The History of the Arizona Daily Wildcat

“Print the news, sound the alarm, and raise hell.” For 110 years, the Arizona (Daily) Wildcat has been doing just that.

The strong and often strident voice of student opinion has been heard through one form of student press or another at the University of Arizona’s campus since 1899. What began as little more than a family newsletter has matured into a professional, profitable and respected daily morning newspaper with a circulation of 12,000, and a potential readership more than triple that number.

The remarkable growth of the official student newspaper of the University of Arizona closely parallels the rapid development of this, the last mainland state to join the union. The 1800’s were tumultuous years in the history of the Southwest. Most of Arizona was obtained from Mexico in 1848, after its defeat in the Mexican War; the rest of southern Arizona was included in the 1853 Gadsden Purchase. Arizona’s 113,900 square miles were organized into a territory 10 years later.

In 1896, William A. McKinley was President, and the Spanish-American War was raging. The great Apache leaders, Cochise and Geronimo, were fighting to stem the tide of whites who were invading their homeland and parceling it out at $1.56 an acre, but the battle was doomed from the start. The railroad had come to Arizona, the cattle industry was beginning to boom, mining held great promise, and new irrigation techniques were about the make the state agriculturally profitable. According to the 1900 census, the territory’s population was in excess of 122,000, up 100 percent from the 1890 tally.

In the midst of the turmoil, the University of Arizona was struggling to its feet in the dry heat of the Sonoran desert. The story of the clamor for legislative favor between the rivals Phoenix and Tucson and the compromise that granted the southern city the university and its northern sister the state’s mental institution now is legendary.

The university was founded in 1885, and in 1891, 32 students and six faculty members held their first commencement ceremony. By the time the 10th ceremony rolled around in 1901, there were 225 students and 19 faculty members. At that time, the precursor of today’s Arizona Daily Wildcat already had been established for two years.

Millard Mayhew Parker, the UA’s president from 1897 to 1901, was a hardworking administrator; during his tenure he established higher admission standards from nine to 12 units, got a new men’s dormitory, instituted four-year bachelor of science and philosophy programs, and strongly advocated the establishment of student press.

Under Parker’s urging, the first student publication, a monthly journal called Sage Green and Silver, made its debut in January 1899. A head-spinning series of name and format changes quickly followed.

Sage Green and Silver was renamed the University of Arizona Monthly Magazine on Nov. 1, 1900, and eight years later, in October, it became semi-monthly newspaper titled University Life.

University Life became Arizona Life in November 1910, and slipped back into a monthly magazine format. One year later, in November 1911, it again jumped to newspaper status as the Arizona Weekly Life, and in October of the following year it remained a weekly, but was renamed University Life. Its name and character remained relatively stable until 1915, when the masthead of the Arizona Wildcat first appeared.

In the early days of the Twentieth Century, the campus was small enough to allow everyone to know everyone else, and life there, as everywhere, was simpler, homier and more personal than today. The philosophy of those early publications reflected this lifestyle; they were very pro-student and pro-university. Their pages were filled with sports news, gossip, editorials calling for ever more and great student spirit and support, jokes, occasional poetry or vignettes, society tidbits and praises extolling the glory of the university and the excellence of the faculty, administrators and students. They were not “hard news” newspapers, and indeed did not claim to be anything more than a medium to entertain students and help them keep track of their extended university family and its doings.

When Arizona achieved statehood on Valentine’s Day, 1912, the student press had had 13 years to develop a healthy sense of hubris. A hapless Spanish professor, who was overheard belittling the Life with the remark, “If an outsider, should see the Life, he would think the University of Arizona supported nothing but society and athletics,” was resoundly chastised in a Nov. 13, 1912 article titled “A Word to the Wise”: “… this is first a student paper, then a paper for others. We are interested in student play and work and first are interested in the play. Six days and five nights every week every man and woman studies and works. One day and two nights they play, and if we in our paper turn more to play than work, it is to balance a heavily weighted scale…”

This did not mean that the Life, in whatever stage of development or nomenclature, did not take its campus role seriously. It regularly advocated student control and self-government, co-education, athletic supremacy, school spirit, swimming pools on campus, and roundly criticized factionalism, dishonesty, clique-rule, delayed mail service, “advertising this university as a sanitarium or health resort” and non-payment of Life subscriptions, then a mere $1 per year in advance (single copies 5 cents).

Even an outbreak of spinal meningitis, which kept the “town students” quarantined from the campus residents and left the University Life staff short-handed, did not prevent publication, and editor Laura M. Swan hoped the students would understand the staff’s temporary predicaments and be content “with a somewhat one-sided newspaper.”

All students were encouraged to contributed articles and comments to the reigning periodical of the day, in addition to the writings of the regular six-to-12 member staff. Only the editor and business manager were paid positions; their token salary was determined by the latter-day students association, from whence came the newspapers’ share of student funds.

There were no designed news, sports or editorial sections per se in the four-to-eight page tabloids, although editorials, so labeled or not, usually appeared on the first few pages, along with the most exciting sports and university news. Society items, jokes, and what other campus news that was available would be scattered throughout the edition, nestled among 60 and 70 percent or more in local advertisements. Reproducing photographs, while technically possible, was an expense the early staffs, whose budgets came from a small portion of student funds and their yearly subscriptions, could ill afford.

It was a common practice for the early staffs to produce “special editions”, for example, freshman-, sophomore-, junior-, or senior-class editions that were produced by students from those classes, editions devoted to the mining or agriculture colleges, homecoming supplements, and so on.

While staffers did their utmost to get each edition out on time and on a regular basis, publication often was a hit-and-miss affair. When the student press reached its mid-teens, a 16-year-old’s need to prove its maturity and dependability surfaced. Staff members began to take their product more seriously, and the need to have an official, professional and respectable student newspaper began to be felt.

Douglas D. Martin, one-time journalism department head, Wildcat adviser and author of “The Lamp in the Desert,” a UA history published in 1960, wrote, “The year 1915-1916 was a busy one, alive with important developments for students who reflected the fresh spirit by changing the name of their newspaper from Arizona Life to The Arizona Wildcat…”

The fresh spirit blowing through the student publications department originated with a dynamic Liberal Arts student named Orvill S. “Speedy” McPherson, then Arizona Life’s  assistant business manager. McPherson decided the UA needed an official student mouthpiece, and finding administrators unwilling to finance so shaky a venture as a real newspaper, he deposited $100 in the Southern Arizona Bank, which covered “any reasonable indebtedness” that might crop up and give him the right to use the university’s name. It is he who hit upon the name Wildcat, which “would so perfectly express the individuality of our campus and school,” and according to a Sept. 20, 1915 Life editorial that called for a student-body vote on what was to be the last name change until the paper went daily in the ’60s.

It was a brave move for McPherson. Although still under the auspices of, and partly funded by, the Associated Students, the Wildcat was “his” newspaper; if it folded, the defeat would be personal.

On Oct. 13, 1915, the first Arizona Wildcat appeared. It had no office (“we met anywhere we could,” McPherson said), and single copies now were free. There was no faculty supervision of the paper, although in 1916 the head of the English department was asked to hold post-publication discussions on the four-page weekly’s merits with the editor-in-chief and associate editors.

The 1916 school year opened with record enrollment 326 students, up from 270 the year before. McPherson, who had been busily and successfully hustling advertising, was promoted to business manager in February. That same month, the faculty and Student Publications Committee redefined Wildcat hiring policies. Its members determined that the editor would be chosen from the reporters, and reporters would be chosen from the ranks of sophomores who had distinguished themselves by contributing to the paper as freshmen. Students campus wide still were urged to submit articles of interest.

No one received academic credit for working on the Wildcat, and at first, McPherson was the only paid staffer. He often chose students to write for the paper, and would post assignments by placing notices on the university library’s bulletin board. Most of the coverage was devoted to the three colleges, Liberal Arts, Mining and Geology, and Engineering and to athletic and social events.

Before he graduated in 1917, McPherson hired Grace Parker to take charge of the paper’s women’s activities department. He married Parker in 1920. After he graduated, the university took over the now-lucrative paper, promoted Parker to business manager and paid her $25 a month.

The time had come to “make the world safe for democracy,” and the shadow of war became tangible manifestations on the UA campus. War news as it pertained to campus life became prominent; at-home war efforts were supported and promoted regularly. Social functions, designed to keep morale high, also took top billing.

When the war ended, the country spent the next 10 years celebrating. Wildcats of the period were as carefree as the students who searched their pages for sports scores and upcoming engagements. Women’s suffrage was granted in 1920, the Kellog-Briand Pact outlawing war was signed in 1928, “Lucky Lindy” was hero of the world. No one was prepared for the crash that was coming, but somehow the university weathered the Great Depression and came out smiling.

In the 1930’s, the Wildcat began its push for peer recognition and respect. A Sept. 17, 1935 editorial stated: ‘“The Wildcat recognizes its position as the student newspaper and medium for expression, and will endeavor upon all occasions to serve those for whom it is published. No group, no organization, no faction will be discriminated against, but the paper will not hesitate to champion any cause deemed beyond a reasonable doubt to be just and worthy of the Wildcat’s support.”

The Wildcat even went so far as to support a cause of its own: the first Wildcat strike over working conditions occurred in 1937, when staff members protested the administration’s decision to move their offices from the Agricultural Building to underneath the stadium.

Readers at that time numbered about 3,000. It is interesting to note that even then, editorials were decrying the “deplorable” lack of parking space on campus. Subscriptions were going for $1.50 a year, and sports and society news still received top billing, alongside the activities of the student association.

Before 1935, the news classes supplied a few reporters to the Wildcat staff, and the journalism department provided no supervision or standards of conduct. When the university that year established a minor in the subject, however, the Wildcat became an official laboratory for the news classes.

Jack O’Connor was the department’s chief instructor from 1934 to 1945; he added courses in editorial writing, comparative journalism and American journalism history to the existing editing, news- and feature-writing classes. Advertising-sales skills also were taught. A program for journalism majors was instituted in 1940.

Even then, getting a degree in journalism was no piece of cake. “A degree with a news major requires three years of body and soul devotion, of theory and practical work, writing for and putting out a newspaper,” one Wildcat article stated. In that respect, little has changed.

The department’s teaching philosophy was oriented toward practical, hands-on experience. The university was considered to be a town of 5,500; it was divided into beats assigned to individual reporters, and the Wildcat was its small-town paper. Student reporters were kept on their toes “not only by the necessity of maintaining good grades, but also by the competition of professional reporters” of Tucson’s two other dailies, the Arizona Daily Star and the Tucson Citizen. It was, is, and always will be considered a point of honor to scoop either paper on university news.

World War II had a profound impact on campus life. The “war to end all wars” hadn’t, and once more young men were called away from their studies to serve in the armed forces. The Wildcat again kept track of the war’s impact on the home front by supplying information on ex-student servicemen and women and on the campus war efforts, ROTC activities, blood drives, bond sales and recycling campaigns.

The Germans surrendered in April 1945. In August, the United States saw the need to persuade the Japanese to do the same. But the end of WWII was not met with the euphoric optimism that greeted the cessation of WWI, and one Wildcat editorial reflected the air of somberness that surrounded the bitter victory, bought with such terrifying means: “…atomic power ended World War II. Today the familiar is unfamiliar. Our discovery may boomerang on us and all humanity.”

War news began to dwindle by the mid-40s, and once again sports news and fraternity and sorority activities began to dominate the paper, with three to six “socials” announced in each weekly issue. The 1945 death of Franklin D. Roosevelt ran on Page 1, next to a story of an upcoming fraternity dance. As always the doings of the student government were closely reported.

GI affairs still received a good deal of coverage. During the war years, women had outnumbered men three to one, but by 1947 the ration had tipped in the other direction. That year’s record enrollment of 5,132 students included 1,503 women and 3,629 men, 2,446 of whom were veterans.

One editorial that year responded to reader complaints that the Wildcat did not and should carry national and international news. Staff members had given the matter much consideration, but to their regret, space limitations, deadline restrictions (the printers’ deadline was 8 a.m. Thursday; the Wildcat was not delivered until noon Friday), and expense prohibited the coverage. Although in possession of a United Press ticker, they could not afford publication rights, and were restricted to using the machine for class work only.

“Someday, however, we hope to put out a daily newspaper, as so many other colleges of this size do, with a fairly responsible coverage of off-campus news. Until then, patronize Henry Luce or some of the other boys,” the editorial suggested.

But Wildcat reporters were making a concerted effort to find and publish good, “hard” campus news, and were succeeding. “Neglect of Library Menaces University,” “Students Protest Hall Rent Jump,” “Wildcat Finds Campus Food Too High” the headlines cried. One enterprising Wildcat reporter wrangled an exclusive interview from the reclusive Clark Gable, in town filming “Homecoming.” The Wildcat had the distinction of being the first Tucson paper to successfully slip past Gable’s watchdogs.

Reporters took a sober view of themselves and their product, and strove to uphold the ethical and professional standard of accuracy and objectivity that would bring them the respect of their community and colleagues.

Their efforts showed. By 1948, the Wildcat and the J-department had gained nationwide recognition for their top-quality students, and Arizona had placed more graduates, proportionally, on major papers throughout the United States than any other school, including the famous college then known as the Columbia Pulitzer School. Editors nationwide avidly solicited UA journalism grads.

In September 1958, the UA was boasting nearly 10,000 registrants. That month, a classified advertising section was added to the Wildcat, which today brings in about $150,000 yearly, and the use of colored ink became possible. As in years before, cigarette advertising was bringing in steady money, as were the many local clothing and restaurant-related ads. Subscriptions now cost $2.50 a year.

The ’60s were years of turbulent social change. The war, the riots, civil rights, sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. The generation gap.

The Wildcat kept mark of the forces that were reshaping society from its youth up, and did some metamorphosing itself. On April 21, 1965, the first issue of the Arizona Daily Wildcat debuted. It was the end of a phenomenal growth spurt: In 1956, there were six staff members for the twice-weekly periodical. A staff of 13 edited the Wildcat when it began publishing three times weekly in February 1962, and a staff of 20 served when the paper went to four times a week in September 1964. “Daily operation puts the Wildcat in an elite class of about 60 university newspapers that publish five times a week,” the first editorial stated.

When the Wildcat went daily, advertising revenues were paying 85 percent of its operation costs. Without that base, daily publication would not have been possible. The rest of the budget was gleaned from a subscription fee that was part of ASUA’s student activity fees.

The Wildcat was then the state’s only five-times-a-week student newspaper. UA enrollment had increased from 13,000 in 1962 to 18,000, and the full publication schedule was seen as essential in serving the growing university. Friday, Sept. 17, 1965 saw the publication of the largest newspaper in the tabloid’s 56-year history—36 pages.

Frank Sotomayor, who later became a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and shared a 1984 Pulitzer Prize for a series on the living conditions of area Latinos, was editor of the daily that first year. He hired a staff of 21, and, in the tradition of the day, they took over the last month’s issues.

That year the Wildcat received a United Press International teletype machine, and transmissions from all over the world began to flow into the newsroom. Although the paper continued to be dominated by local news, the staff now had the means to run news of national and international import. The era of world news via the sluggish postal system was over, the Wildcat had caught up to its modern brethren.

Headlines proclaimed students’ new worries: “Deferment From Draft Requires Good Grades,” “UA Gets Write Banning Pickets; Police Cart Off Demonstrators,” “NAACP Votes To Picket Harvill Home” but many old problems hung on. Reminiscent of the 1935 editorial, another headline stated “X Lots Lack Sufficient Space For Cars Assigned To Them.”

During 1964-65, the Wildcat was one of the first student newspapers to defeat a libel lawsuit brought against it by a former student senator, Gary Peter Klahr. Klahr filed a $30,000 suit against ’63-’64 editor Peter Winterble, journalism department head and Wildcat adviser Sherman R. Miller and his wife, claimed he had been libeled in a Nov. 8, 1964 editorial titled “The Demagogue From Tempe” in which he was criticized for advocating the abolition of student subsidies to the paper.

The 1964 Supreme Court decision in New York Times vs. Sullivan, a ruling that prohibits public officials from collecting damages for false information unless malicious intent can be shown, was the basis for the superior court’s decision to toss out Klahr’s suit.

The year before, in another victory for the First Amendment, editor Lanny Rosenbaum ignored a midnight injunction issued by the Associate Students of the University of Arizona (ASUA) that attempted to dictate Wildcat editorial policy.

In an hour and 45 minute secret session in the waning hours of April 6, during student elections, the ASUA supreme court ordered the Wildcat to give equal space to all ASUA executive office candidates, particularly if the Wildcat already had issued its endorsement. The editor was allowed to list qualifications of Senate candidates, but no endorsements would be tolerated. All letters to the editor were to be met with equal room for rebuttal. Finally, the editor was allowed to “comment on the issues of a campaign, but the issues cannot be used ‘as a camouflage’ to endorse or criticize candidates. The issues must be divorced from the candidates.”

Although the editor “had not yet abused his editorial discretion,” the supreme court decided it “…has a responsibility to all the students of the University, and because it has the power to decree whatever is necessary to achieve and insure complete fairness, equality and justice, it has unanimously decided and decreed that certain restrictions be placed on the editor of the Arizona Daily Wildcat with regard to his pre-election policy.”

Rosenbaum defied the injunction, stating that the ASUA constitution gave the editors of all student publications sole responsibility for its editorial content. “The courts can hold newspapers responsible for what they publish. But the courts cannot dictate the policies of a newspaper,” stated the April 9 front page editorial.

The ASUA Board of publications, responsible for overseeing all student publications, upheld Rosenbaum. ASUA, distributor of the student funds, was defeated in its attempts to strangle the Wildcat by its purse strings.

A subscription to the Wildcat, which cost $6 in ’64, had jumped a buck. As noted earlier, ASUA still partially funded the student-run newspaper, sold ads and kept the books on the business side of life, and the editorial side’s cooperative workshop, monitored by the journalism department, still was in existence. But that long-time partnership was on the verge of dissolution.

1966 was a painful year for the Wildcat. Although the first 40-page edition topped the previous year’s record, there was dissension among the ranks.

On Oct. 9, 1966, a dissatisfied Wildcat news staff walked off the job in protest of “poor printshop” working conditions. ASUA members assumed production responsibilities, and a nasty in-house battle began that dominated the front and editorial pages for weeks.

“The Wildcat this year represents the growth of a newspaper which has occurred too fast, too soon,” the substitute staff wrote. Another editorial stated: “The Wildcat has been published in the past under the supervision of the journalism department with the entire staff being students enrolled in this field. These students have never participated in the actual affairs and have had very little insight into the actual happenings of ASUA and have consequently never felt the need to write and publish stories that directly concern the students except those that have been forced upon them by extreme pressure of committee heads; even then it was often doubtful than an article of any significant importance would appear.” This would not happen now that ASUA was running the show, the article implied. Students were asked to support the Wildcat during the time of transition, and help the move along by submitting stories and suggestions.

A week after walking off the job, the old staff, headed by editor Bill Woodruff, submitted letters of resignation to the Board of Publications. Woodruff said he and his staff quit because the print shop, Hi-Color Lithographers, was “totally incapable of producing a daily newspaper” and the staff had been forced to work until the early morning hours. The journalism department wanted no more to do with the workings of the Wildcat. From that point on, the department’s role was one of friendly neighbor rather than parental unit.

The ASUA Senate asked the Board to ask staff members to return to their jobs Oct. 20; they said the paper was dumped in their laps,” and recognizing their journalistic limitations, they wanted the professionals back. The Board refused, and instead appointed former editor Lanny Rosenbaum to oversee production until a new editor could be appointed. A small article on Page 13 of the Nov. 10th Wildcat announced Joe Sotelo had been appointed to the post. For the most part, things returned to normal.

The Wildcat began once-a-month summer publications June 12, 1967. Today, 10,000 papers come out on Wednesdays during the regular summer session.

When the ’70s hit the country, the Wildcat kept tabs on the concerns of the nation’s youth, draft-dodging, card-burning, yippies, hippies and dope. One front-page photo spread was devoted to the bizarre art of body painting, an inside photo essay illustrated the joys of contemplating your navel. An arts section was introduced in 1972, when the paper was averaging about 16 pages an issue and cost $8 a year.

Student Publications purchased $52,000 in typesetting equipment in the summer of ’74. The money was borrowed from the UA, and was to be paid back at the end of five years. But advertising revenues were so healthy that the debt was paid off in only three years.

Four years later, the newsroom went computer, and the typewriters were put out to pasture. A $100,250 Compugraphic system and 15 terminals were purchased, this time, cash on the barrelhead. The system was revised and updated with $85,000 in Hastech equipment in 1982, again paid for in cash. In 1989, a state of the art, P.C. based system was purchased, costing about $200,000. It was again paid for with savings from advertising.

By the 1990s the Wildcat averaged 20 tabloid pages per issue, about 50 percent of which was local and national advertising. Student Publications, in which the Wildcat was the major publication and which included the Desert Yearbook and the typesetting department, had a 1995 operating budget of more than $1 million. Its payroll alone exceeded $500,000, supporting 110 students and 11 professional employees. The Wildcat’s 20,000 circulation was the second largest of all Pacific 10 schools, and nationwide ranked in the top 10 in terms of circulations, payroll, news content, advertising inches, etc.

During the great growth of the Wildcat in the 1990s, the Student Publications department morphed into Arizona Student Media. The Desert yearbook, long struggling to sell copies, was discontinued in 1998 (publication resumed for two years in 2005-05). In the meantime, though, the Daily Wildcat had produced one of the first college newspaper websites in 1994, had brought in KAMP student radio and had established the university’s first student-run TV station, UATV, in 1998. “Student Publications” were now truly “Student Media”.

The Arizona Student Media Board (formerly the Board of Publications) is the official advisory and governing entity for the Wildcat and other student media. The board hires editors-in-chief and other student managers, and can review policies and procedures, but has no editorial or programming say-so. The first director of Student Publications, Clyde D. Lowery, served as adviser to the Wildcat and Desert Yearbook from 1973 until retirement in 1989. Oro N. Bull then served as director and adviser until 1992. The third and current professional director of Student Media is Mark S. Woodhams, also the Wildcat’s adviser.

In the fall of 2009, the Arizona Daily Wildcat changed print formats from tabloid to broadsheet on the recommendation of editors and as a cost-saving measure. The Wildcat is printed in Tempe and yet, despite that distance, copies are returned to Tucson by 6:30 a.m. for delivery by our student driving crew. Wildcat pages are sent electronically to the printer at about 12:30 a.m.

In 2010, about 150 students are employed by the Wildcat in all areas of operation, from reporting and editing to accounting, sales, design and computer systems.  Employment is not limited to journalism students, and there are no age or class restrictions. The editor is in charge of all editorial content and is responsible for all aspects of newsroom administration, including hiring and discipline. Wildcat ad revenue in 2009-2010 is budgeted at $1.3 million.

It is interesting to look through old newspaper copies. Their changing policies often reflect ongoing changes in society’s perceptions of good moral and ethical conduct. One example of a practice now considered unethical by most newspapers was an advertisement for Chesterfield cigarettes, then a major source of advertising revenue, that ran in a 1948 paper “Wildcat Editor Alice Gibbs smokes Chesterfields.” Editors who displayed such commercial favoritism today would be hung out to dry.

Those interested in perusing old Lifes and Wildcats can find bound editions in the Main Library’s Special Collections branch, or on microfilm in the media room Main Library’s basement.

First printed 1991.
Updated 1995, 2010

Comments

  1. When this history speaks of the demand for UA journalism graduates circa 1948 it really ought to mention Professor Douglas Martin. He won a Pulitzer Press for his paper as managing editor of the Detroit Free Press and previously was one of a team that won a Pulitzer as reporters.

    He had great contacts, especially with other Knight newspapers. He got me a job on the Chicago Daily News and placed at least one of my classmates with the Miami Herald.

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