With historical lens, The Michigan Daily enters 125th year

Allison Farrand/Daily
A reproduction of the very first copy of the "U of M Daily" from 1940's 50th Anniversary Souvenir Edition. Buy this photo

By Shoham Geva, Daily Staff Reporter
and Michael Sugerman, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 28, 2014

Bound volumes of The Michigan Daily line the bookshelves of the editorial conference room — others lie in stacks on the floor. Still, more fill cabinets behind the news desk. The editions date back to Sept. 29, 1890, the first day of production as a newspaper.

The Daily enters its 125th year of existence Monday, and, with that anniversary, the paper celebrates a longstanding tradition of fostering student journalism, serving the University community and covering the stories that matter not only on campus, but also in Ann Arbor, the state of Michigan and even the nation.

In the first edition, the Daily ran a story about the rugby team’s upcoming season, an ad for fraternity pins and notes from faculty about new courses in foundry work and water analysis.

Over the subsequent 124 years, the Daily has covered integral parts of this campus’ history.

The Daily witnessed the terms of 12 of the University’s 14 presidents. And it has been the first to report on important scientific breakthroughs, like the announcement of the polio vaccine.

The Daily has written about the impact of Supreme Court decisions stemming from the University’s admission policies and covered anti-war and anti-draft protests during the Vietnam War, as well as the experiences of a student jailed during one.

Through the best of Michigan Athletics’ accomplishments and through the worst of defeats, the Daily has been on campus.

The paper has grown from 8.5 inches by 11.5 inches to our current broadsheet size of 11 inches by 20 inches.

So pick up a Daily, grab a cupcake from a Daily staffer on the Diag today and read the paper in print and online. Here’s to the next 125.

In the spirit of this milestone, The Daily reached out to a host of notable alumni to talk about their experiences working for the paper. These include Stephen Henderson, Detroit Free Press editorial page editor; Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times Washington bureau reporter; and David Shepardson, Detroit News Washington bureau chief.

•••

What was the best part of working for the Daily?

Peters: “It was something that I, and all the other people who worked there at the time really had a great sense of institutional pride about. It felt really good to be part of a product that came out every single day that we helped shape and were ultimately responsible for. I think that when you’re 20 years old, that’s something that most 20- year-olds don’t really have. It was really formative in that way.”

Shepardson: “The friendships I developed with the people at The Daily. You have this experience you share with everyone there. It is hard enough for professionals to put on a newspaper every day. The fact that kids, who are basically unsupervised, who really don’t have lots of experience … it is a miracle that it gets out every day.”

Did you have a favorite moment or story you covered as a Daily staffer?

Shepardson: “While I was working for The Daily I was also working as a freelance writer at The Detroit News, where I work now. I was trying to balance sleeping, not sleeping and classes and I had to cover an event at the front of Angell Hall. I had been sitting there taking notes for a while and was so tired I started to close my eyes. Long story short, my roommates were flipping around the channels and saw me on the University Public Access channel, they ended up seeing me asleep.”

Henderson: “The divestiture from South Africa was a huge deal on campus, the diversity of the student body was a big deal, the University was just starting to move in the direction of things like a speech code that they were trying to institute and the code of non-academic conduct...I think it was sort of the sum total of all of those issues, having to deal with them day in and day out, having to make lots of decisions about how to handle them, it’s the sum total of that experience that I think I remember the most.”

Peters: “The year 2000, when Bush and Gore were running against each other … Michigan was even more of a swing state than it is right now. (Bush) and Gore were returning to Michigan a lot, so that gave me the opportunity to, for the first time, as a 20-year-old, cover a presidential campaign. That experience stayed with me. One of the great things about the Daily was that … the editors always tried to be very generous in sending you out on assignments around the country, if warranted. One of the things I got to go do was go down to the Supreme Court during the first … the case that was actually right before Bush v. Gore. That was one of the things that, again, I never really expected being able to do at 20, and definitely gave me a taste of what I thought I wanted to do with my career.”

What impact did The Daily have on your career?

Henderson: “The Daily was the reason that I was able to have the kind of career I’ve had now. I pretty much have the same job today at the Detroit Free Press that I did at The Michigan Daily 23 years ago. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence. The things that I learned there and the sort of momentum coming out of the paper because of that opportunity are what sort of pushed me into every position that I’ve had in professional journalism.”

Shepardson: “I had so many experiences from covering the inauguration, to interviewing Dr. Ruth (Westheimer), covering student protests and the presidential search, really covering an unbelievable amount of news on campus. It really inspired me to want to be a journalist when I really hadn’t thought about it before. It is a wonderful institution that really no class could ever replicate.”

What advice would you give to the Daily and/or Daily staffers moving forward?

Henderson: “I think that technology is key to The Daily’s future, and actually is a way to enhance the paper’s relationship with, and the experience of the students on campus. The Daily has the opportunity to be much more engaged, over longer periods of time, with the students on campus because of technology. I think concentrating on it — I mean, I think the paper’s done a good job so far — moving in that direction, that’s the right instinct. That’s what will help them survive for another 125 years.”

Peters: “I would say stick with it ... There’s no doubt that I got more out of The Daily than I did any class. And that’s not to disparage any of my professors, or the education that I got at Michigan, but again: it was ours. We really felt this sense of ownership over what we produced every day. And I think that staying with it, as hard as it was — you know, you’re putting in 30 or 40 hours a week when you’re an editor, and that’s not easy to do when you have class and other responsibilities as a college student. I think it’s often tempting for people to cast it aside. But I’m glad that I stuck with it for as long as I did.”

Daily Staff Reporter Claire Bryan contributed reporting.