It’s 6 p.m., Nov. 7, 2000. Yale President Richard Levin is fielding questions from 25 Yale Daily News editors in the newspaper’s York Street office boardroom. The discussion veers from graduate student unionization to financial aid reform. As the queries grind on mercilessly, Levin appears nervous and requests a glass of water. He predicts later, in a moment of levity, that George W. Bush ’68 will prevail in that night’s election. He eyes a picture of a 21-year-old News Chairman Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, on an office wall. The irony escapes no one.
It’s 11 p.m. The returns are in and it’s looking good for Bush. A News reporter in New Britain, Conn., is filing the last revision of his story from Republican headquarters as an editor barks at him for missing deadline. Another is dashing back from City Hall where ballots from the city are tallied. Photographers fanned out across campus and New Haven return and develop their film with minutes to spare. By 1 a.m. the race is too close to call and editorial writers have churned out three possible editorials: one for a Bush victory, another for an Al Gore coup, a third in the event of a late-night tie. The building is teeming with action and anxiety.
It is just another night at the 123-year-old Yale Daily News, where reporters do not experience Yale as an unbroken series of sleepless nights melding into sleepy days but as a narrative of discreet moments and stories. A team of more than 100 student staff members capture, analyze and frame the events and issues that are, for better or worse, their slice of Yale and New Haven’s history.
For me, that has meant three years of chronicling the way this institution and city work. It has meant meetings with the mayor of New Haven and the president of Yale, long sessions in New Haven’s city council chambers, and longer sessions on the phone with students and administrators. I discovered, as all News staffers do, how institutions work, how power and resources are allocated — at the News, in many ways, I learned how to think.
In the crucible of late nights and looming deadlines, staff members at the News make sense of Yale and New Haven’s history as it unfolds and sets the agenda for campus policy and debate. They ask why (and why not) and expect an answer when others settle for ambiguity. And they are read by more than 15,000 combined print and online readers, making the News the most powerful voice on campus and the last word on Yale.
We can investigate the stories behind the stories without fear of disfavor, because, unlike any other Yale publication, the News is wholly independent of Yale. It generates its own revenue through advertising sales, owns its own building and Web site and buys its own equipment.
For the business-minded, the News is a training ground. Where else, after all, can you experiment with new ways to spend real money? The business staff is responsible for thousands of dollars — how to spend it, how to save it, and how to make the newspaper more profitable.
More than anyone else on campus, the News staff changes the way Yale operates. In the fall of 2001, when others merely complained about the quality of dining hall food, a single News reporter investigated the private management company behind the declining standards. The stunning month-long investigation that resulted uncovered unusual cost-cutting measures and an inefficient business arrangement for Yale. Within weeks, change was afoot as embarrassed administrators called for reform.
No wonder the Yale Alumni Magazine declared in its celebration of 300 years of Yale that the News had achieved “permanent dominance” among campus publications, and the New Haven Advocate called it “a must-read” for its coverage of city politics and development.
I came to the News to fulfill a dream: being a reporter. I was trained here to be just that. I leave it, three years later, a Yalie with 99 new friends. I have a sense of not only how Yale and New Haven operate, but how people with no allegiances but a will to help others understand the world around them churn out a newspaper every day.
Michael Barbaro ’02 is editor in chief of the Yale Daily News.