At dawn one Saturday this past August, a cloudburst crashed down on New Haven.
Wind and rain overwhelmed a picturesque campus that morning, turning courtyard grass a shade of avocado, city sidewalks a murkier charcoal — and the Yale Daily News’ 130-year-old archive collection into waterlogged and disintegrating scraps of newsprint suddenly fit for the garbage dumpster on York Street.
The storm hit us Newsies hard.
Because of shoddy summertime construction of the Jeffrey Loria Center next door, our roof lost shingles — and many of its century-old records. The boardroom at 202 York St. flooded, its floor’s cork-colored (and stained) wood contorted and its archive-housing cabinets wrang with wetness and forever-lost first drafts of Yale’s history.
We attempted a search and rescue. But as we carried each drenched book to a bench nearby, we had to face the inevitable: the archives really were history now.
Opening to just one page told us about what we were losing: “Yale Log,” “Why they Swam,” “Try the New Fragrant Vanity Fair! Cigarettes and Tobacco,” “Gay’s New Book Store is the Cheapest in the State! (All the standard books.)” Well, not one page, but four: the water had smeared the ink, thinned the newsprint, spoiled the Yale Daily News of June 3, 1879. And the room, too, apparently: Yale officials would soon declare it a pseudo-biohazard — mold-infested and mildewed. Let’s just say we’ve heard better news before.
It seemed like an inopportune moment for a newsroom flooding. Some of us were already ashen-face with apprehension that the ghosts of News legends Briton Hadden and William F. Buckley would haunt our building if we carried out the redesign of the Oldest College Daily we planned for September. Were we abandoning tradition recklessly? Forgetting legacies of those who slogged through the night before we did? Disintegrating history?
Then epiphany: Although the archives were soon removed altogether — destination: freeze-dryer — photographs of 129 past editorial boards remained unscathed on the boardroom wall. And as we, the 130th board of the Yale Daily News, prepare to pass the everlasting News torch to the 131st, we are reminded that it is not the paper trail, but the human trail, that made our many nights here worthwhile.
The loss of archives, then, was superficial. Nearly every Sunday through Thursday night for the past year, we reached for a goal set out at the start of our tenure: to bring the News closer to its audience through our college, sports and city coverage, Cross Campus and (quite) colorful interactions on the online comment boards. We considered our responsibility as set forth in the first edition of the Yale News, Jan. 28, 1878: to publish a daily sheet of pithy and relevant news — even if twenty pages now, not one as before — “justified by the dullness of the time and the demand for news among us.”
But what ultimately connects us to you, the readers, is that we signed on to the YDN for the same fundamental reasons that Yalies have been getting involved in campus organizations since 1701.
And what’s that? Let’s just say that if in 130 years, another storm were to wipe out our board’s volume — 2007-2008 — we wouldn’t lose sleep over it. We — indeed all Yalies — are here, in the end, for the next ones and one another, not ourselves.