After 10 years, Chronicle still fighting for the right

Dan Murtaugh
May 8, 2002 •

In two years Dave Weigel has gone from being a Ralph Nader-voting uber-liberal to the scorn of the leftist movement at Northwestern.

Strange things happen when you work for the Northwestern Chronicle. Two years and a 180-degree political turn later, he's the paper's new editor in chief, guiding it through its 10th anniversary issue, which hits newsstands tonight.

The Chronicle was founded in May 1992, about six months after the folding of the the Northwestern Review, the Chronicle's predecessor as a conservative weekly publication.

The paper made waves with a few big stories, but Weigel said that for the most part, students view the Chronicle as conservative propaganda, not an alternative weekly.

The Chronicle's perseverance through its tough times is a rarity at NU. Though there have been more than 300 student publications at NU in the past 150 years, University Archivist Patrick Quinn said, none have lasted much longer than a few years. Most fold soon after the founders graduate, he said.

"The impetus (for the publication) rests in a core of students who (found the publication)," Quinn said. "With the successors there's some level of commitment, but it's not the same as in the founders. The publication loses steam and diminishes."

Some of these publications include "n magazine," which was co-founded in 1989 by author Neal Pollack; "Eat Shit," a Students for a Democratic Society publication that attacked the Vietnam War in the 1960s; and "Rubber Teeth," which was founded about 20 years ago and was "the height of comedic genius," according to Quinn.

One of the reasons for the Chronicle's persistence is financial stability. It receives funding from the Collegiate Network, which funds conservative newspapers on campuses nationwide.

Not all the Chronicle's money comes so easily. The editors send hundreds of letters to donors every year, and Weigel and Michael Hoes, former editor in chief, said they empty their own wallets when necessary.

Weigel hopes that's not the case forever. Though they currently run few advertisements, he wants to attract more. He's looking for a full-time business manager to oversee finances, as well as a full-time designer and photographer.

Weigel entered the Chronicle "through the dog door of the back door," writing his first story after he was turned away from The Daily. He took over in the spring and gave the paper a complete makeover. Instead of putting three or four stories on the front page, Weigel runs just one with a large headline and dominant image, like a typical magazine.

More importantly, the paper's focus has shifted from conservative issues to campus issues.

"(Previous editors) had a different vision for it than I have," said Weigel, a Medill sophomore.

"I know more people want to read an alternative paper," he said. "As middle of the road as this campus is, people just aren't as interested in seeing gutsy conservative opinion as they are weird stories about stuff they might have heard about."

The editorial page still falls to the right of Dick Cheney, but this quarter the Chronicle's news has focused on a botched A&O Productions concert, corruption in the Associated Student Government elections and a student film festival.

For its 10th anniversary, the Chronicle will celebrate its past. Expanding the paper from eight to 12 pages, the anniversary issue will feature "three pages of stories, two pages of entertainment, and seven pages of fun," Weigel said. He plans to run a few pages full of the paper's many mistakes, including a story that ran without a headline.

But Weigel also will exalt the moments of triumph for the Chronicle, times when it was the most talked about publication on campus, if only for a few weeks.

One of the Chronicle's proudest moments came during the 1999 ASG elections, when it published an article the day before the runoff vote that alleged that presidential front-runner Manu Bhardwaj slept with The Daily's managing editor to get an endorsement. Bhardwaj, who was ahead by about 500 votes after the first leg of elections, lost to "Evil" Dave Sheldon in the runoff.

That episode is one of many swipes the paper has taken at The Daily in its history. Casey Newton, former Daily editor in chief, first caught the Chronicle's wrath as a "lowly reporter" during his sophomore year. A story he wrote for The Daily began: "They want social progress. They want political change. And they want ... the help of the College Republicans?"

In response, the Chronicle hailed him as NU's most biased journalist, and quoted sources who said Newton's remark "entitles him to execution."

"They meant it to be tongue in cheek, but they weren't really skilled enough to pull off tongue in cheek, so it came off weird and bad," said Newton, a Medill senior. "That's pretty much been the thinking (about the Chronicle) for the first couple years (I've been here). It was weird and bad."

Jeffrey Stern, the Chronicle's founder, said he's excited about the direction Weigel has taken the paper. He said the paper was built on hard-hitting investigative journalism, and Weigel is bringing that reputation back.

"I'm extremely confident in Dave Weigel's leadership," said Stern, Speech '94 and a second-year Feinberg student. "The Chronicle did hit a snag in mid '90s, and now we're slowly coming back to the prominence we used to have. In my opinion, Dave's the best editor we've had in a long, long time."

Weigel said he hopes the paper's new look draws more staffers. They've gained a new staffer every week so far this quarter, Weigel said.

His hopes are modest. He just wants to provide people with an alternative to mainstream campus media.

"That's a very conservative idea: Competition makes things better," he said. "No example of a monopoly that's succeeded and thrived comes to mind. Everything runs better if there's something else chasing at its tail."

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