What do playwright Arthur Miller, two-time presidential candidate Thomas Dewey, and neurosurgeon/medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta have in common? They all wrote for the Michigan Daily, which celebrates its 125th anniversary this month.
Covering campus, sports, local news, and culture, the Daily has been the object of both picketing and praise over its 125 years. And even as eminent newspapers have gone digital or crumbled, the Daily, which is financially independent of U-M, continues to thrive. In addition to its vigorous online presence, the Daily still publishes on paper. During the school year, it does so five days per week.
“When we check Twitter or even Yik Yak, a story from the Daily is often the center of conversation,” says Jennifer Calfas, LSA senior and the Michigan Daily’s editor in chief. “Sometimes you forget how amazing it is that this work impacts so many people, but then small moments remind you.”
Scores of Daily reporters must have felt the same way as they put the paper together in the same building students use today. On any given evening, the Daily’s newsroom is full of student reporters working, talking, and listening to music. The news desk keeps a quote wall of funny things reporters and editors say. The sports desk sometimes commandeers the rolling office chairs to play a game called “chair monkey.” Reporters often eat dinner together—last semester featured weekly “Chipotle Wednesdays”—and write through the wee hours to make the next edition. “Sometimes it feels crazy,” says reporter and LSA sophomore Emma Kinery, “as night wanes and we’re approaching deadline, or when we’re in the library at midnight with articles to write and research to do—and a test in the morning.”
But the newsroom is still the place to be when news breaks, such as in 2014 when U-M announced its first snow day in nearly 40 years. “I was the first student to receive the email—it was sent to press first,” recalls Calfas. “The story nearly shut down our website, it had so much traffic.”
Go Down in History
The newsroom still has long tables lined with benches and a wall of bound volumes containing early Daily editions, which are reminders of the writers and editors whose scoops and stories created celebrated moments of the Daily’s past.
Daily photojournalist Dan Habib (A.B. ’87) was part of such a moment. He was covering a sit-in protest when the police arrived and arrested the protesters. “I was photographing away,” he recalls, “enthralled by this sudden exposure to spot news. But then, despite my protests that I was a journalist, the police loaded me into the van as well!” His pictures on the Daily’s front page the next day were taken inside the van.
In 1970, Daily reporter Sara Fitzgerald (A.B. ’73) covered a hiring discrimination complaint filed by a group of women against U-M. Six months later, she also covered the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW)’s finding that there was evidence to support the complaint. “The story unfolded over several years,” she says, “and many of my peers, male and female, worked on it. The HEW was challenging the hiring practices at many universities, but Michigan was setting the parameters for how the past inequities in salaries and promotions would be addressed.”
It was heady material for a student reporter, and Fitzgerald says it was formative, too. “I think it sparked my interest in public policy and politics, and it was happening as women’s activism was awakening on campus.”
It was also happening toward the end of the linotype machine’s reign, when IBM Selectrics began to appear.
“The U-M administration was using [Selectrics],” Fitzgerald recalls, “and we scored at least one round of scoops by reading the typewriter ribbons out of the trash.
“Certainly my time at the Daily had a major impact on my career, opening up many opportunities to me,” she continues. And hers was quite a career, beginning with summer internships at the Miami Herald and the Akron Beacon Journal that led to full-time jobs at the St. Petersburg Times, the Washington Post, and National Journal magazine.
Minding Their Business
Fitzgerald is one of many Daily reporters who went on to become successful journalists. But the Daily, run entirely by students, needs someone to run the business end, too.
Michael Hermanoff (A.B. ’62) was the Daily’s summer business manager when Thomas Hayden (A.B. ‘61), a founding member of Students for a Democratic Society, was the editor. Hermanoff sold subscriptions, classifieds, and advertising displays, which the editors arranged copy around. “Kennedy spoke in front of the Union. Tom Hayden was trying to save the world,” he says. “There was a lot going on from an editorial perspective, and I was trying to make a buck for the Daily.”
Like many Daily alums, he says the nightly task of building a newspaper was transformative. “Sometimes I never went back to the dorm because I slept on the couch in the ladies’ john. I learned to be adaptable, and learned persistence, ethics, and respect for people of very diverse backgrounds—skills I use in my personal and professional life. TheDaily was the start of a great experience.”
The Daily is still a start for many students, though the role of journalists, in a world where breaking news can be published and go viral in minutes, has changed. Calfas says theDaily has adapted to these changes without altering its principles. “We value accuracy and fairness over anything, and if that means being five minutes late on a breaking story, so be it,” she says. “We have readers around the world, and that’s something that couldn’t be done 50 years ago.”