Duran Alvarez: A pillar of stability in an evolving institution

Nov. 8, 2017, 2:04 p.m.

When I ask how long he’s been at The Daily, Hiram Duran Alvarez — known to most as just Duran — shrugs and then looks up at the collection of framed front pages on the wall, carefully curated to represent significant moments in the paper’s history. He points to the “7.0 quake rocks Stanford” headline from 1989.

“Around then. That quake was crazy.”

It’s his typical way of speaking: short and to the point, in soft but slightly laughing tones. Duran’s laid-back presence in the office is something students in the newsroom have come to expect like clockwork. He is most often in his corner workstation, eyes flitting from one monitor to another and fingers alternating between the keyboard and tablet-mouse, his wrist in a carpal tunnel prevention brace.

Officially, Duran’s role is listed as “production manager” in the paper. This means that he uses special software to format and place all of the articles, pictures and advertisements into the paper each day before editors fill in blank headline and caption spots. In addition to this role, however, he has also been a guide and mentor to generations of Daily staffers.

When Duran started at The Daily, the paper was laid out by hand each night. It was his job to manually cut and paste stories, setting column sizes and arranging them to fit together. Each page would then be set onto a cookie sheet-like tray in order to be copied. Photos were processed by hand, and an AP wire machine sat in a nook in the wall making mechanical clicking noises as national and world news was tapped out onto a rolling sheet of paper.

Duran laughs about all the changes that have happened since then. Throughout all the changes in the newsroom — physical, technological and otherwise — Duran has been the lone constant.

In an organization where student editors turn over twice a year, Duran is the primary source of accessible institutional knowledge.

And yet, Duran was reluctant to be featured and even more reluctant to be photographed when I told him about the upcoming magazine issue themed around the history of The Daily. He has a calm and quiet demeanor, tending to shy away from the spotlight.

In keeping with these traits, Duran’s method of sharing his knowledge is more hands-off than a typical teacher might be.

As former editor-in-chief (EIC) and COO Margaret Rawson ’12 described it, “Duran has a way of not needing to tell you that something looks bad but still somehow making sure that you know, and you learn it for yourself.”

Duran himself said he enjoys teaching students but that he also knows it’s important to give new editors the time to make their own mistakes and learn that way, too. Some volumes, he says, it takes more time than others. But eventually the new team figures it out.

“It’s just his simple observations that pack a punch and can really make you reevaluate what you’re doing,” Rawson said. “It has been years since I’ve seen him, but I can hear his voice perfectly in my head.”

In all my conversations with former Daily staffers, there was one description of Duran that everyone came to at one point or another: patient. Patient, but still dedicated to getting the work done and done well.

“What stands out most, even now, is the uncanny ability he had to infuse everything with that unmistakeable easygoing energy of his, making even an obsessive like me feel calm and, more importantly, like what we were doing deserved exactly that much time and care,” wrote former EIC Nadira Hira ’02. “It’s a lesson — in both staying centered and taking our work deeply to heart — that’s never left me.”

As one might imagine, nights in a newsroom frequently go late, with deadlines ranging from midnight to one or two o’clock in the morning. But when a photo doesn’t come in or an error in an article is caught at the last minute, these nights can quickly turn even later. For students, this often causes escalating stress levels.

Duran’s response?

“He’d always just say something like, ‘Woah dog, what happened?’ but never get mad or anything like that,” said former EIC Victor Xu ’17.

Another way Duran teaches is by making personal and lasting connections with the students that cycle through The Daily each volume.

When I talked with Xu, he proudly reminded me that he won he “Duran’s Favorite” award at three end-of-volume banquets, a record. He also fondly recalled engaging in lengthy discussions about sports at Duran’s favorite taco joint in San Jose.

Xu is not the only staffer to have bonded with Duran over sports. Former editors told me numerous stories about venting over games or speculating on boxing matches with him. In one of the periods when Duran wasn’t working at The Daily, he ran his own exercise gym and boxing studio. Even now, he trains boxers in addition to his work with the paper.

According to former sports editor and EIC Joey Beyda ’15, who also presented Duran with the Spirit of The Daily award in 2015, football or boxing are easy go-to topics when he returns for visits.

“I’m not a big NFL fan, but I keep rooting for the Raiders for Duran,” Beyda said.

In Beyda’s time, it was fairly common for sports editors to gather in the office at night and toss around a football. Duran would occasionally join in — but only when the game was far away from the layout computers.

“Once we hit one of Duran’s monitors, and he got pretty protective, understandably,” Beyda said. “I think that was the only time I ever saw Duran get mad.”

In many ways, Duran is the muscular, to-the-point guy wearing basketball shorts and a sweatshirt that you might expect from a boxing trainer — one popular entry on the office’s quote board featured Duran’s sarcastic comment about watching his “girlish figure” — but he also builds relationships with the less sports-inclined members of the office.

When former staffers come back to visit the office, Duran is sometimes one of only a few faces Daily alumni will know on staff. With current staffers, he has little rituals with different students, whether it is two-handed high fives or barking “arts!” after he’s finished laying out the section and ready for the editors to add headlines.

On particularly laid-back evenings in the office, Duran will share battle stories from Daily deadlines of past. Sometimes it is laughing about a physical fight that nearly broke out between staffers; other times it is recounting late production nights when the power went out and everything had to be redone. 

More rarely, Duran will talk about his personal life. Rawson remembers how Duran’s face lights up when talking about his kids. Sure enough, Duran’s smile widens as he tells me his youngest daughter is now studying to become a graphic designer, too.

When the paper is finished and sent to the printer each night, it’s typically just one editor left and, of course, Duran. According to Duran, this is one reason why he has forged such strong connections with each set of EIC and executive editors.

On one memorable night, Duran showed me all the files uploaded to the shared print server, with publications ranging from high school zines to The University of California, Berkeley’s Daily Californian. He opened up the PDF, pointing to a headline or a photo and suggesting a potential change or two in the spirit of the front-page-switch following The Play. (For the record: This is not an opportunity we plan to take advantage of.)

When I asked Duran if after all these years he still reads all the articles he lays out, he laughed a bit and hid his face under his hands.

“Sometimes I read them, I guess — especially sports and opinions.”

He laughs a bit more before adding that even without reading the articles, it’s pretty easy to know their content just from being around the office.

“I hear a lot of conversations,” he told me.

I pressed him, of course, on how much student gossip that also includes.

“Oh, there’s always gossip or Daily politics, but I try to stay out of that. That’s not for me.”

But that doesn’t mean Duran doesn’t appreciate the fresh faces and constantly changing conversations at The Daily. He says he enjoys the intergenerational aspect and the high energy of the office.

In addition to the time he spent on the gym venture, Duran took a couple of years away from The Daily early on to make fundraising graphics for Stanford. He learned quickly that this type of isolated, high-stress environment wasn’t what he wanted.

“When you’re made to feel you can’t make a mistake, when the deadlines are always one after the other, that’s just not a good place to work,” he said.

It didn’t take long before he was back with the paper.

“The Daily’s been loyal to me, and I’ve been loyal to it,” Duran said. “After being in a situation where that wasn’t appreciated or present, that means a lot to me. It’s the culture I come from.”

Duran’s loyalty hasn’t gone unnoticed in the office, where he hasn’t missed a single day of work. But for many readers, his work goes unattributed. As former Daily staffer Kelley Fong ’09 wrote in her senior farewell column, “when the paper looks particularly good, people praise the (certainly deserving) students who write and edit it, overlooking the man whose behind-the-scenes labor and creativity make everything possible.”

Fong concluded her column by thanking the people in her life that she called “Durans,” the unsung heroes that have supported her and countless others through the Stanford experience.

Indeed, Duran’s job doesn’t sound the most appealing on the surface: late nights in the office, with a commute from the East Bay, to boot. Duran says he’s got the night owl sleeping schedule down by now, though, and jokingly declines to tell me exactly how fast he drives on his way home.

“It’s all worth it,” Duran told me as we wrapped up our interview after production one night. It was 2:45 a.m., but he was as energized as ever. “You know, it’s cool to see all the students come through here with this drive and a want to take on challenges and the talent to take on the challenges. When I see people who really want to be a part of The Daily, I want to be a part of them.”

Duran told me that nothing at The Daily feels permanent, but it’s hard for me to doubt that his legacy will be a lasting one.

Contact Ada Statler at adastat ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Ada Statler '18 is an earth systems major hailing from Kansas City (on the Kansas side, not Missouri). She's most passionate about environmental journalism, but cares about all things campus-related.

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