Daily alumni share newsroom memories as digitization project finishes

Manuel Rapada, Breaking News Editor

Decades of Evanston and Northwestern news can now be accessed through a searchable online database.

More than 13,000 issues of The Daily and earlier student newspapers have been digitized through a collaboration among Students Publishing Co., the University Library and NewsBank.

When the project was announced in 2011, NewsBank president and CEO Dan Jones (Kellogg ’61) called it “a prototype” for future college newspaper preservation.

The project’s completion drew applause Thursday night from the audience at “Dateline Evanston: A Look Back at The Daily Northwestern,” organized by the Library Board of Governors and Northwestern University Archives. The event, which attracted about 200 people to Deering Meadow, featured a panel of prominent former Daily staffers.

“Any of you who had embarrassing school events, it’s now all up there and searchable,” dean of libraries Sarah Pritchard said.

Though the database is currently available to just the NU community, alumni will soon get access, she said.

Former staffers shared newsroom anecdotes for most of the night, adding color to the black-and-white Daily front pages scattered around the tent.

Cut and paste meant cutting out physical paper, not a couple of keyboard commands, the panelists said. Instead of Google, reporters found their sources through phone books.

Decades of differences aside, the group agreed the newspaper gave them a foundation for their journalism careers.

“We got real-world, first-hand experience in doing what we were all going to end up doing,” said Christine Brennan (Medill ’80, ’81), a USA Today sports columnist.

Talk pivoted to the rising success of Northwestern athletics, with Saturday’s Homecoming football game looming.

Losses can lead to great news stories, said ESPN’s Michael Wilbon (Medill ’80), who wrote for The Daily when the football team had 10-loss seasons.

Now alumni, Wilbon and George de Lama (Medill ’79) praised University President Morton Schapiro and athletic director Jim Phillips for their mentality toward NU sports. Both complained of past administrations’ bad-athletics, good-academics mentality.

“They understand the importance of athletics and the role that intercollegiate athletics play — women and men — in the greater university structure,” Wilbon said. “They don’t try to BS you.”

Several speakers spent an extended amount of time talking about their first walk — in Brennan’s case, push — into the newsroom. For Wilbon, the feeling is familiar.

“I was as terrified walking into The Daily the first day as I will be Saturday night when we kick off against Ohio State,” he said. “And I hope Saturday turns out as well.”

Other panelists were Crain Communications president Rance Crain (Medill ’60) and Medill Prof. Donna Leff (Medill ’70, ’71).

Medill Prof. Charles Whitaker (Medill ’80, ’81), an SPC board member and moderator of the panel, also announced the start of a fundraising campaign to bolster The Daily’s advertising-driven revenue.

Alumni and readers can donate through the University, by sending a check directly to The Daily or via PayPal. For more information on donating, visit www.dailynorthwestern.com/donate.

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Twitter: @manuelrapada