The Stanford Historical Society brought together former Stanford Daily editors for a panel discussion last night entitled, “Press Past: The Life and Times of the Stanford Daily.” Tracing its origins to the founding of the “Daily Palo Alto” in 1892, The Stanford Daily has provided a mirror of Stanford life for the past 120 years.
The audience of over 50 was comprised of many Daily alumni, current staffers and University administrators.
The panel consisted of Daily editors from some of the most contentious times in Stanford history. Helen Pickering ‘47 spoke about her experience as one of the first women to serve as Daily editor-in-chief during World War II, and the strong bonds she forged with her Daily colleagues.
“The people I worked with became my very best friends,” Pickering said.
Former Daily sports editor Gary Cavalli ‘71 moderated the panel and spoke about his work during a time when the campus atmosphere challenged the Athletic Department.
Rich Jaroslovsky ‘75, editor-in-chief shortly after The Daily became legally independent from the University in 1973, reflected on this process and historical tensions between the paper and the University. Jaroslovsky, a technology columnist for Bloomberg News and Businessweek, currently serves on The Daily’s Board of Directors.
Felicity Barringer ‘72, a New York Times correspondent and former U.N. bureau chief whose lawsuit while editor-in-chief against the Palo Alto police led to the Supreme Court decision Zurcher v. The Stanford Daily spoke about the skill set of inquiry, fairness and perspective she gained as a student journalist.
The era leading up to the Zurcher case was one of the most chaotic moments for American universities, making it particularly challenging for student journalists.
“To follow the journalistic credo of not being involved was more difficult here, I think, than any other time in my career,” Barringer said of her time at The Daily, which saw “fundamental changes in the University.”
Jaroslovsky recalled getting pinned against a glass door by a crowd while he was reporting on a sit-in at Old Union his freshman year.
“I had this moment of, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’” said Jaroslovsky, who was 17 at the time of the protest. “When I look back at it now, I had to do an awful lot of growing up in a very, very short period of time.”
The most famous incident in Daily history, the Zurcher case, involved a search warrant issued to prevent the Daily from destroying photos that could incriminate participants in a violent protest — though the photo evidence sought by the Palo Alto police never, in fact, existed. According to Barringer, The Daily had an editorial policy to print all newsworthy photos and to destroy those not used to avoid legal action from any involved party. The photos from this particular protest were not incriminating.
The Supreme Court ultimately ruled against The Daily in 1977, with Jaroslovsky in the audience for the oral arguments.
“It was a blow to freedom of the press then, and it has continued to be a blow to freedom of the press,” Jaroslovsky said. He noted, however, that the case led many states to pass shield laws to extend some protection to journalists.
Barringer expressed concern over the danger of journalists becoming “one-stop shopping” for prosecutors, who would prefer not to have to find witnesses themselves.
“It’s just so much easier to go to the journalist,” she said.
Issues raised in the panel spanned the ages, notably The Daily’s relationship with Stanford and with the ASSU.
The ASSU aspect reached a height of complication when Jaroslovsky oversaw The Daily’s break from legal association with Stanford in 1973, becoming one of the first college newspapers to go independent.
Jaroslovsky noted that both the University and The Daily had concerns about the affiliation. University officials feared that Stanford could be held accountable for The Daily’s actions, and Daily editors feared that, if the University ever wished to, Stanford could legally censor or search The Daily’s content or facilities.
The move to independence meant that The Daily broke off financially from the ASSU to become The Stanford Daily Publishing Corporation.
“We sold it to the student body as the end of fee assessments [for subscriptions],” Jaroslovsky said, calling the campaign “not the most forthright, but effective.” Despite a brief period in the black, The Daily found itself needing fee assessments again within 18 months, he added.
The Daily did not re-affiliate with Stanford, but instead set up the legal situation that exists today, in which The Daily remains independent but still receives student fees, as voted on by the student body in the special fees process.
The panelists also commented on their interactions with the University presidents of their respective times.
Barringer described The Daily’s relationship with former president Richard Lyman, who attended the panel, as, “on both sides respectful and wary.”
Jaroslovsky told a story of predicting to his parents that Lyman would say, “finally getting rid of you” upon shaking Jaroslovsky’s hand in a graduation day receiving line.
“You did not disappoint,” Jaroslovsky said to Lyman amid audience laughter.
The panelists all agreed on the immense joy and challenges they experienced as editors-in-chief.
“I’d never worked that hard before and I’ve never worked that hard since,” Jaroslovsky said. “Or had as much fun.”