A newspaper is a living thing. Its stewards come and go. Its fortunes rise and fall, and rise and fall again. Deadlines loom — more than not, around here at least, they are missed — but somehow, in spite of the griping, the grousing and the grist, the pages comes out, day after day, week after week, year after year.
The enterprise known to its readers as the Yale Daily News began one chilly morning in January 1878. The first five-cent, four-page issue of the “Yale News” rolled off the presses at 11:50 p.m. The inaugural words were pithy and self-justifying: “The innovation which we begin by this morning’s issue,” it read, “is justified by the dullness of the time and the demand for news among us.”
It weathered war. Peace. More war. The occasional assassination. National convulsions. Still, the News marched on.
It was handed over, four decades later, to the fathers of modern journalism, Henry Luce and Briton Hadden. The pair, classmates out of Hotchkiss and Yale, succeeded, Lance Morrow once wrote, “because they understood this truth: history may be complicated, as life is complicated, but the business of storytelling is simple.” The young men said in their early writings that their creation would be judged by “how much it gets off its pages into the minds of its readers.”
That benchmark still stands.
Today’s edition of the News is the Managing Board of 2002’s last. The child a handful of ambitious Yale students brought to the world 123 years ago lives on, a testament to long hours, longer meetings and still longer commitment to Luce and Hadden’s idea of history.
That is, in the end, what the News is about. The student editors here are the authors of Yale’s first draft of history. Greater works of nonfiction on the subject have emerged. They call first on these pages.
But the News is more than a mere draft of anything. Susan Zucker, the general manager of the newspaper and its seasoned, unsung heroine, may have put it best one October morning a year ago this week. The new editors — bleary-eyed and weary from another 24-hour election cycle — had ambled out of the News’ wood-paneled boardroom, the room where Joseph Lieberman penned his tortured manifesto “Why I Go to Mississippi” in the middle of the civil rights movement, the room where Robert Kaiser wrote his tribute to the slain President John F. Kennedy as America recovered from the murder of its leader.
“Remember this,” she said, pointing to a copy of the News on the wall. “Everyday, I walk into this building and discover you guys have done it again. Everyday, a miracle.”
For 123 years, the combination of pulp and print issued from this building has been just that. Every year, a handful of students, some friends, others perfect strangers, enter into the most absurd of compacts: to publish this newspaper everyday, five days a week, for their peers.
Tomorrow, we pass the presses on to another generation of leaders, so that they too might absorb the world around them, put it on paper and into the minds of their readers.