‘Freedom of the press’: The history of The Daily’s independence

Feb. 23, 2023, 5:39 p.m.

For 50 years, The Stanford Daily has been an independent, self-sustaining, student-run news publication. But it wasn’t always this way.

The Daily, like many university publications, has a long, complex history. Beginning as a campus bulletin associated with the University, The Daily has evolved into an independent news organization publishing daily pieces about current events and topics, from club activities to international news. And it is this independence that has allowed The Daily to prosper, weathering 263 volumes in its 131-year history. 

The Daily’s Origins

The Daily began as a small pamphlet known as The Daily Palo Alto in 1892 under the Legislature of the Associated Students of Stanford University (LASSU, now known as the ASSU). John C. Capron ’1893, Carl S. Smith AB ’1893 LLB ’1894 and John A. Keating ’1894 served as its first editors. 

A year after its founding, the first editors expressed their vision for The Daily: “This is not a paper by a few individuals, acting in a private capacity. It is the organ of the students of Stanford University.”

In a 2017 Daily article, Alexa Philippou ’18 noted that Capron, Smith and Keating imagined The Daily Palo Alto as a collective campus bulletin board meant to highlight the work of professors and student groups at Stanford. However, bringing this vision to life was not without its difficulties.

Stanford’s founding president David Starr Jordan and others affiliated with the newly-founded University rejected the necessity of a student publication, arguing that Stanford was not yet old or large enough to support one. Having opened its doors on Oct. 1, 1891, Stanford was just a year old, with around 600 students making up its undergraduate population, when the publication was founded.

Despite the administration’s opposition, the Legislative Associated Students of Stanford University (LASSU) approved the creation of The Daily Palo Alto, facilitating a relationship between the two organizations which allowed the student government a degree of sway over publication. In fact, the approval of The Daily Palo Alto was one of the first authorizations made by the LASSU, which approved The Daily before it had even drafted its own constitution. 

The Daily Palo Alto’s earliest editors often reached out to faculty and students to build content based on community feedback. The publication avoided direct criticism of the University, instead often lauding the accomplishments of the University, its then-President Jordan, faculty members and athletes. The earliest iteration of the paper fulfilled its original vision as a collective “bulletin board” for the University. 

In early 1906, Editor in Chief (EIC) Ben Allen ’1907 wrote a piece criticizing drunken, belligerent behavior among student monitors in Encina Hall. Six days after the piece was published, Allen was expelled and forced to forfeit his role at The Daily Palo Alto, as University officials took issue with the article’s content. 

Jordan offered Allen an opportunity to stop his expulsion if he agreed to a few conditions that Jordan had set out, including collecting signatures from students at Encina Hall confirming that they agreed that the hall monitors were necessary, which would have contradicted the article’s criticisms of these student monitors. Had Allen agreed, he would have been readmitted to the University, but he declined and withdrew from the University on Feb. 5. 

In an interview with The Daily published on the day he withdrew, he asked, “How is the student press of this University to be governed?” This question would prove increasingly pressing in the years to come. 

For Allen, refusal of Jordan’s offer came from a place of principle. Although he eventually returned to Stanford, he wanted to take a stand for The Daily’s ability to criticize the University. 

Rising tensions

Twenty years later, in a 1926 LASSU student vote, The Daily Palo Alto morphed into The Stanford Daily. This change established a direct affiliation with the University and allowed the paper to distinguish itself from The Daily Palo Alto Times, a non-Stanford affiliated publication founded in 1905. This shift solidified The Stanford Daily’s association with the University.

However, this name change did not eliminate the fundamental question of the paper’s level of autonomy. The degree of independence that The Daily desired from the student body government and administration would soon once again become a point of controversy. 

In the late 1950s, tensions briefly rose between the student government and The Daily. 

On March 6, 1957, members of The Daily staff led a walkout in protest of the LASSU’s approval of a bylaw change that would allow it to appoint The Daily’s EIC.

While the LASSU wanted to prioritize local- and campus-centric news, members of The Daily wanted to produce national and international coverage. The University sided with the LASSU, and the LASSU maintained significant control over publication content. 

According to Steve Tallent, who was the assistant to the president of the University at the time, because Tallent was unable to get a ruling on the constitutionality of the proposed bylaw from the Law School or the Department of Political Science, the LASSU had complete jurisdiction to decide the constitutionality of the clause. Therefore, the University had to side with the LASSU. 

In a Daily article published on March 7, 1957, Tallent said, “The only thing that permits freedom of the press on this campus is the Legislature’s good judgment.”

In response, Stanley Gross ’57, who was a night editor at the time, said many members voted to go on strike to protest “the [student] government trying to take over the newspaper and … take advantage of [The Daily].” 

Former EICs wrote letters to the editor arguing that the actions of the LASSU 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.

Even editorial staffers from other colleges, like the University of San Francisco’s San Francisco Foghorn and Washington State University’s Daily Evergreen, backed The Daily’s actions against the LASSU’s move for more control.

However, staffers at other college papers, like Berkeley’s The Daily Californian and the UCLA Daily Bruin, sided with the LASSU.

The walkout proved successful and a referendum among the student body was called on The Daily’s behalf, which The Daily won by a 500-vote margin. 

According to sources from Philippou’s article, some people saw the walkouts and protests from The Daily as a premonition of what was to come in 1971 — The Daily’s independence from the University. In fact, former managing editor Jim Palmer ’57 L.L.B. ’59 thought that the walkout was evidence of a rift forming between The Daily and the University. 

“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 in Philippou’s article. “There was an evident desire to protect the freedom of the press that I think still exists today.”

The Daily becomes independent

The conflict in the 1950s was largely resolved with the LASSU, but the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early 1970s led to a volatile political atmosphere for the Stanford community and the rest of the country. These changes created the conditions under which the newspaper would experience yet another shift. 

According to managing editor Joseph Rosenbloom ‘66 in Philippou’s article, the campus was extremely charged. “There was this whole zeitgeist against the war and against the establishment — against President [Lyndon B.] Johnson and against the government.”

Across the country, students protested on their campuses. Among the most famous protest movements were the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, the Mississippi Freedom Summer and the start of the feminist movement. 

The impetus for The Daily’s ultimate independence came in the footsteps of a controversial anti-Vietnam War op-ed published on Oct. 2, 1970. Titled “Snitches and Oppression” and written by Diarmuid McGuire M.A. ’72, the piece opposed the Vietnam War and, more specifically, students who exposed anti-war protesters to the police during a time when anti-war riots were spreading across Stanford’s campus. 

At the time, The Daily provided extensive coverage of campus political activity and recorded pivotal events that provided a glimpse into the campus’s highly charged environment. Many faculty members announced their endorsements of certain movements and protests, especially the protest surrounding the resumption of U.S. bombing in North Vietnam. In fact, several faculty members had speeches in front of massive crowds at White Memorial Plaza and Cubberley Auditorium in response to Johnson’s decision to resume bombing. 

In 1966, students held sit-ins outside of Stanford President Wallace Sterling’s office over the University’s administration of selective service exams on Stanford’s campus. These exams would have allowed students to defer the draft based on their intellectual ability. 

By 1969, the Vietnam protests at Stanford had shifted focus from the U.S. government’s actions to the University’s own participation in classified defense research for the Defense Department via the Stanford Research Institute. Students actively lobbied the University to ban classified research at Stanford, participated in sit-ins at Old Union and blocked CIA recruiters from coming to campus. 

The members of Students for a Democratic Society staged a nine-day sit-in at the Applied Electronics Laboratory on April 3, 1969. They were conducting classified research there and the faculty ultimately voted to end that research. 

The following year saw evenmore protests against the war. More than 8,000 students, faculty and staff gathered to participate in the Vietnam Moratorium, which was a nation-wide movement that called for the end of the war. Considered one of the largest political gatherings in the University’s history, community members engaged in rallies, panel discussions and leafleting campaigns to protest the war.

Eventually, the protests turned violent and police arrested several individuals, including McGuire. He had allegedly broken lights outside of the ROTC building during a protest and had penned the “Snitches and Oppression” op-ed during his 30-day jail sentence. 

In his op-ed, McGuire listed Roger Reed ’70 and Ray White M.A. ’71 Ph.D. ’73 as two conservative students that had testified against him. In response to their opposition to McGuire and the anti-war movement, McGuire wrote, “It is no exaggeration to say that snitches like Roger Reed and Ray White are accomplices to mass murder.” However, he did note that he was not advocating for any form of vengeance against the two men. 

In the op-ed, McGuire also wrote that, during his time in prison, he observed how “snitches” were treated. “One common method is to cover the snitch with a blanket and beat him until he has the consistency of chocolate pudding or jello.” 

He ended the piece with, “Snitches put people in jail. Snitches help kill Vietnamese. Take care of snitches.” The University interpreted McGuire’s words as a promotion of violence which could have resulted in lawsuits against the school. 

According to an article from Oct. 7, 1970, written by Felicity Barringer ’72, the Stanford president at the time, Richard Lyman, called the column “highly offensive and irresponsible” and its publication “a journalistic atrocity.” On Oct. 8, 1970, Donald Kennedy, a chairman of the Department of Biology in the School of Humanities and Science and Stanford’s future eighth president, ran a full page ad in The Daily that was signed by more than 150 people expressing disdain towards The Daily for running the column.

In Philippou’s article, McGuire acknowledged that the language of the piece was more “explosive” than he meant it to be. He said that he had never intended to threaten anyone, but instead aimed to warn his fellow protesters of the potential danger they could face. However, his piece ignited enough controversy that he was jailed a second time for inciting violence, although this decision would be ruled unconstitutional after he had spent 30 days in jail. 

The Daily staff was split over the decision to publish the op-ed, with co-editor Marshall Kilduff ’71 defending the publication and Freivogel writing a dissenting editorial.

“I wrote, with the backing of almost all of the rest of the staff, that it was a mistake to publish the column because it amounted to an actual threat of violence and incitement to violence,” Freivogel said in an interview. 

Once again, the question of The Stanford Daily’s independence came center stage. 

An independent Stanford Daily had potential benefits for both the publication and the University. The University would have no influence over the paper’s coverage, but also could not be held liable for anything published by the paper. It was a situation both parties desired. 

“They didn’t have any opposition to that. They were glad that we wanted to be independent,” Freivogel said in an interview. “They didn’t want responsibility for us.” 

On Sept. 28, 1972, Don Tollefson, a former co-editor, announced The Daily’s independence. However, to separate from the University, a general student election took place to approve the proposed resolution put forth by The Daily to the LASSU. Under the proposed resolution, the LASSU would release “all rights, titles and interests in the assets of the Stanford Daily” to a non-profit corporation to be known as the “Stanford Daily Publishing Corporation.” 

After a 1737-344 vote, The Stanford Daily became the Stanford Daily Publishing Corporation and was incorporated in Santa Clara County as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 1973. This meant that the LASSU and University would no longer have to share legal responsibility for anything published by The Daily. 

The transition into independence was not without complications for the paper. 

“I think that some of us felt what a great adventure this would be to try to actually run a journalistic business, you know, we have to go out and sell advertising,” Tollefson said in an interview with The Daily. “That didn’t happen when we were getting free money from the administration. But it was just such a big undertaking.”

For many of The Daily’s staff, being independent was also an important stepping stone into professional journalism.

“We took pride in our independence and our frequently adversarial relationship with authorities. Remember that these were the Watergate years, when the reporting by Woodward and Bernstein inspired a lot of us to pursue journalism as a career. The independent Daily felt like an opportunity to do real journalism at Stanford,” said Terry Anzur ‘76, who wrote for The Daily during her time at Stanford before becoming a TV News anchor and reporter for CBS, NBC and KTLA-TV in Los Angeles.

By 1973, The Stanford Daily had become officially independent from the university.

Today’s Daily

Separation and independence did not put an end to The Daily’s challenge of balancing criticism of the institution while maintaining a working relationship with the University administration. 

The Daily is now legally and financially independent from the University. Financially, it operates through a combination of advertising and circulation revenues, as well as annual printing subsidies from the ASSU. The ASSU had also separated from the University in 1995. 

The Daily’s independence has granted the paper the ability to undergo in-depth investigations, like a 1992 investigation by EIC John Wagner ’92 that uncovered an embezzlement scandal in the Stanford Bookstore. 

Wagner’s articles from February to May of that year revealed that the managers of the Stanford Bookstore, which was a nonprofit at the time, had created a private consulting firm to lease a vacation house to employees and embezzled funds from the bookstore to support the house. Ultimately, his reporting led Stanford to examine the bookstore and for California’s attorney general to open an investigation into the scandal. 

However, The Daily has not always been the first publication on campus to break significant news, such as Brock Turner’s sexual assault of a woman outside the Kappa Alpha fraternity house in January of 2015. Allegations of Turner’s assault were instead first published by Fountain Hopper, an anonymously written e-newsletter that has historically challenged The Daily’s practices. 

In 2017, the Fountain Hopper criticized The Daily in a series of newsletters, especially in terms of its administration and its reporting on Title IX issues. However, The Daily’s Editorial Board has disputed many of the Fountain Hopper’s allegations of obscuring facts and relationships with administration officials. 

The Fountain Hopper had taken issue with The Daily’s administrative perspective. In 2012, EIC Billy Gallagher ‘14 announced that The Daily wouldn’t accept email interviews; however, this decision would later be reversed. Now, The Daily strives for phone and in-person interactions with sources, but also accepts email interviews, especially in cases where a story needs a comment on a quick turnaround or for more factual queries. 

There have been times when the paper has cited its own journalistic priorities over the administration’s wishes. In April 2000, The Daily was the first publication to report that John Hennessy was going to be selected as the University’s 10th president, violating the search committee’s explicit request. 

More recently, last November, The Daily broke the news of allegations that research co-authored by University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne contains manipulated images.

Early on, The Daily’s troubles dealt largely with its ability — or lack thereof — to criticize the University, but today, The Daily enjoys its independent freedom to report openly and honestly about the University while upholding principles of quality journalism. 

However, time and time again, The Daily’s independence has proven to be an integral part of the publication, allowing it to extensively cover all aspects of campus life under the protection of freedom of speech. 

“When we became independent in the 70s, it was by mutual agreement,” said Sam Catania ’24, The Daily’s current EIC. “But The Daily and Stanford are inextricably linked as an inherent function of the fact that we are members of the community we report on. To that end, independence has been something that we’ve had to continue to defend and protect over the years.”

Independence is critical to The Daily, continued Catania. He said that it has allowed The Daily to publish countless stories that may not have seen the light of day had the newspaper been managed by the University.

“I believe that the legacy of independence over these last 50 years — for which we have made our duty to be careful custodians — shall and must continue for as long as there is a Stanford University,” Catania said. 

Judy N. Liu '26 is the Academics desk editor for News and staff writer at The Daily.

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