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Former Chronicle editor remembers 1968, start of daily publication

The Chronicle became a daily newspaper during the fateful year 1968.

The nation was in the midst of the searing controversy over the Vietnam War, racism and poverty. Duke was undergoing its own metamorphosis from a university that straddled the Old and New South to a university of national renown. Those growing pains complicated the university's efforts to deal with the conflicting forces that were trying to transform American society-including its universities. It was an optimistic time but full of impatience.

No one anticipated that the year would be so eventful. The Chronicle staff set out to create a newspaper that was issue-oriented, relevant, influential-that brought national news to Duke through the addition of the New York Times News Service, with expanded coverage of campus events, including features, sports and investigative reporting. We prepared elaborate budgets to increase revenue and save money, expanded the offices to include all of the third floor in Flowers Building and (before the computer age) leased equipment and hired three people to typeset and paste up the paper. We reasoned that a great university needed a daily campus newspaper to keep informed about itself. Because it was a daily-and because so many of the staff believed so passionately in reforming society-The Chronicle soon became a lively forum for rapid communication of fast-moving events.

As the fall began, the nation was adjusting to the dramatic, changing impact of the Vietnam War-to Lyndon Johnson's decision not to run again, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, George Wallace's remarkable vote totals, and the troubled national political conventions. Duke was also adjusting to the effects of the "Vigil"-a springtime peaceful student protest to get higher wages for non-academic employees, most of whom were black. The Vigil had brought more than 2,000 students to the center of the West Campus for about a week of camping out in the cold and rain. It had succeeded, but it had brought complaints from some alumni who objected to any form of protests, however peaceful and out-of-doors. It had also brought a somewhat controversial university policy on protests.

Throughout the year, student groups-from student government to smaller ad hoc groups-asked for an end to social curfews for women (yes, there were still curfews), open meetings of various university governing bodies, more student representation in decision-making and help for newly-admitted African-American students, including a Black Studies program. Duke also faced disagreement between senior vs. junior faculty, nationally-oriented vs. Old South-oriented trustees, and African-Americans vs. Durham businesses.

The Chronicle became a lightning rod for controversy because the editorial board both supported the activism and featured it prominently. The rhetoric was sometimes reasoned, sometimes strident. But the university never censored what was written. By the end of the academic year, a greater measure of openness had permeated various university decision-making bodies. The campus quieted.

The Chronicle never missed a day of publication and issued extra editions during the first year it went daily, despite continuous breakdowns of more primitive typesetting equipment and many other problems. That tradition of dedication has continued, at the same time that a sense of true professionalism has become more prevalent. A new staff comes in virtually every year. The words that Mrs. William Preston Few wrote to the editors long ago should be repeated, because they apply to each new generation: "I heartily congratulate you on the new Chronicle under your great ability and your flair for reporting the news. It is very promising and will have definite influence on the university....You can do so much to improve conditions at Duke."

Alan Ray

Trinity '69


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