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Life at the Oldest College Daily and Beyond

A. Whitney Griswold '29, president of Yale during my undergraduate years, understood that learning to work as a group was a vital part of the college experience. “Working together,” he said, “is the great binder—the glue of human experience that forces us to get to know and to understand each other.” For me, that glue was putting in an extraordinary number of hours a week to produce the Yale Daily News.

The summer before my freshman year, a family friend took me aside and said, “Son, heel the News. “ Soon, I did just that. Little did I realize how much that advice would enrich my life.

When I chaired the paper my senior year, reporter Bob Kaiser '64, now of the Washington Post, learned that the Yale police had started to keep files on so-called “subversives.” This occurred at the behest of a police chief brought in from the FBI our freshman year to improve Yale’s image in the community. When Kaiser and I actually saw the files, they seemed something of a pathetic joke, but we both realized we had a story that would derail the police chief while advancing the cause of free speech on campus. A predictable uproar ensued after we ran our article, and I, along with then-provost Kingman Brewster '41, was summoned to President Griswold’s bedside during his last illness. Griswold sternly told Brewster, “You both need to work this out.” The files were eliminated, freedom of speech and dissent were respected, and the following autumn the police chief was gone. It was an important lesson on the impact and responsibility of the press.

Participating as an alumnus in the work of the Oldest College Daily (OCD) Foundation has been a way for several of us to give back to our News experience. The foundation originally was created when some News alumni and students realized that pensions for our few permanent employees and the state of repair of the News building had both been woefully neglected. In 1978 a group of alumni came together to deal with these problems through a modest capital campaign.

The foundation has come to serve a broad institutional purpose. First, it has provided a continuing financial vehicle to which each News board can contribute in successful years. It also provides resources for the preservation of the building, the acquisition of equipment, and summer journalism fellowships. Almost a decade ago it subsidized the move of the paper to free campus circulation.

 The foundation has also helped in less tangible ways. Every leader at the News has learned that the success or failure of the enterprise is materially affected by the quality of his or her decisions. OCD Foundation members have been able to serve as a sounding board for current editors.

One such interaction occurred recently after the paper published a strongly worded editorial by a faculty member highly critical of President Bush’s preemptive strike against Iraq. Heated postings—both substantive and scurrilous—first appeared in a national conservative blog and were subsequently reposted in the “commentary” section of the paper’s online edition. Although the News had a policy of immediately removing obscene comments, it had not developed a policy for how long comments on a particular column would remain posted on the web.

The professor who had written the editorial threatened to sue to have the comments removed. The editor sought practical and legal advice from the OCD Foundation. Following wide-ranging discussions, the News placed a time limit on online commentary. Everyone involved believed that Yale’s strong tradition of freedom of expression had been vindicated and that the editors themselves had participated in a valuable experience about press freedom and responsibility in the Internet era.

The significance of the experience to many generations of News alumni was illustrated by the turnout of more than 600 for its 125th anniversary weekend three years ago. For me the opportunity to work with both alumni and successive classes of student editors through the OCD Foundation has been a fascinating intergenerational learning experience.




Note to Readers

This article is provided by the Association of Yale Alumni.

Although the Yale Alumni Magazine is not part of the AYA, we are pleased to give this page to the AYA every issue as a service to our readers.


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