To this day, I don’t know why the managing editor of The Stanford Daily gave a freshman reporter the assignment, but in April 1967, the editor summoned me to his office.
“Martin Luther King is speaking at Stanford tomorrow,” he told me. “King has agreed to do an interview with The Daily on the ride from San Francisco Airport to campus. Can you do it?”
Whatever doubts I harbored about becoming a journalist vanished. I hadn’t completed a full academic year at Stanford, and I was on my way to interview Martin Luther King.
The opportunity said something about the open, non-hierarchal culture at Stanford, and at The Daily. It reflected the generosity of the managing editor, who could easily have done the interview himself. Above all, it made me see journalism as an intoxicating invitation to witness history, to engage national and international issues, to inform the public, and to meet newsmakers and shapers of history.
I found my account in The Daily’s digital archive the other day. The interview ranged across an array of issues, including civil rights, the Vietnam War and politics.
“There is too much sporadic action,” King said of anti-war protests. “A sense of direction is needed… The United States is on the wrong side of the world revolution.”
As The Stanford Daily marks its 125th anniversary, it’s worth pausing for a moment to reflect on the role the newspaper has played at the University since the first issue appeared in 1892. As a source of news and information about Stanford produced by students, it has been the chronicler of Stanford’s evolution from a fragile seedling in the lush garden of American higher education to one of the nation’s leading universities. It has been the recorder of events, small and grand, that marked the memories of hundreds of thousands of students. Even now, with the advent of countless new information sources, The Daily serves as a town square for the airing of divergent views. It remains a robust training and testing ground.
Like all journalism enterprises, The Daily will always be imperfect. But its aspirations are high, and some of the stories it has emphasized over the decades have put a spotlight on matters that needed attention, including an absence of student and faculty diversity, archaic student dress codes, embezzlement at the bookstore and shortcomings in the delivery of mental health care to students.
I had the good fortune to chronicle a fair amount of history as a reporter and editor, mostly for The New York Times. I covered the Cold War from Washington and Moscow, tracked news at the White House, Pentagon, State Department, CIA, NSA and the Kremlin. While working at Time Magazine and Esquire, I wrote about sports, shadowing Muhammad Ali, Reggie Jackson, Dorothy Hamill, Jimmy Connors and other memorable figures.
I learned a lot about journalism growing up by watching my father, who was a music and theater critic at The New York Times. I worked on my high school newspaper in New York City. But The Daily was the irreplaceable crucible of my education. It’s where I learned how to handle the pressure of competing interests at a time of intense student activism and passionate feelings. It’s where I fully understood the importance of accurate, fair coverage, not only because it’s the honorable approach journalistically, but also because it’s the best way a journalist can serve the public interest.
I also learned how to respond to disappointment and rebound from failure. I wrote a harsh story about Herbert Packer, Stanford’s vice provost in the late 1960s, which I clumsily tried to retract after The Daily had gone to press. I couldn’t change the paper, but I went to his campus home at 3 a.m. and left a series of apologetic notes on his front door, doorstep, car and bike. My takeaway from that incident: The best way to avoid wounding someone, and making a fool of oneself, is to produce a fair story to begin with.
I also forged lifetime friendships at The Daily’s scruffy offices at the Storke Student Publications Building, which was demolished a few years ago. There, amidst the paraphernalia of 20th century newspapering — typewriters, carbon paper, spikes, a linotype machine, cigarette butts, crushed beer cans, stacks of discarded paper and a bulletin board where editor critiques of recent editions were posted — I met a fellow student and reporter, Felicity Barringer. Felicity went on to edit The Daily before beginning a distinguished career as a reporter and editor at The Washington Post and The New York Times. We just marked our 46th wedding anniversary.
When The Daily needed a new home some years ago, a project generously subsidized largely by Lorry Lokey, another Daily alum, Felicity and I made a small contribution. A modest plaque noting our gift was placed outside the office of the editor in chief. It reads: “Where we found our calling.”
So it was.
— Philip Taubman, Editor-in-Chief, Vol. 155