The Quad: The Daily Bruin’s 100-year adversarial history fighting for free press, coffee
(Daily Bruin Archives)
October 4, 2018 3:42 pm
Battles against student government, battles against UCLA administration and battles against Associated Students UCLA – the Daily Bruin has seen it all over the past 100 years.
It all started in 1911. Before there was UCLA, there was its predecessor, the California Branch State Normal School. And before there was the Daily Bruin, there was the Normal Outlook. The paper had a small staff of about 15 and published between 1911 and 1919.
The Normal School would eventually become the Southern Branch of the University of California, now known as UCLA, which opened at Vermont Avenue on Sept. 15, 1919. Along with it came the Cub Californian, a four-page weekly newspaper. The size of its office was a mere 8 feet by 10 feet. The paper accrued a deficit of $1,580 by May 1920, equivalent to more than $22,000 in 2018 dollars.
By 1922, the paper expanded to print twice a week. A name change came a couple years later in March 1924, with the paper taking on the title of the California Grizzly, which would begin printing daily the following year. Finally, in October 1926 the paper took its final major name change, becoming the Daily Bruin.
UCLA had more changes in store, however. The campus transferred from its Vermont Avenue location to Westwood in 1929. The Daily Bruin first moved into Royce Hall, and eventually moved into an office on what is now the third floor of Kerckhoff Hall once the building opened in 1931.
Initially, editors were appointed by the Student Executive Council following a recommendation from the Literary Activities commissioner. In 1922, the Publications Board had been established, consisting of student media and student government representatives. After a Publications Board recommendation, the council would appoint the next editor in chief.
The system of a quasi-government-controlled media led to tensions between the council and The Bruin. After perceptions of bias and unfair editorials, the council attempted to remove Editor-in-Chief Gilbert Harrison in March 1936. The Publications Board immediately rejected the attempted deposal, avoiding a strike from the Bruin staff.
Aside from student government hostility, national and international political eras had effect on The Bruin as well. Once the U.S. entered World War II, Bruin editors would send issues to the printer later than 3 a.m. to ensure it covered the latest news from the war front. As men were drafted into the war, women dominated most of the editor positions at the paper.
The Red Scare perhaps had a more pronounced effect on The Bruin. Outlets like the Los Angeles Times and the Saturday Evening Post elevated and sensationalized complaints from some students that The Bruin had communist tendencies. The paper’s newfound reputation would set the stage for two decades of strife with student government and UCLA administration.
For example, in 1949, the student council rejected The Bruin’s choices for editor in chief and managing editor. The choice for the latter position was Clancy Sigal, who would go on to become a famed novelist known for his 1962 memoir “Going Away.” Five editorial board members subsequently resigned and The Bruin’s staff went on strike for the summer. The council for the next academic year eventually accepted the choices for the editor positions, ending the strike.
The Bruin put Sigal forward once again as the choice for managing editor the next year. This time the council believed that Sigal was a communist and rejected him due to his political leanings. In response, the Bruin staff circulated a petition to have Sigal’s confirmation as managing editor voted upon by the student body. But at the height of the Red Scare and in the face of an organized opposition campaign by Greek fraternity members, Sigal’s bid went down by a vote of 2,272 to 676.
The political squabbles continued as, in 1951, the SEC rejected a staff nominee for editorial board because he was considered too liberal, instead attempting to appoint a moderate non-Bruin member to the board. The Bruin staff once again went on strike, right after printing an issue with the blaring headline “DB Staffers Resign.” Most of the Bruin staff came back two weeks later to continue working on the production of the paper.
On another end, Dean of Students Milton Hahn felt that the paper needed to avoid displaying any political leanings, and the way to do so was by having the editor in chief, managing editor and feature editor elected by the student body. Chancellor Raymond Allen backed the plan and UC President Robert Sproul approved it in November 1954. Aghast, the Bruin staff organized a mock funeral on Dec. 15, 1954. 250 students marched across campus, with six students carrying a coffin to represent the paper.
The administration was unmoved by the staff’s pleas. It wasn’t quite the death of The Bruin, but the new process made a mockery of the idea of an independent student press. For six years, beginning in 1956, candidates for editor in chief had to run campaigns to win a student body vote. Finally, 1962 onward, the council returned the power to choose the Daily Bruin editor in chief to the Publications Board.
The next year, the council ratified the constitution of the Communications Board – a board meant to oversee the Daily Bruin and other student publications, select The Bruin’s editor in chief and approve its budgets. The creation of a board consisting of student and faculty representatives freed the paper from the whims of student government.
With the politics of the student government out of the way, The Bruin’s history became significantly less frenzied. There were still battles the paper chose to fight, though. In April 1971, ASUCLA raised the price of coffee from 10 cents to 15 cents – about 93 cents in 2018 money. The Bruin expressed dismay at the decision with a front-page editorial accusing ASUCLA of not caring about students and announcing that it would provide free coffee to students in its Kerckhoff office. What started with a giveaway of 400 cups of coffee on day one snowballed into a multiweek battle between The Bruin and ASUCLA. By the end of the quarter, the paper had given away more than 18,000 cups of coffee, but ASUCLA’s stance was unchanged.
There was the odd controversy at the paper even under the Communications Board. In 1984, the editor in chief was forced to resign after 14 editorial board members – mostly editors – threatened to quit over poor management skills. Three years later, the Board suspended but then immediately reinstated the Bruin editor in chief, following a cartoon on affirmative action published in the paper.
But the Daily Bruin continued onward relatively smoothly, boosted by solid finances. Between 1990 and 2000, UCLA Student Media’s revenue hovered around $2.5 million. But with the advent of the internet and decreasing student readership, advertisement placements in the paper fell, leading to lower revenue. In 2009, the student body passed a referendum to institute a fee which funded multiple student organizations including The Bruin. In effect, the paper became student-funded for the first time in decades.
The fee wasn’t enough to offset losses caused by the 2008 recession. The Bruin ended up needing to make a number of cuts, including renting out half its office and reducing the number of career staff from seven to three. As a result, another fee referendum, this time of $3 per quarter, had to be passed in 2016.
The Bruin now consists of a staff of more than 500 students – a long way from the 1920s staff of a couple dozen students in a cramped room. One thing hasn’t changed though: The state of the paper is as strong as ever, and ready for another 100 years of battles.