Early Daily dominated by sports

Travis Reed

With four columns of text, a few small headlines and a lone number chart, the front page of The Minnesota Daily was born.
And from a single room in the Old Main, a University building that burned down in 1904, seven editors and eight reporters laid out the first issue that began nearly 100 years of University coverage.
Photos from that first decade depict Daily staff members in formal attire, banging out their stories on heavy, turn-of-the-century typewriters. But, as it turned out, the Daily was considered a casual place for social play.
“We frequently had informal basket lunches and dinners in the Daily office, at which all important questions bothering the student body or the faculty were discussed and quickly settled and there was always time left in which to engage in conversation of a lighter vein and social intercourse as late as the authorities would permit,” said A.O. Colburn in 1950, the Daily’s 1907-08 managing editor.
Years later, no one will know who wrote which Daily stories in those early years since none of the articles carried bylines. Most were three to four inches long and simply ran straight down a column.
A century’s worth of news and publishing technology later, the once single-paged, sports-dominated Daily is now a color-capable, dozen-or-more-paged, computer-designed newspaper of wide-ranging interests.
The Daily’s metamorphosis from simply a student’s voice to a student’s news source took the whole first decade of the newspaper’s existence — from May 1, 1900 to 1909.
In that same decade, journalistic standards of neutral coverage slowly inched out editorialized writing styles, though not by much.
The Daily’s first lead story was typical of most of its lead stories during those first few years — it covered a University baseball game. Games, practices, scrimmages and recruitment all took their turns leading off the newspaper, with occasional stories about University sports fans and booster clubs.
When news entered the picture, it was still limited to event coverage, such as debates, contests, speeches by University officials and meetings.
To say that news was underreported is an understatement. However, the Daily was considered a conduit for student voice during that era.
“The start of the Daily is lost in a befuddled fog of forgetfulness,” said its first editor, Sidney DeWitt Adams in 1940. “Undoubtedly, the kindling that set the fire was the publication in the fall of 1899 of Football, a daily which was printed and distributed gratis during the football season. It gave students and faculty an appetite for something of a similar sort the year around.”

A Genesis of sports coverage
Prior to May 1, 1900, what is now the Daily existed as the Ariel, which was founded as a monthly literary magazine Dec. 1, 1877. After some cajoling by the University students and others, the editors finally decided to go daily.
In 1902, students dissatisfied with the Daily formed their own paper called The Minnesota Daily News. After several months of competition, the two student newspapers were combined into the Minnesota Merger — later renamed The Minnesota Daily after students voted 470-425 for a new name.
Front page content in the Daily’s infancy was dominated by sports coverage and announcements for the “big game” as well as various pep rally activities to support the players. Incidentally, the first photo ever run on the front page of a Daily was a portrait of Don A. Cameron, captain of the Gophers baseball squadron.
Always showing favoritism for the Gophers, sports writers used rich language to depict battles between Minnesota and its rivals:
“Metcalf made a brilliant stop in the seventh inning. He knocked down a hot bounder with his mitt in true professional style, putting the batter out on first unassisted,” explained one 1900 article.
A 1905 story lauded the Gophers’ underdog status: “In spite of wet field, the youngsters put up a good article of ball and handled their beefy antagonists very creditably.”
Sports commentaries of the early Daily would be considered equally awkward by today’s standards. Consider the brief column “Cranky Talks About The Game,” printed in the Daily’s fifth edition:
“Don made a bad break on second.
“Did you notice the way the visitors fell to pieces in the last half of the third?
“Plymat’s foul catch was one of the prettiest seen on the field this year.
“The good plays of the visiting team were roundly applauded. This is as it should be.
“Anderson made a beauty of a stop on the seventh.
“Frank `Cam’ played a conscientious game today. This was Hourne’s first big game, but his stick work was alright.”
In weeks leading up to the several “big games” during the school year, the Daily became a source of unabashed propaganda for the Gophers. For instance on Oct. 18, 1902, instead of its normal Christian-prayer or patriotic song, the “Morning Song” section of the paper boasted lyrics designed to encourage support for the home team:
“Nebraska, she was jolly, Nebraska, she was gay, But when the game was over, she fell the other way. She saw the constellations, the moon the stars and sun. Her team felt kind of sickly when the football game was done.
“Oh U of M’s a daisy, She’ll knock Nebraska blue. She’ll set the world all crazy, it will learn a thing or two. You’ll weigh your 1500, Oh that’s a golden dream. Before you come a bucking, the Gopher football team.”
But when the Gophers lost to Nebraska that evening, the Daily’s front page the following morning featured a section in large bold text which read: “Every loyal Minnesotan will attend a mass meeting at the close of chapel exercises today. This is no time to knock or lay down. The team must be shown that the student body is solidly behind it. We must pull victory out of defeat. The time to do it is now.”
But sports coverage was not limited to cheerleading the game. In perhaps a foreshadow of University men’s basketball coverage in 1999, the Daily on Oct. 24, 1906 ran an article about the special treatment athletes received from academic officials before the football squad’s starting lineup was announced:
“While Minnesota’s prospects have for the last couple of weeks been far from roseate on account of the scholastic uncertainty under which a number of football men were laboring, they are very bright now.
“All of the men on the football squad were given a special opportunity to make up their conditions and flunks before Oct. 20, and in solemn meeting swore to do their best to clean up their college records. They have all succeeded, and all the players are eligible.”

After the sports rush
What little non-sports news that did exist was composed primarily of announcements for campus organizations such as the “Gopher” board of directors, those lucky students who were elected to create the annual University yearbook. Other announcements told students when and where the next oratory debate was to be held, or when the army cadets would receive new guns.
The burning of the University’s first permanent building in 1904, called the Old Main, was the Daily’s first substantial journalistic jump into modern-day news coverage. (See related story)
The Daily scooped other area newspapers with what was considered the only full, detailed account of the blaze. The fire translated into an opportunity for Daily reporters to work the news beat they worked best — campus news.
To cover academic departments, the Daily printed small sections titled “Notes” followed by the departments’ name. These small sections listed departmental and class announcements, similar in content to what one might find on today’s “ClassWeb.”
Another major portion of the Daily’s content — much similar to a bulk of today’s content — was coverage of speeches on campus, often supplemented with an interview with the speaker.
Topics spoken about were largely in line with mainstream social and political views of the time, including a speech by St. Paul man Daniel Lawler titled: “Christianity and Patriotism.” Instead of analyzing the speech, the Daily reporter essentially rewrote exactly what Lawler said:
“He showed that the founders of this republic were sincere Christians as well as splendid patriots. He paid a high tribute to the Puritans of New England who founded a new government in order to obtain religious as well as political liberty.”
Echoing this style of writing, another Daily article next to the Lawler piece listed verbatim sections of a speech delivered to students by President Theodore Roosevelt.
Under Roosevelt’s picture was the caption: “Theodore Roosevelt, Our Loved and Honored President.”
Many of the ideas written about by early Daily correspondents would be laughed at by today’s reporters, including this 1908 theory summed up in a Daily article titled “King of Tramps:”
“Dr. Ben L. Reitman, the so-called `King of Tramps,’ was interviewed by a Daily reporter and expressed his views on the vagrant problem.
“He believes the solution of vagrancy lies in distinguishing between the different kinds of vagrants, whom he classifies into three divisions. One class, which is too lazy to work, he holds to be inflicted with a disease which should be cared for in institutions similar to insane asylums. Another class, he says, are beggars because they have a mania for wandering; these he would educate to understand that they should not be parasites on society. The third class are men looking for work. He would avoid congestion of labor traffic through labor bureaus located in every town, stating where work was to be found.”
What today are considered “Editor’s notes,” were direct, abrupt messages to readers in the early 1900s, usually laid out on the front page of the paper.
After a 1901 rash of burglaries of student and faculty mailboxes in which copies of the Daily were stolen, the Daily printed a stern warning to the culprits:
“The persons who make a practice of `pinching’ dailies from the post office boxes of subscribers are again most seriously requested to desist. This is the second request. There will be no third. The time has come when this pernicious practice must be stopped.”
Sometimes, these direct messages to the readers took the tone of a public service announcement. Consider this 1908 article beckoning students to keep Minneapolis clean:
“It is often complained that the East Side, particularly the neighborhood of the University, is strewn with paper of all sizes and descriptions due chiefly to the carelessness of students, and there is much foundation for the complaint.”

Making use of its voice
But despite the focus on “just the facts, ma’am,” articles and harsh messages for the readers, the Daily reporters and writers knew how to experiment.
They created a section of the paper called “The Whip,” which was much like today’s “Network.” Un-named editors and reporters wrote small, editorialized summaries of their thoughts for the day.
“The Whip” ran periodically in the newspaper but did not adhere to a clear schedule. In 1904 the first entry of “The Whip” was filed:
“We are an organ of discontent voicing the woe of the masses who have never had a chance to graft.”
In the rest of the newspaper, sports and news coverage fell victim to extreme bias in their reporting. But this was what the readership expected.

And so it was …
By the end of that decade, stories were longer, more in depth and covered a wider range of news topics. The Daily was even more consistently eight pages long; it had outgrown its single-paged layout.
The Daily news staff had nearly doubled in number and no longer worked out of a single room in the Old Main. By 1910, its offices would be located in Folwell Hall — and considered the most disheveled room in the building.
Student reporters managed to work in a semblance of modern-day journalistic neutrality into their articles, although the formal style was still prevalent. Sports had been given a back section all its own, while straight news stories led off the front.
None carried bylines, however.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a 10-part series of stories highlighting each decade of the 20th century and how The Minnesota Daily covered them. The series will lead up to the Daily’s 100th anniversary on May 1 and culminate with a special section.
In compiling the project, our hope is that even casual Daily readers will gain a greater appreciation for the history and traditions shared by the University and its student newspaper. Because the Daily has always been a production by and for students, our growth has mirrored — and often intersected — the University’s expansion.
For the University, what began as a single building just west of what is now Pleasant Street has become a sprawling, modern, urban campus. For the Daily, what began as a conduit for official University notices and promotion has developed into an editorially independent news source for the University and surrounding communities.
In its nearly 100 years, the Daily has become a tradition itself. But the idea behind this project is not to celebrate the Daily alone; rather, we seek to take another look at the past in order to bring perspective to the present.
Along with tuition and registration, the Daily is one of the few things every student shares. It has been that way for 100 years. With any luck, it will stay that way for 100 more.
We hope you enjoy this trip through time.
Contributors:
Aaron Kirscht — editor in chief
Nick Doty — project coordinator
V. Paul Virtucio — associate editor
Michelle Franta — copy editor
Travis Reed — staff reporter
Max Rust — staff reporter
Mike DeArmond — art director