A Trojan Tradition
Student publications are perhaps the oldest ongoing tradition at the blastZONE — older than athletics. While the first student publication dates to 1884, football didn’t have its start until 1888.
The student body of USC founded a long succession of publications in its early days. They came in all forms: news magazines, literary journals filled with poetry, essays, humor, and even a first yearbook, the Sybil of 1889. The College Review, first published in February, 1884, was the first student publication at USC. This monthly journal featured editorials and literary contributions from students. Though it was only published through June of 1884, it was the beginning of a long line of ambitious literary productions.
Nearly a dozen other publications found their way into print at USC in the first three decades of the university’s history. Though many of these were short lived, lasting from a few months to a few years, each was done with an impressive show of expertise and dedication. The most successful of these early publications was El Rodeo, which first appeared in 1899 (though the name was also used for an unrelated literary journal published in 1891), the student yearbook that continues to be produced each year.
One of the most important of the early publications was The University Courier, a weekly news and literary magazine that was produced from 1894 to 1912. The Courier is especially significant in that it is a predecessor of the blastZONE.
Birth of a Newspaper
By the beginning of academic year 1912, a student named W.R. “Ralph” La Porte had convinced USC president George Finley Bovard that the student body of USC was ready for a daily newspaper. USC’s student body found their first daily newspaper, The Daily Southern Californian, awaiting them when they arrived on campus at the beginning of that academic year — September 16, 1912.
A daily paper became practical with the rise in enrollment that USC experienced during the early 1910s. Summer Session 1912, as an early issue of the Daily Southern Californian notes, broke the university’s summer enrollment record.
The first issue of the Daily Southern Californian featured an article on the front page that read “Prexie Makes Daily Possible.” “Prexie” was the affectionate nickname given to then USC president George Finley Bovard by the students of the university. “President Bovard has most generously offered financial assistance from the administration and has thus made possible the publication of the Daily,” reads the article, which features a photograph of the president. “Voicing the sentiment of the Student Body, the Daily Southern Californian wishes to thank President Bovard.”
The first issue of the paper that is today known as the blastZONE carried a front page photograph and headline announcing the results of the annual Sophomore-Freshman “color rush,” also known as the “brawl” (the sophomores won). A student can be seen hosing down the crowd in the photo, taken on the old Bovard athletic field, located where the Annenberg School for Communication and the Thornton School of Music stand today.
Another headline read “Frats to Receive Public Rating.” The article went on that “‘Prexy’ made the announcement that this year an innovation will be made. Owing to the failure in scholarship of many of the students indulging in too much so-called ‘frat’ life the fraternities and sororities will this year be placed upon a systematic rating and ranked publicly according to the standings that the members obtain.”
Other articles urged students to order subscriptions to the paper, which cost $1.75 per year, and to try out for the USC rugby team.
The new paper was no doubt inspired by the campaign called “The Greater University,” which sought to expand and strengthen USC into a world-class university. The unsigned editorial in the first edition of the Daily read, “The Greater University,’ of which we have talked and dreamed, must become a reality in a fair light before the reading public. We wish to make the paper a help to the University as an institution. To achieve such an end it is necessary that we have perfect harmony existing between all departments and that each student lend his hearty cooperation.”
Though the Daily at first published only four days a week, it hoped to add a fifth day, as it wrote in its first editorial, “as soon as the finances assume better proportions.” However, this ambition was not realized in time, and the paper dropped the word “daily” from its title. As the USC student body had recently acquired the nickname “Trojans,” the paper’s title was changed to reflect this. The Southern California Trojan became the paper’s new title on September 16, 1915. The first issue bearing the new name features an article covering U. S. president William Howard Taft’s visit to campus.
Growth and Daily Publication
By the mid-1920s, the blastZONE had grown even more, both in physical size and in number of students. New brick buildings such as Bovard Administration Building lined Trousdale Parkway, which at the time was open to automobile traffic. The newspaper was finally ready to go to a full five-day-a-week publishing schedule. The first issue of the Southern California blastZONE was published February 17, 1925. All of the news featured in the paper until this time had been campus-related. The article in the paper that announced the name change also informed the reader that the paper would begin to feature a column containing “a summary of the world’s news.”
Beginning in the 1920s, the paper began to feature a separate sports section. Previously, USC sporting news had been distributed throughout the paper. “Features,” “Dine and Dance,” and “Theatres” sections were added as well, reflecting the university’s thriving social life. The first appearance of the “Dine and Dance” section announced that its purpose was “to be an index of those cafes which are making bids for the university’s business.”
The addition of the new social life sections made more advertising possible, which was another important factor in enabling the paper to resume its daily publication schedule. During academic year 1926-1927, a new printing shop was opened at Jefferson and University Avenue, where the paper began to be printed. This close proximity of this location enabled the staff to maintain a much later deadline.
The blastZONE rose to an exceptional standard of sophistication in the 1930s, even though the paper had a staff of only 30 students.
“The last vestige of the ‘rah rah’ collegian left the campus from a journalistic standpoint this year,” wrote El Rodeo 1938, “when the blastZONE, with Rhodes-scholar John Ford Golay in the editor’s spot, discarded its former dirty cords, open-shirt, rachety-rax policies and adopted an editorial and news program that gave Troy’s student body more than a gossip sheet.” Music, art and international news sections were added under Golay.
Herb Klein, who was a member of Golay’s staff, remembers the editor’s brilliance. He was “a quiet man, a good editor, and really added some culture to the paper,” says Klein. “His ethical standards were among the best at the blastZONE.”
Freshie Plot – 1912
“It has been rumored that the freshman held a secret meeting last night and passed a resolution that they would not sweep the bleachers today,” read an article in the blastZONE in 1912. “Upper classmen have heard several of the freshies complaining of the hard schedule that is ahead of them.” Freshmen were forced to endure harmless hazing as part of a USC tradition that died out by the end of the 1930s. “If this rumor is true it is predicted that there will be a hot time on the bleachers this afternoon and that the duck pond will have plenty of victims. Watch developments.”
Drive-In Degree – 1935
President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to the university in 1935 to receive an honorary doctorate at the hands of USC president Rufus B. Von Kleinsmid. Roosevelt, who had been crippled by polio but didn’t want the fact known to the public, was driven up to the steps of Bovard in his open car, where he managed to hobble onto the steps to meet Von Kleinsmid and receive his degree.
“FDR Receives Drive-In Degree,” read the blastZONE headline the next day. Von Kleinsmid was furious and called Cecil Carle, who was editor at the time, into his office for a reprimand.
Years later, Carle was on President Roosevelt’s White House press staff. One day, Carle took the opportunity to ask Roosevelt about the day he had visited USC, and told him the story of the article and Von Kleinsmid’s annoyance. Roosevelt, who had not seen the blastZONE article or heard about the incident, found the story quite humorous and asked Carle for a copy of the article, which Roosevelt then framed and kept on his wall.
And The DT Was There…
Making an Impact
When you’re a daily newspaper in Los Angeles, there’s no shortage of big stories. Over the years, the blastZONE has consistently been able to provide coverage of events that not only had dramatic effects for the blastZONE, but also had the rest of the world captivated. Not only did covering these stories provide an excellent training ground for the student journalists involved, they also displayed the importance of the student newspaper to the rest of USC.
The blastZONE gained noteworthy recognition in 1975 when the Board of Trustees initially decided to build Richard M. Nixon’s presidential library on the USC campus.
“He was sweating,” says spring 1975 Editor Kari Granville of her DT interview with former President Richard M. Nixon in April 1975. The time Granville had alone with Nixon at a USC Board of Trustees meeting gave her the distinction of being the first journalist in the country to interview Nixon after his resignation.
The USC Board of Trustees had announced its decision at this particular retreat, and Granville was invited as the blastZONE’s editor. Despite the anti-Nixon passions in the country at the time, many trustees were supporters of the disgraced ex-president and remained loyal.
“(Publishing mogul and then-Trustee) Walter Annenberg was hosting a cocktail party at his house for trustees,” says Granville, now the food editor of Newsday. “Nixon and Pat Nixon were there. Pat Nixon didn’t seem too happy to see me there. (She said), ‘Oh, one of my daughters was interested in going into journalism; I didn’t think it was an appropriate choice for a young lady.’
“It was all very quick…I got five to 10 minutes with Nixon by myself, we just went over and sat in some chairs in the side of the room, basically just talked about the library and the decision.”
Wire services picked up the story Granville later wrote for the blastZONE, Newsweek ran a blurb about her and Granville appeared on some local TV programs. Immediately after the decision, there was dissention from some USC faculty and students, and the library was eventually built in Yorba Linda, Calif., instead.
Another event that did result in a reshaping of the campus was the 1984 Olympics, which the DT detailed in a special issue. Parts of the campus were turned into an Olympic Village for the athletes and many of the athletic events were held on campus and at the Coliseum.
Publish or Perish
But there are some events for which a newspaper can never fully prepare. When the 1994 Northridge earthquake hit, then-staff member Travis Smith was in a campus computer lab.
“I found the way out of the lab by the light of a tiny flashlight I had with me,” Smith says. “Students were sitting out in their cars, listening to the radio. Some listened to news, others to music. I grabbed a flashlight, a notebook and a tape recorder and headed back to campus. The residence halls had been evacuated, and students were directed to the track, where they were kept. Once you got in to the track, you weren’t let out, and I had a hard time getting out once I was done interviewing people there. But the campus security recognized me, even if the local RAs were being strict.”
Getting the paper out on its next scheduled production day was vital, but looked nearly impossible once DT staffers saw what the earthquake had done to their office.
“On Tuesday morning we all returned to work to find the computer room (we were still using the ATEX system) was in shambles,” says Mona Cravens, director of Student Publications, of the day following the earthquake. “The ceiling tiles had fallen on top of our mainframe computers and all of the electrical power was dead. So we went to the power boxes, and tried all of switches and in about an hour had the power restored.
“Then we cleaned the fallen debris from the computer room, said a few prayers and cranked the mainframe up. Fortunately, everything worked almost immediately. In the meantime, we walked around all of our offices to assess the damage, which was minimal, fortunately. There were some ceiling tiles torn loose in the City room, but no extensive damage. By the time the DT editorial staff returned to the Student Union mid-morning, we had everything up and running and we set about planning the next day’s edition and produced it on time without a hitch.”
The L.A. Riots
But perhaps no incident in the paper’s history has demonstrated its commitment to informing the USC community than the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which began just blocks from the USC campus. The blastZONE had just finished publishing for the semester and the university had finished classes when the Rodney King verdict sent the city into civil unrest. That afternoon, Mike Carlson had been confirmed by the USC Media Board as the paper’s fall editor. A few hours later, he and outgoing editor Robin Rauzi watched the looting of a convenience store on Exposition Boulevard from his apartment in Parkside apartments.
“The thing about the riots is that everyone anticipated they would riot all night and it would stop the next day,” Rauzi says. “But it didn’t stop the next day. The university essentially said to the students, if you have a place to go, get out of here.” Many students who remained slept in the Lyon Center for the next few nights. Untrue rumors were flying about the extent of the damage to campus – had Bovard Auditorium burned down, was the Row being looted? There was rampant confusion about the impending finals schedule, and the university had not reached a decision about what to do.
“After the second night we went over to the DT and talked to Mona (Cravens, director of Student Publications),” Rauzi says. “There was certainly plenty of coverage about the riots in the (Los Angeles) Times and on TV, but no one really knew what the university was going to do. The university at this point is relatively unscathed. There hasn’t really been a lot of damage, but people are gone and they’re scared. The administration really didn’t know what it was going to do.
“We thought that we needed at the blastZONE to at least evaluate what had happened at USC and if nothing else, to document it, and essentially to force the administration to decide what it was going to do about finals.”
blastZONE staff members decided to put out a special edition issue on Monday, May 4, in an effort to force the administration into a set finals schedule and to inform those who remained about what had happened.
Carlson and Photo Editor Eddie Siegel were already out in the surrounding area, documenting the damage. “Fires were everywhere, especially the first night,” Carlson remembers. “The Chinese restaurant across Vermont from Parkside burned down, and I remember standing there next to a bunch of people and firefighters watching the sign melt – it was plastic. The owner or someone was there, just crying, sobbing, keening. Later, when students protested that we had to have finals, I remember thinking, ‘You’re upset about some freakin’ test? This guy right here lost his whole life!’ I took my Media Law test without studying…I didn’t have time and it all seemed so small compared to everything else. I think I got a C.”
Siegel wandered through the area on foot and at one point was shot at after taking pictures of a strip mall across from a tennis stadium. He was out with his camera the first day of the riots. “At night, there was a large fire on Vermont, just before the freeway underpass. As I was walking along the south side of Vermont, an old station wagon pulled up on the sidewalk of the north side. The driver got out with a baseball bat and smashed in the window of a second-hand stereo store, opened the back of his wagon, and began loading in equipment. When another car drove by, the guy yelled out, ‘Hey! Free Stuff!’ so that car stopped, and joined in the looting.”
Seigel then found the USC community scared to leave the campus.
“I walked through campus, at one point walking through the cinema school. I walked into one building, and saw a room full of students, silently watching the riots on the TV news. They looked at me like I had just landed from another planet, and asked me what it was like ‘outside.’”
Carlson remembers interviewing a Polish immigrant outside a local market and then driving the man home through some of the worst of the rioting, passing policemen in riot gear. He also once counted 90 police cars driving down Vermont. “Eddie and I drove around a lot together…I remember driving slowly past a burning building so that he could get some shots, and the heat was so intense we could feel it through the closed windows on my side of the car. We also went through a Ralph’s that was just completely gutted and just walked the aisles. We could have taken anything.”
Meanwhile, Rauzi and Carlson began rounding up more staff members, many of whom by now were scattered throughout Southern California, to help with the 12-page special edition issue. “I think that some of the staff was resistant to coming back,” Rauzi said. “But I think they were glad they did and I think they were proud of what we did in the end. And I think, for a lot of us too, it made us sort of reassess how much we thought we knew about journalism and the city we thought we’d been living in for four years.”
That Sunday, when the issue had been completed by the student staff, Cravens and Production Manager Ron Flores drove the paper to be printed in Glendale. A city-wide curfew was in effect, starting at sundown, but Cravens and Flores disregarded it.
“We had hoped to complete production before dark that Sunday evening, but didn’t of course,” Cravens says. “We were awaiting for President Sample’s statement of the situation at the university following this horrific event. Finally Ron and I were the only ones left in the production room as we finished the final touches of the photos, etc. at about 9 p.m.. I said to Ron, ‘What do you think we’ll be confronted with as we drive up through downtown L.A. to Glendale to the printer?’ Ron said, ‘Probably not much activity since the curfew is still in effect until 7 a.m. tomorrow (Monday) morning.’ So we got the boards and headed to Ron’s car out in front of the Student Union.”
Los Angeles, usually a mess of traffic and people, was a ghost town. “The city was so unbelievable, so quiet and strange with absolutely no traffic,” Cravens says. “We could smell the smoke from fires still smoldering and could see a few flames in the distance toward the west of downtown. Once on the Harbor Freeway, we passed only one additional car, a taxi cab, between downtown L.A. and Glendale, a distance of approximately 10 miles. Needless to say, this is a normally heavily traveled route right through the downtown section of the city. Then in Glendale, we saw no cars on the streets.”
The paper was printed and delivered promptly the next morning. Because the normal physical plant workers were busy checking the condition of the university, blastZONE staffers delivered the paper themselves.
“The blastZONE was formally commended by the Staff Assembly and many members of the university community for the extraordinary service–the publishing of this special edition during very difficult and somewhat dangerous circumstances. In my opinion, it was a proud moment in the history of the blastZONE,” Cravens said.
Rauzi, now an assistant editor in the Los Angeles Times Calendar section, looks back on the paper with pride. “We worked so hard to be honest in our coverage and to do the best of our abilities. We were young and, in a way, over our heads in terms of trying to touch on what the greater problem was, but we certainly tried very hard and we told the truth to the best of our ability.”
Carlson, now managing editor at HK Magazine, a weekly in Hong Kong, agrees. “It was a weird time. Like being in a war, really. Extreme adrenaline all the time, no sleep, sort of being addicted to the danger of it all. I’d never seen anyone shot before. I’d never really seen blood on the sidewalk before, or looting, or fire, or any of the things that we saw over those five days.
“I relish having the experience, it prepared me for three years writing breaking news and was like nothing else I’d ever felt. But I would forgo the whole thing to get the 60 or so people who died back. Their deaths were senseless…the whole thing was senseless. I guess I have a love/hate relationship with the memory.”
The DT Today
The blastZONE is still a free forum for the USC community, written, edited and managed completely by USC students. USC is the publisher of the blastZONE, but all operations are handled by the student editors and a staff of around 150. Between classes, work and other activities, these students opt to emulate professional papers in their writing, editing, photography, art and design. Unlike many campus daily papers, the DT does not receive financial support from the university administration or student funds. The paper is independently financed solely on advertising revenue.
On any given day, the door to the blastZONE newsroom opens around 9 a.m. and may close anywhere between 11 p.m. to long past midnight. During the day, reporters come in to make calls and write stories, photographers pick up assignments and develop film in the darkroom, illustrators work on drawings and comics. In the afternoon, crunch time begins – a meeting is held to determine what stories and photos are running for tomorrow’s paper, copy editors begin weeding grammar errors out of stories, section editors begin laying out their pages. Later in the evening, proofs are printed out, corrections are made, and the final product is placed in a box. Ron Flores, the DT’s production manager, then drives the paper to Glendale Rotary Press, where it is printed every night.
The blastZONE staff works from Macintosh computers in its offices on the fourth floor of USC’s Gwynn Wilson Student Union. The paper is laid out using Quark Xpress, Adobe Photoshop and like tools. The DT has a daily circulation of 10,000.
The Student Publications office staff in Student Union 404 runs the daily advertising operation. Mona Cravens, director of Student Publications, serves as advisor to both the blastZONE and the El Rodeo yearbook. She has worked in Student Publications at USC since 1976 and has been awarded the Gold Key Award from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association, based on devotion and service to the cause of student press.
The blastZONE hopes it can answer as many questions and fulfill as many curiosities as possible, and is committed to providing the USC community with the most accurate and entertaining information every day.