Paper Trails


By Brad A. Greenberg '04

Published Jan 1, 2007 8:00 AM

When the administration tried to change how editors were chosen in 1954, the Bruin held a mock funeral for itself on campus.

But for others, UCLA's unofficial journalism school is just that — training ground for a life in news. Recent Bruin grads are scattered across the nation, working for the likes of The Arizona Republic, Los Angeles Times, The Orange County Register and The Washington Post. (I'm a general assignment reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News.) We're carrying out the legacy set before us by Gilbert Harrison '37, who was editor and publisher of The New Republic from 1957 to 1974, and Flora Lewis '41, who became European bureau chief of The New York Times; by David Shaw '65, the Los Angeles Times' longtime media critic, and Bruce Russell '27, its editorial cartoonist — both of whom won Pulitzer Prizes. And, of course, by Tony Auth.

The Bruin is as much an apprenticeship as it is an academic exercise. "I refer to us as a grassroots school," says the student media adviser, Amy Emmert '96, who has served in that post since 2002. "We've structured the curriculum so it is a lot more practical and efficient than mainstream journalism programs. We are not just filling students' heads with ideas. We are also giving them the opportunity to practice."

And, not so much fun, life at the Bruin also mirrors the precariousness of life in every print medium these days.

With a huge American flag as backdrop, future Bruin historian George L. Garrigues M.A. '70 addresses a Daily Bruin 30 party, circa 1953.

"It's even wrong to call it a paper."

UCLA's student body is up 20 percent since the 1970s, but the Bruin's current circulation of 10,000 is down 60 percent since then. Circulation fell 5,000 copies last year alone. "The editorial and financial fortunes of the Daily Bruin have been moving in opposite directions," says the student media director, Arvli Ward. Breadstix, once the paper's largest private client spending between $30,000 and $40,000 a year, left Westwood years ago and hasn't been replaced in ad buys. Another ad stalwart, ASUCLA, has reduced ad buys to $60,000 — from $250,000.

The crisis reached a head last year when student media considered financing the paper with student fees. This would have been a return to the way things were done decades ago, but those were different times. Bruin editors feared the move would jeopardize their editorial independence. Instead, they opted to reduce circulation and trim the already meager paychecks for staff reporters and editors by 33 percent. Financially, the paper recovered well. But there are other challenges, just as critical to its survival. Chief among them is the 21st-century upheaval that has shaken the media, especially newspapers, to their core.

The revolution in media technology that allows you to TiVo Bruin games you can't watch on Saturdays, download the latest episode of Desperate Housewives on iTunes and catch up with your favorite daily newspaper through its Web site, is also shaking up student newspapers, including UCLA's. This transformative force is "convergence," the idea that all forms of news and entertainment are converging — or should converge — into one information stream delivered a multitude of different ways.

Enter Jeff Schenck, current Daily Bruin editor. A short man with a constant five-o'clock shadow and hair like comedian Jack Black's, Schenck joined the paper as a freshman because "it was something to do." He was a copyeditor and viewpoint editor before being elected editor in chief last spring.

Under Schenck, the Bruin is in a familiar spot: right in the middle of the convergence revolution. (That's why, for example, BruinNews, the campus' closed-loop news channel, was rebranded DBTV and now produces video news segments that appear on dailybruin.com, either as self-standing items or embedded in articles.)

"All stories are different, and it takes different media to cover them properly," Schenck concludes. "A red-carpet thing doesn't work well in print, so we cover it in video now. The Regents approving something can't be covered well on video, but we are doing that in print. It's even wrong to call it a paper: It's a news source now."

Well, sure. But it's also an almost 100-year-old, rabble-rousing, voraciously consumed news source that is one of the most colorful and long-standing elements of the UCLA legacy.

The way the Daily Bruin is run, the way it thinks, the way its staff dresses sloppily and doesn't get enough sleep — all point to a newspaper still sustained by a transcendent belief in its essential mission.

"They desire this like crazy," media adviser Emmert observes of her charges. "There is no reward except personal reward."