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‘A credit to our alma mater’: 125 years of The Stanford Daily

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On Sept. 19, 1892, John C. Capron, Carl S. Smith and John A. Keating, the first editors of The Daily Palo Alto the precursor to The Stanford Daily articulated their vision for their brand-new news organization, a year after Stanford’s founding.

“True it is that the daily will not make a great university, but just as true is it that the daily is one of the signs of a great university,” they wrote. “This is not a paper by a few individuals, acting in a private capacity. It is the organ of the students of Stanford University.”

The Stanford Daily has now been a campus fixture for 251 volumes over 125 years, spanning such landmark events as an editor’s expulsion from the University, a stand-off with student government, dozens of political protests and a decisive push for independence from the University.

During that time, Stanford University has evolved. The beliefs of its students, faculty members and administrators have evolved. Naturally, The Daily and its role in campus life and discourse have had to evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of the Stanford community.

As part of that evolution, The Stanford Daily transformed from what was effectively a campus bulletin to an independent news organization. In this feature, we consider those founding editors’ ambitions in the context of the paper’s history — and whether the paper has stayed true to their vision of it becoming the “organ of the students of Stanford University.”

 

The Daily Palo Alto

The Daily Palo Alto was founded in 1892 under the auspices of the nascent Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU). Capron, Smith and Keating envisioned a nationally conscious publication that would “span the distance between this and other universities.” They also wanted The Daily to serve as a sort of collective bulletin board conveying pertinent information regarding student groups’ and professors’ work.

The early Daily, even if it merely served as that collective bulletin board, was no small feat. According to a story in Stanford Magazine, “President David Starr Jordan and others questioned the need for a student paper.”

Capron, Smith and Keating recalled opposition to the establishment of a Stanford paper just a year after the University’s own beginnings.

“The substance of the cry was, We are a college not old enough nor large enough to support a daily,” they wrote. “We could not disregard the cry… As yet there is no demand for a daily but there is a field for it.”

Despite initial pushback, the ASSU authorized the paper’s creation in one of its very first actions, even before the drafting its own constitution. The close association between The Daily and Stanford student government persisted until the 1970s, when The Daily became independent from the University (by student vote, in another ASSU election).

The paper’s earliest editors in 1892 requested criticism and feedback from professors and students alike regarding the paper’s operations and content. The editors also did not tackle controversial issues related to the University.

The Daily Palo Alto’s earliest iterations unquestionably lauded Stanford — or at least avoided direct institutional criticism. The paper often advertised then-University President David Starr Jordan’s and other professors’ addresses, athletic competitions and events related to student organizations. In this way, the paper’s earliest editions did fulfill the inaugural editors’ vision of a collective “bulletin board.”

In late January of 1906, however, a particularly daring editor-in-chief (EIC) challenged this standard. Ben Allen ’07 penned an editorial condemning roughhousing and drunken behavior among student monitors in Encina Hall, where male students lived at the time. University administrators took issue with the editorial; just six days following the editorial’s release, Allen was forced to withdraw from Stanford by the Student Affairs Committee, which evaluated various disciplinary cases. Allen also had to forfeit his editorship.

Prior to Allen’s dismissal, President Jordan said he would halt Allen’s expulsion should he comply with certain conditions, which included Allen gathering signatures from Encina Hall residents who would pledge to not oppose the proctors in the dormitory. If Allen agreed, he could be readmitted to the University but could not resume his role as EIC of The Daily. Allen declined these terms and was forced to withdraw from Stanford on Feb. 5.

Allen explained that he refused President Jordan’s offer on principle, to take a symbolic stand for The Daily’s agency to criticize Stanford.

“I consider this to be a question of greater importance than my mere personality,” Allen said in an interview with The Daily. “It is a question of policy. How is the student press of this University to be governed? It is because of this that I am taking my present attitude.”

Allen was later allowed to return to Stanford but never regained his position as EIC.

In the spring of 1926, in order to associate itself directly with the affairs of the University and to avoid confusion with The Daily Palo Alto Times, an entirely separate publication founded in 1905, the paper officially changed its name from The Daily Palo Alto to The Stanford Daily by means of a student vote in an ASSU election.

 

Conflict with student government

Student government’s control over The Daily since the paper’s inception eventually led to conflict over the degree of independence the publication desired from the student body government, which was known at the time as the Legislature of the Associated Students of Stanford University (LASSU).

On March 6, 1957, the editorial staff led a walkout following the LASSU’s 12-to-4 approval of a bylaw change that would allow it to appoint and approve The Daily’s EIC.

According to former LASSU President Robert Freelen ’57 M.B.A. ’59, the conflict arose between the LASSU and The Daily because the LASSU wanted The Daily to prioritize local and campus-specific news over national and international coverage. Freelen claimed that relations between the LASSU and The Daily were generally amicable; still, that difference of opinion between the LASSU and The Daily’s editorial staff on coverage priorities precipitated the legislation that would eventually lead to the walkout.

The University administration ultimately sided with the LASSU. Steve Tallent, assistant to the president of the University, stated that since he was unable to get a ruling on the constitutionality of the Legislature’s proposed amendment from the Law School or the Department of Political Science, the LASSU had jurisdiction to decide the constitutionality of the clause.

“The only thing that permits freedom of the press on this campus is the Legislature’s good judgment,” Tallent was quoted saying in a Daily article.

According to Stanley Gross ’57, who worked as a night editor at the time, Daily staff voted to go on strike to protest what he described as “the government trying to take over the newspaper and … take advantage of [The Daily].”

The day following the walkout, two former EICs wrote letters to the editor, which were printed in the LASSU-published March 7 issue of the paper. Both writers argued that the actions of the Legislature violated the principle of freedom of speech.

“This issue of The Daily marks the end of an era; the shutting off of the only organized voice of independence which has ever existed at Stanford University,” wrote Dick Meister ’56 M.A. ’57.

Helen Dewar ’57 echoed his sentiments, writing that Stanford “[deserves] more than a ‘trade journal’ of the LASSU — a propaganda sheet for the empty shell of what was once a student government.”

Editorial staffers from some college newspapers, including the University of San Francisco’s San Francisco Foghorn and Washington State University’s Daily Evergreen, also backed The Daily’s actions against the LASSU’s move for control.

“As I see it they were perfectly right to stand up for their principle — a principle of a ‘free, enlightened, critical Stanford Daily with no legislative shackles on it,’” wrote Dale McKean of the Daily Evergreen.

Staffers at other college papers, such as UC Berkeley’s The Daily Californian and the UCLA Daily Bruin, sided with the LASSU.

Following the walkout, a referendum was called on The Daily’s behalf; the paper won its cause by a 500-vote margin.

Former managing editor Jim Palmer ’57 L.L.B. ’59 believes that the walkout was early evidence of the rift that would eventually lead to The Daily’s separation from the University in 1973.

“Part of the staff’s concern that they be independent was that they be uncontrolled by the administration or the student administration of the school,” Palmer said. “There was an evident desire to protect the freedom of the press that I think still exists today.”

Felicity Barringer ’72, who served as EIC in the years leading up to The Daily’s establishment of independence, also argued for the necessity of The Daily’s independence.

While the paper often covered issues of student government involving the LASSU, she said, it must be done “with the distance that … is always required of a journalistic organization looking at a quasi-governmental organization.”

 

Campus protests

Although The Daily was able to resolve its 1957 conflict with the ASSU, friction between the paper and University institutions would only escalate in the years following. In the 1960s and early 1970s, The Daily attempted to navigate a particularly volatile time for both the Stanford community and the country at large — and in doing so, created the conditions under which the newspaper would seek independence.

During these years of turmoil, the paper provided comprehensive news coverage of campus political activity, recording pivotal events and providing a window into the highly charged campus climate at the time.

“There was this whole zeitgeist against the war and against the establishment — against President [Lyndon B.] Johnson and against the government,” said Joseph Rosenbloom ’66, who served as managing editor of The Daily at the time.

He added that there was a growing mood of student activism during the ’60s not only at Stanford, but also at universities across the country, with demonstrations such as the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, the Mississippi Freedom Summer and the start of the feminist movement.

On Jan. 31, 1966, following the resumption of U.S. bombing in North Vietnam, 800 students marched in Stanford’s largest protest to that date, one of many anti-war protests on campus over the course of American involvement in Vietnam.

Faculty also played a significant role in campus political activism; 32 professors and teaching assistants announced their endorsement of the January protest. Several faculty speakers also addressed the massive crowds outside of White Memorial Plaza and Cubberley Auditorium to publicly decry President Johnson’s decision to resume bombing.

Later that year, on May 19, 1966, students participated in a sit-in in Stanford president Wallace Sterling’s office over the administration of selective service exams on Stanford’s campus, which allowed certain students to defer the draft on the basis of intellectual ability.

Seventy-five students marched into Sterling’s office and occupied the lobby; approximately 40 students stayed overnight. The activists demanded a moratorium on the selective service test, which was to be administered the following day.

“It was an example of how more radical measures were being taken by the protesters, so they were escalating their tactics,” Rosenbloom said. “A small minority of students — nevertheless, a very vocal minority — was beginning to act more militantly.”

In 1969, Vietnam protests at Stanford had shifted in focus to the University’s participation in classified defense research for the Defense Department through the Stanford Research Institute.

According to former Daily EIC Philip Taubman ’70 — who now serves as an adjunct professor, Secretary of the Stanford Board of Trustees and Associate Vice President for University Affairs — students actively lobbied the University to ban classified research at Stanford, blocking CIA recruiters and taking part in a sit-in at Old Union.

“Stanford was convulsed in those days,” he said.

On April 3, 1969, members of Students for a Democratic Society staged a nine-day sit-in at the Applied Electronics Laboratory in protest of classified research, which the faculty ultimately voted to end.

The protest eventually turned violent and police arrested several participants.

“It was upsetting to see an institution where vigorous disagreement is of the essence descend into a battleground — literally — over these issues,” Taubman said. “That was heartbreaking for me to see as a student.”

The following academic year saw additional protests against the war. On Oct. 5, 1969, more than 8,000 students, faculty and staff gathered to participate in the Vietnam Moratorium, a nation-wide movement that called for an end to the war.

For the entire day, students and faculty alike participated in rallies, panel discussions and leafleting campaigns to protest the war and discuss issues of foreign policy. This event remains the largest political gathering in University history.

“You had people like me, who were coming from growing up in the ‘50s, in the kind of ‘Leave it to Beaver’ world, and we come to a campus, and there [are] drugs, there’s alcohol, there’s sex, there’s political turmoil,” said Bob Michelet ’72, who wrote for The Daily at the time. “A lot of people were coming into an environment that was extremely different from the one they had grown up in and were trying to figure out: Wow, what’s going on here? It was very exciting.”

 

Independence

As Daily reporters covered campus political protest throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s and tried to occupy a neutral middle ground between campus activists and the authorities, the newspaper often found itself in tussles with administrators.

Former staffers recall that administrators often felt that The Daily, which had implemented a policy of deleting unused negatives of protestors to protect their identities from police, was too sympathetic towards activists.

But by the nature of the newspaper’s work, said William Freivogel ’71, a former co-editor of the Daily opinions section, reporters could not be revolutionaries. In addition, Daily writers did not necessarily agree with everything the protesters did in the first place.

“It was a real challenge to, on the one hand, tell the goals of the anti-war demonstrators but then to be willing to stand up to their tactics when we thought their tactics — breaking windows, shooting at counter protestors — were wrong,” Freivogel said.

It was against this backdrop that The Daily eventually sought independence from the University, after a clash with administrators made both parties realize such a break was in the best interests of each.

That clash was set in motion on Oct. 2 1970, when The Daily published an op-ed entitled “Snitches & Oppression,” written by Diarmuid McGuire M.A. ’73. The controversy stemmed from a line telling readers to “take care of snitches” and named two students who told the police that McGuire had allegedly broken lights outside the ROTC building during a protest. McGuire penned the op-ed during his 30-day jail sentence.

To Marshall Kilduff ’71, Freivogel’s co-editor of opinions at the time, the language of the op-ed provides an example of the sort of rhetoric that consumed campus at the time — rhetoric that The Daily had a right to publish.

“It was a time when everyone was writing very hot stuff,” Kilduff said. “Very angry, plenty of raw, tough opinions out there. This one I wouldn’t say was typical… It doesn’t age well… But at the time, groups on campus were really upset about things and would say just about anything.”

McGuire said that the language of the piece, while more “explosive” than he meant it to be, was never intended to threaten specific people but rather was trying to warn fellow protesters of the potential dangers they faced. Still, the piece was so incendiary that he was jailed a second time for inciting violence, a sentence that was ruled unconstitutional after he spent another 30 days in jail.

The University administration was not pleased. Then-Stanford President Richard Lyman said in a press conference broadcast on KZSU, the student radio station, that publishing the op-ed was a “journalistic atrocity,” and he saw an “increased urgency” in “making the Daily completely independent,” particularly because the administration might be held liable for any violence incited by the article.

At the time, Freivogel and Kilduff maintained that the op-ed was not meant to incite literal violence, a characterization with which McGuire agreed.

While discussions of independence had previously been “very vague,” according to Freivogel, the issue suddenly came into sharp focus as a result of the op-ed. That winter, 15 staffers and a communications professor convened for two quarters to study the potential pros and cons of The Daily’s independence, eventually producing a 150-page report.

According to former EIC Rich Jaroslovsky ’75, the importance of independence was twofold. First, The Daily’s connection to the ASSU made it vulnerable to student politics, and second, the ASSU’s connection to the University also could threaten staffers’ freedom if administrators threatened to cut off funding or otherwise impinge on the organization’s ability to function.

Meanwhile, as Lyman pointed out, the University could potentially be held liable for the paper’s contents. All of these issues together seemed to point to one solution: legal separation from the University.

Full independence, however, took nearly another two years to achieve. It took effect Feb. 1, 1973, when The Daily established itself as The Stanford Daily Publishing Corporation a nonprofit, which legally disentangled the publication from the ASSU.

“Independence will mean more work and responsibility for both our editorial and business staffs, but this is a small price to pay for total freedom from the threat of control by the University, the ASSU or any other special interest group,” then-EIC Donald Tollefson ’73 was quoted as saying in a Daily article at the time. “We are very happy.”

Today, The Daily is legally and financially independent from the University and finances its operations through a combination of advertising and circulation revenues as well as annual printing subsidies from ASSU — which also separated from the University in 1995.

For the young reporters who had covered the campus turmoil, debate over how to cover controversial events grounded their future careers. Jaroslovsky, Freivogel and Kilduff went on to become professional journalists, and they all felt that their Daily experiences helped them understand the risks of real-world reporting from an early age, even if the challenges were unpleasant.

“It sensitized me to the fact that news has consequences, and journalism has consequences,” Jaroslovsky said. “You’d better understand what those consequences are ahead of time rather than discovering them after the fact.”

 

The balancing act

Separation from the University 44 years ago did not put an end to the challenges of balancing scrutiny of the institution with maintaining a relationship with the University administration. In recent years, other campus publications — most notably the anonymously written Fountain Hopper e-newsletter — have also challenged The Daily for the place of go-to campus news source, forcing Stanford’s oldest paper to both explain and re-evaluate its practices.

While The Daily has surfaced important stories over the years, the paper has a ways to go to reach its potential as an investigative force on campus.

One of the paper’s biggest investigative successes came in 1992 when, following his tenure as EIC, John Wagner ’92 conducted an investigation in winter and spring that uncovered an embezzlement scandal in the Stanford Bookstore.

On Feb. 5 of that year, The Daily published Wagner’s article revealing that the managers of the Stanford Bookstore, a nonprofit at the time, had created a private consulting firm to lease a vacation house to employees and then embezzled funds from the bookstore to buy items for said house. From February to May, Wagner wrote a slew of stories chronicling the bookstore’s corrupt practices, Stanford’s attempts to examine the situation and ultimately the California attorney general’s investigation.

Wagner’s penchant for reporting led him all the way to The Washington Post, where today he serves as a White House reporter.

In other cases, The Daily has struggled to stay afront of major developments on campus. In January of 2015, The Daily failed to break the news of Brock Turner’s sexual assault of a woman outside the Kappa Alpha fraternity house — a story that would explode onto the national news landscape in the months and years to follow.

Joey Beyda ’15 M.S. ’15, incoming EIC at the time of the assault, lamented that The Daily initially missed the story amid regularly published police records.

“We were not the first on this story, which is something that I always regretted,” Beyda said. “The [Fountain Hopper] caught it first; they found it in the news blotter in a way we probably should have.”

Since then, the Fountain Hopper has also challenged The Daily on what it perceives as a pliancy toward University officials. In spring 2017, the Fountain Hopper criticized The Daily directly in a series of newsletters, claiming that the paper “[kowtowed] to Stanford’s administration” when reporting on University Title IX issues because The Daily was financially beholden to the ASSU.

The Daily’s Editorial Board disputed allegations that it had obscured facts and defended the paper’s relationships with administration officials — with whom Daily staffers frequently correspond and occasionally meet — as part of its efforts to provide balanced reporting.

“Unlike the FoHo, The Daily has a relationship with administrators, and we are proud of this relationship,” wrote the Volume 250 Editorial Board. “Part of our job as a news organization is to keep the administration accountable, and we have a duty to hear and attempt to understand the University’s account — to include direct quotes from Stanford officials in our articles.”

The Fountain Hopper, which argued in a response that it enjoys “an excellent relationship with many Stanford administrators [who] provide useful sourcing,” declined to comment for this article, referring Daily reporters to previous newsletters and its op-ed published in The Daily.

The Daily’s policies for including those administrative perspectives have fluctuated over the years. In 2012, then-EIC Billy Gallagher ’14 announced in an op-ed that The Daily would no longer accept email interviews — a decision that the paper would later reverse, striving for phone and in-person interactions with sources but wary of excluding perspectives.

While the no-email policy applied to everyone, Gallagher explained in a recent interview that the move was spurred by concerns over communication with the administration.

“We felt like there were some administrators who were really abusing the email interview process, and rather than it being more back-and-forth, answering questions, we were getting basically PR statements in response,” Gallagher said. “It was a tough decision because obviously there’s a lot of administrators and professors [who find it] a lot easier to use email; they’re busy.”

Now, The Daily does employ email, particularly for more factual queries — or when it needs comment on a quick turnaround.

Over the years, the paper has cited its journalistic priorities in breaking at times with administrators’ wishes. In April 2000, The Daily was the first to report that John Hennessy would be selected as the University’s 10th president, going against search committee co-chair John Etchemendy’s explicit request.

“It was one of those things that we thought of it as a truly Stanford University and Stanford student story; if anyone was going to break it, it had to be The Daily,” said then-EIC Ritu Bhatnagar ’01 M.A. ’02.

Dana Mulhauser ’01, the managing editor of the news section at the time, got an off-the-record tip that Hennessy was to be selected, and Daily editors became determined to be the first publication to break the story.

Mulhauser remembers that Daily reporters staked out a local hotel where the board members were staying. Mulhauser later had a private meeting with Etchemendy and the other co-chair of the search committee, who confirmed the tip but said they preferred the presidential news come straight from the press office. The Daily acknowledged the committee’s concerns about breaking the story but decided to go ahead with a piece.

Mulhauser went to Hennessy’s house the night before his selection was to be officially announced to try to get a quote from him. She recalls approaching his home and calling to him while he stood on his porch and she stood by his front gate.

“We were shouting to each other across the front yard and I said, ‘Well, we’ve learned that Stanford is going to name its new president tomorrow; do you have a comment on that?’” Mulhauser said. “And he said, ‘Well, that’s news to me; thank you for letting me know.’ So, I got to tell him he was becoming University president.”

But there is always more The Daily can do. While Gallagher is proud of coverage on tough topics like Title IX and mental health during his tenure as EIC, he noted that it’s challenging to produce stories with impact as a student publication with staff always in flux.

“You always want to avoid being sort of the puff-piece, light feature and do harder-hitting journalism,” he said. “I think that [is] a constant struggle for any student paper because of how much the staff turns over and the unique relationship with subject matter when you’re covering your classmates and professors and staff.”

Echoing The Daily’s mandate as a local newspaper, Theodore Glasser, professor of communication, emeritus — who served on The Daily’s board of directors for 19 years and was chair of the board from 2011 to 2013 — said he hopes The Daily will move towards publishing more articles that are tapped by national news sources.

“I’d like to see more aggressive, investigative reporting — the kind of reporting that distinguishes one newspaper from another,” he said. “I’d like to see The Daily do stories of the kind that get quoted in other publications.”

***

In The Daily Palo Alto’s inaugural issue, its editors wrote in a letter to the Stanford community that they aimed to “make our paper such that it will be a credit to our alma mater.”

For most of its early history, The Daily sought to do “credit” to the University by essentially acting as its bulletin board, for the most part simply documenting public events, sports games and research discoveries.

But by the mid-20th century, the paper had begun to extricate itself from Stanford’s oversight. Accordingly, The Daily achieved editorial independence from the ASSU and ultimately its separation from the University, while working to tell stories that mattered to the Stanford community — even when that meant shedding a negative light on aspects of the University.

One hundred twenty-five years later, this paper is almost unrecognizable as what was once The Daily Palo Alto. Yet if one thing has remained the same — while perhaps not in the way its earliest editors intended — it is The Daily’s mission: to be a “credit to our alma mater.”

Alexa Philippou '18 is a political science major and a former Managing Editor of The Daily's sports section. She switched from the sports section to news her junior year, where she has worked on the university/local beat since. Being from Baltimore, she is a die-hard Ravens and Orioles fan who cried when the Ravens won the Super Bowl. To contact Alexa, please email her at aphil723 'at' stanford.edu.