill, ’48, JD ’56, a Daily editor himself in the 1940s. “My father never held a grudge about the suspension, and the two remained friends throughout life.” As it happened, the elder Allen’s reign would have been cut short anyway, because the 1906 earthquake forced Stanford to end the school year early. (The following year, he was readmitted on the condition that he keep his mouth shut regarding all University policies.)
With the launch of a small journalism program a few years later, professors handpicked the paper’s editors and taught reporters how to sniff out stories, resulting in slightly more extensive coverage of campus and world events. But Emmet Hayes, summer editor in 1931, recalls that even as late as the early 1930s, a reporter digging in the wrong place could get bounced off campus.
For example, the Depression had Hayes, ’32, and other Daily reporters moonlighting for extra cash as campus correspondents for papers like the Oakland Tribune. (One editor began every phone call to Hayes with the question “Is he dead yet?” referring to the then-ailing Jordan.) Most outside editors were eager for more salacious copy than would ever appear in the Daily, and one of Hayes’s enterprising colleagues told the San Francisco Chronicle that the vast network of underground steam tunnels connecting most campus buildings might enable a fraternity man to sneak into a sorority.
One Sunday, Hayes remembers, the Chronicle ran a staged photo of a young woman leaning coquettishly out of a tunnel vent. On Monday, the dean of students told the reporter to collect his tuition refund from the bursar’s office and go home.
As Stanford’s journalism program grew, so did the paper’s influence and the University’s tolerance for provocative reportage. By the early 1940s, staffers like John Horrall, ’43, didn’t hesitate to criticize professors for ignoring the no-smoking tradition in the Inner Quad. A decade later, editors like Dorothy Dodge, ’53, were quick to argue against school policies such as the “lone woman rule” forbidding a female student from entering men’s housing without a chaperone. “Why shouldn’t a girl go into a fraternity house alone to hang up an election poster?” she demanded, and the rule soon was amended. A reporter’s biggest fear, Horrall says, was a chiding from the legendary Chilton “Chick” Bush, who ran the journalism department and could single-handedly secure a good reporting job for a student upon graduation.
For a male student, that is. Throughout the 1930s and ’40s, Stanford’s journalism brochure discouraged women from majoring in the field, because so few of them were likely to find employment. Yet, the Daily was relatively egalitarian. In 1900, a woman held the No. 3 position, and women often reported on the achievements of female students. Only during the two World Wars, though, when men all but vanished from campus, were women temporarily allowed to take the helm. When the men returned, they reclaimed the editorship. “I wrote a facetious departure editorial saying, ‘Take down the lace curtains, the men are back,’” recalls one of the first female editors, Beth Ashley, ’47.
Despite the obstacles, a few of the early women staffers did go on to great careers in journalism. At least two of them, Shelley Smith, ’36, and Annalee Whitmore, ’37, one of the the first female managing editors, fought their way overseas to become war correspondents. Over time, women have become as commonplace at the top of the masthead (senior Megan Knize runs the current volume) as they are in the profession.
Even though male and female reporters alike were enjoying a stronger voice in the 1950s, they showed little interest in digging up dirt, according to Daily alumnus Gordon Addison, ’51. “We all just had an obedient attitude, and this was true of the whole student body,” he says. “Demonstrations were unheard of, and the entire campus seemed squeaky-clean.”
Instead, staff members clanked away at the half-dozen typewriters in the famous Daily shack—a dilapidated old structure next to the Stanford Press, with rotting wooden floors and writing scrawled all over the walls and ceilings. They wrote about interesting tidbits from Stanford’s history and students’ fears of being drafted for the Korean War. In fact, as Elna Tymes, ’61, recalls, that “silent generation” approach was only beginning to change during her senior year, when the Daily covered a San Francisco protest against the House Un-American Activities Committee where police used fire hoses to sweep people off the steps of City Hall.
As students across the country became more irreverent and rebellious, the Daily staff also changed from a fairly timid, apolitical bunch to a strongly activist, liberal team often at odds with school officials by the end of the Sixties. “We tried to be as rigorous and objective as possible,” says Phil Taubman, ’70, editor-in-chief during strong antiwar and civil rights protesting. But Taubman says it was “nearly impossible to remain detached” from the campus convulsions.
The paper was leaning left, though not as far as many students wanted. Readers widely criticized it for being reactionary, a voice of the establishment. Fights broke out even within Daily ranks, and Taubman, now a New York Times editor, had to fend off an attempted takeover by a colleague who wanted to do away with the editorship and run the paper by committee.
Then, under the editorship of Felicity Barringer, who now covers the United Nations for the New York Times, came the incident that would skyrocket the Daily into the annals of journalism. In April 1971, after the paper ran photos of a particularly vicious clash between police and protestors alleging racism at the Stanford Medical Center, Palo Alto police obtained a warrant to search the Daily offices. They were looking for photos that could incriminate individuals who had attacked police with two-by-fours. The search was reportedly unprecedented in the country and threatened to prevent journalists everywhere from covering controversial events. Who would welcome a camera or speak to a reporter if photos and notes could become courtroom evidence?
In the aftermath of the search, Barringer, ’72, and her colleagues decided to sue the chief of police for violating First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, in a case that would eventually go before the Supreme Court. The Court ruled against the students, but Congress reacted by passing “shield laws,” which protect media offices from police searches.
The highly publicized case strengthened freedom of the press, but the whole affair had an additional impact on the Farm: it spurred an agreement giving the Daily independence from the University. Stanford officials, including then-President Richard Lyman, had been troubled by Daily editorials that might be construed as inciting students to violence. In a move to protect Stanford from legal liability, the administration began talks with the paper about severing ties. Editors of the time, including Barringer, welcomed the idea, and in 1973 the paper became a wholly student-owned business. “There was a lot of trepidation about whether we could financially survive,” recalls Jaroslovsky, one of the first editors-in-chief of the independent Daily.
In the three decades since, staffers have largely taught themselves the business and practice of journalism. For their efforts, today’s editor-in-chief receives a per-volume salary of $9,750; other editors, $1,200; writers and photographers, up to $300. The paper, printed in Redwood City, runs from eight to 24 pages depending on advertising revenue. The full-time business manager, always a recent graduate, makes $38,000 a year plus a 10 percent bonus when performance warrants.
To be sure, there are guardian angels. The alumni group Friends of the Stanford Daily has donated a rainy-day fund, created scholarships and given talks to fresh crops of student reporters. Even without official ties between the paper and Stanford’s department of communication, visiting professor William Woo and other faculty have offered workshops and sat on the Daily board. And most impressive to current staffers, former staffers often float through the office (they’re affectionately referred to as ghosts), offering tips and advice.
Alumni involvement is valuable, because the Daily lacks institutional memory. Under a system unusual for college papers, the editorship and virtually all staff positions change three times every calendar year, so the lessons of previous regimes are quickly lost. (Some staffers today think the stories of the police raid and Supreme Court case are apocryphal.) The result is a paper that is inconsistent and can seem almost schizoid.
One editor may be aggressively investigative, for example, while the next values features and profiles. Dana Mulhauser, ’01, remembers sleuthing to discover that John Hennessy would be Stanford’s new president and breaking the story despite University pleas not to. But staffers since then—valuing the goodwill of the University over the prize of a scoop—have decided to honor administrators’ requests not to break certain stories, such as the choice of Condoleezza Rice as last year’s Commencement speaker. When Carolyn Sleeth, ’98, ran the Daily, she tried to educate students about Stanford’s legacy, whereas Sameer Ahmed, ’03, last fall’s editor-in-chief, wanted to cover previously ignored student groups.
Although its mission is changeable, the Daily remains a focal point of Stanford life. On any given day, students can be seen leafing through the latest edition in early-morning classes rather than taking notes. Still, its salience waxes and wanes with the energy and passions of the editors. “It wasn’t something that I felt I needed to read every day, but it definitely set the agenda for lunchtime conversation most days,” recalls Sara Simonson, ’02. “And whenever something controversial was brewing on campus, the Daily was the first place we would go to find out more about it.”
Certainly when all-consuming news events are scarce, Daily staff can be acutely challenged to command reader attention. “It’s one thing when a campus-wide sit-in lands in your lap,” says Bob Cohn, ’85, who was an editor in a period when student apathy seemed at an all-time high. “The only sit-in during my time consisted of a few students angry that Meyer Library was reducing its hours; I wrote an editorial asking, ‘Is this what passes for student activism?’ ”
Yet Cohn thinks the paper made a difference even then, thanks to enterprising staffers like Doug Jehl, ’84, now with the New York Times, who covered the debate over bringing the Reagan Library to the campus Foothills. “In some ways,” says Cohn, “the White House and Stanford’s liberal political science professors were speaking to each other through the pages of the Daily.”
“It’s tough to prove the Daily’s influence, because the power of publicity often works behind the scenes,” notes Jaroslovsky, ’75, who went on to the Wall Street Journal. “Often a story will run, and over time, a change will quietly happen.” In any case, the paper provides a forum for important debates—on doing away with the Western Civilization curriculum, divesting from South Africa or replacing the Indian as Stanford’s mascot.
All newspapers have their critics, student papers perhaps most of all. The late Bob Beyers, former head of Stanford News Service and a Daily booster, said in a 1995 speech, “There’s hardly any topic a student reporter can cover where faculty, administrators or fellow students don’t know a lot more—or at least think they do.” Sometimes the Daily draws criticism for its perceived political bent. “The lefty student groups I joined were always fighting to get coverage in the Daily,” says Simonson. On the other hand, in the mid-1980s, students created the biweekly Stanford Review as a vehicle for conservative perspectives they rarely found in the Daily. In the 1960s, the administration started two publications, Campus Report (now Stanford Report) and the now defunct Stanford Observer, to ensure its voice was heard.
Other critics cite journalistic weaknesses. Jim Bettinger, director of the Knight fellowship program, says the Daily often lacks a “must-read” quality; Stone remembers times when Harvard Crimson reporters would call him about a Stanford story before Daily reporters got wind of it. Yet Woo points to times when editors galvanized the campus. In 1998, when floodwaters deluged Green and Meyer libraries’ basements, a Daily article rallied dozens to form a human chain to save the books.
Occasionally, an intrepid reporter strikes gold. In the early 1990s, John Wagner, ’91, boosted the Daily’s reputation with a story still celebrated today. Acting on a tip from a disgruntled Stanford Bookstore employee, Wagner spent the better part of a year piecing together an investigative series that revealed serious corruption. Managers of the independent nonprofit had formed a consulting firm that then leased a vacation home to the Bookstore and embezzled Bookstore funds to furnish it.
The story rocked the campus and led to indictments, the resignation of the store’s board chairman, and a rethinking by the University of how to monitor such campus institutions. (The Bookstore’s operations were overseen by a board comprised of Stanford faculty, staff and, in some years, students.) “It’s a story we still hang our hat on and a standard we try to live up to,” says current business manager Scott Dorfman, ’02. “It’s one of the few times the Daily has gotten serious credit for the good journalism we produce.” In fact, Bettinger nominated the series for a Pulitzer and says it stayed in serious contention until late in the judging process.
Staffers point to less lauded but notable recent stories. For example, Knize, the current editor, is proud of an article last year on the problem of depression and suicide on campus. Ahmed values a series he oversaw on the experience of Stanford’s international students in the wake of September 11.
The Daily's importance to campus life may be debatable at times, but its influence on those who work there is indisputable. Devoting 50, 60, even 70 hours a week to getting the paper out has made the office home to many a student. “Somehow we managed to get a degree from Stanford, but we really majored in the Daily,” says Harry Press, ’39, a veteran newspaperman and former editor of the Stanford Observer.
For many, the effort pays off professionally: Daily alumni work in every top media outlet, and more than a few become major players and Pulitzer Prize winners. “No question about it,” says Cohn, executive editor of Wired magazine. “The Daily was a more sound preparation for a career in journalism than any college course could have been. It was hugely important to my life.”
One alum who didn’t choose journalism echoes that sentiment. “In my profession, the practice of law, the most valuable thing to learn is how to distinguish the important from the unimportant,” says David Brownwood, ’56. “The Daily taught me how to do just that, and how to do so under the pressure of a deadline. It is by far the best lesson I learned in 20 years of education.”
Perhaps the best part of the Daily experience is that it brings together students from all corners of campus and teaches them to work together. Indeed, the camaraderie forged by adrenaline-filled nights followed by late-night bowling and beer-and-egg breakfasts can last a lifetime. Several married couples, including Barringer and Taubman, first met at the Daily; more numerous are the lasting friendships. “Quite simply, the Daily was and is family,” says Press.
Recently, one of Taubman and Barringer’s two sons asked Taubman why he never passes through Stanford without going inside the Daily offices. “I told him, ‘Well, it’s the place where I met my wife and found my career,’” Taubman says. “And those two things make up most of who I am today.”
Joannie Fischer is a contributing editor for U.S. News & World Report who lives in Mountain View.
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