Daily Titan Continues Dedicated News Tradition

by Tom Clanin

This fall marks my seventh semester as the Daily Titan's adviser. In those three short years the editors, reporters and photographers have covered a war half way across the world, protests and confrontations on and off campus, and natural disasters in this country.

The editors in the past three years have made a concerted effort to look beyond the campus for news relevant to the university community.

In early 2003, Ron Larson, a graduate student in history who had freelanced for the Daily Titan the previous fall, approached editorial-chief Kim Pierceall and me about going to Iraq to cover the U.S. invasion that we knew was imminent.

I contacted Daily Titan alumnus Walt Barringer, who has traveled much of the less-traveled parts of the world for The New York Times, about how to get into Iraq and what to expect there. Walt explained what route to take, who to bribe and how much to bribe, and the great amount of risk involved. We decided that going in as a unilateral wasn't a good idea.

Pierceall contacted the Defense Department about getting an embed posting and to my surprise, the Defense Department agreed to embed Ron. He became the only college newspaper reporter traveling with U.S. troops when they invaded Iraq. After the Los Angeles Times ran a story on Larson before he left, local TV crews started visiting the newsroom to interview Larson and Pierceall. It was MTV Goes to War.

Larson was assigned to an engineering company, and he wrote about their work and interaction with Iraqi civilians. These and other soldiers working behind the front lines did not get much media attention, and we received e-mails from around the country from people thanking us for showing a different aspect of the war.

On the day of the invasion, the Daily Titan published an editorial by Opinion Editor Ben Becker that fairly mildly explained why it was a bad idea. The editorial ran in the middle of an open page with no other text on the page. Becker was inundated with letters attacking him and the paper for opposing the Bush administration. One editor resigned in protest. The next week we ran a full page of letters attacking us.

Becker's editorial page won an award from the Student Society for News Design. He took over as editor-in-chief the following fall, when the Daily Titan actively covered Gov. Gray Davis' recall and the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger. We covered both party headquarters on election night and published staff photos the next day of Schwarzenegger's victory speech and Davis' speech admitting defeat.

Melissa Chavez, who wrote the lead election story that night, took over as the editor-in-chief in the spring of 2004 and guided the Daily Titan's coverage of the March primary elections.

Melissa also sent staff out of the country to cover a story. Reporter Tommy Purvis wrote a five-part series on Operation Gatekeeper and how the 10-year-old border protection program affected people in both Mexico and the United States.

Tommy spent many hours interviewing border patrol agents, smugglers and other people living on both sides of the border. He won the Society of Professional Journalist's Mark of Excellence award and an award from the California College Media Association for his series.

Assistant photo editor Lisa Hart accompanied Purvis on some of his trips across the border, and her photos were very much a part of the story. Other organizations posted on their Web sites links to the stories and photos on the Daily Titan's Web site, and people who usually do not read a college newspaper were reading the Daily Titan.