My 1,000 Hours at the Daily

Being editor of the student newspaper has its perks -- among them, a dilapidated couch and a tangible sense of accomplishment.

July/August 1999

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My 1,000 Hours at the Daily

Regan Dunnick

On my first night as editor in chief, the vice president of the student senate and several of his friends stormed the office. Brandishing guitars and bongo drums, they stripped naked and -- chanting "Oppression, Just Do It!" -- demanded the paper stop printing Nike ads. I did the only sensible thing I could think of: I pulled off my shirt, danced around and signed a handwritten pledge never again to accept a dollar of Phil Knight's advertising budget.

A few minutes later, they left.

But my night was just getting started. Thrust briefly into the paper's top job as a freshman on New Staff Night -- when the regular staff turns the place over to the rookies and then throws them as many obstacles (or naked student politicians) as it can -- I naively figured I'd be out by midnight. But midnight came and went somewhere in a flurry of drums, rewrites and opinions page printouts. The night wore on; news stories ran late, sports stories ran later and I trudged home around dawn. Before I fell asleep, I resolved (1) not to get up until the next afternoon and (2) never to spend another night as a Daily editor. That, I knew, would be squandering my Stanford Experience.

The first promise was easy to keep. It was mid-afternoon before I pulled myself out of bed and wandered downstairs to take a look at the recently arrived Daily with my name at the top of the staff box. The second pledge was harder to stick to. Over the next 18 months, I took progressively bigger jobs -- first sports editor, then news editor -- steadily upping my time at the paper from a few hours a week to 20 and eventually to 35 hours. In January, I made the big leap and found myself in the editor's office in charge of Volume 215, after winning a staff election.

My decision to run for editor had come after a quarter in France and a conversation with my father. While studying at the Stanford-in-Paris program, I wrote an opinions column and occasionally called the Daily office to make sure my e-mail had made it across the Atlantic in one piece. On the phone, I'd start with an ops editor, then ask to talk to another staffer, then another. I began to realize how much I missed the paper.

It's one thing to miss a place. It's another to want to spend 65 hours a week there. Back home in Oregon over Christmas break, I told my dad I was hesitant to run for the editorship because of the time commitment. I wondered if I'd be giving up too much of my college experience. "James," he told me, "I think you'll find that being the editor of the Daily is as valid a college experience as anything you can do at Stanford."

And so I went back to campus, wrote a platform -- brashly titled "Episode 215: A New Hope" -- and prepared to sign much of my life away to a newspaper for the better part of 15 weeks. I haven't regretted a day since. Along with a decent salary and the world's most dilapidated couch, the job has its perks. I've been quoted in the New York Post and Editor & Publisher. When Senator John Glenn came to campus, I argued with one of his aides, who claimed there are "too damn many journalists in the world." Tom Wolfe asked me to coffee. University administrators pretend to be happy to hear from me when I call. Best of all, I get to pick up a paper every morning and (though I've read it all the night before) hold in my hands one of the most tangible signs of accomplishment I've ever known.

The position has drawbacks, I know, mostly summed up by what it keeps me from doing. I don't see my girlfriend nearly enough. I can't devote sufficient time to my studies, even the two classes I take on a reduced tuition plan. I don't have time to play upright bass anymore or toss a Frisbee around Roble Field with my friends or even lounge in the grass outside Flo Mo on a sunny spring day. I miss having afternoons with nothing better to do than play pool.

What I can do is not always glamorous (and rarely involves nudity). Editors, I have learned, devote the bulk of their day to taking care of small problems. I return phone calls and explain that, yes, we are very sorry we identified you as a junior political science major and not an assistant physics professor, but no, that doesn't mean we'll run a front page apology. I determine the size of the paper and try to get people paid on time. Mainly, I'm a helper and a teacher, copyediting when needed and giving advice, needed or not.

Most days, the fun outweighs the mundane. The school newspaper may not top most people's list of campus party spots, but the staff here knows how to have a good time while putting out what we believe is a good product. We have our own lore (the Daily's 107-year history includes a lawsuit that made it to the Supreme Court and a reporter named John Steinbeck) and even a few secrets (just by mentioning the Staff Writer Challenge, I've said too much).

I don't always take my dad's advice, but my time at the Daily has proved him right in more ways than one. Each morning, I pick up a paper and reflect critically on my work of the night before. I learn something every day (enough, for example, to know this sentence is cliché), and I enjoy it. That, to me, is a quintessential Stanford Experience.

On my second "first night" as editor in chief, there were no drums or protesters. That it was a slow news day was reflected in our top story: freshman apathy at Stanford. The only music in the office came from my favorite Jimmy Buffett CD. The news pages came in on time, as did sports. The paper was on its way to the printer a little after midnight.

Two days later, we ran a Nike ad.

Jim Tankersley, '00, is a former Daily editor from McMinnville, Ore.

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