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The Daily Tar Heel

Happy 127: The DTH celebrates over a century of printing news and raising hell

2020 DTH Birthday Staff Photo

The Daily Tar Heel will celebrate its 127th birthday on Feb. 23 and reflect on its eventful history as one of the oldest student newspapers in the country. 

The celebration will include panels and a dinner party featuring keynote speaker Rochelle Riley, a DTH alumna and the current director of arts and culture for the city of Detroit. Riley said the longevity of the DTH strengthened her dedication to the paper as a reporter. 

"Knowing that it had been around for a century was a huge deal for me," she said. "Working for the campus daily and knowing that there were 20,000 people who might see what I was doing was just heavy stuff."

The DTH began in 1893 as a four-page weekly tabloid, then called the Tar Heel, founded by the Athletic Association. It had a seven-member editorial team and was financed by student subscriptions.

In 1920, editor-in-chief Thomas Wolfe announced the paper would be published twice a week. The DTH then changed its affiliation in 1923, when the Student Publications Union Board began to oversee it. The paper became financed by a $5.50 publications fee charged to all students.

The Tar Heel became The Daily Tar Heel in 1929, and the paper was published six days a week until the early 1940s, when it returned to publishing twice a week. The number of papers issued per week continued to fluctuate. Now, the paper publishes three weekly print issues and online stories five days a week.

Throughout the 1970s, the DTH engaged in a long court battle with campus politicians who had attempted to control the content of the paper by threatening its financial stability — eventually leading to the DTH gaining financial independence in 1993.

The DTH became one of the first newspapers to be published on the internet in 1994 and is now one of the largest college daily newspapers in the United States. 

Emily Siegmund, co-editor-in-chief of the DTH, spoke about the ways the paper has changed over time.

“I think we’ve shifted in a big way, as the entire industry has, relying less on print and trying to forge multimedia projects, which is something we’re looking for more in the future,” she said. “Multimedia I think is going to be a really big aspect of news and the DTH, hopefully.”

Siegmund also commented on the ways the DTH has stayed constant.

“I think we’ve always told the big, important, hard stories,” she said. “We’ve always been really dedicated to investigative reporting.”

Riley spoke about how the DTH has changed since she was a staffer.

"It gets better and better every decade and every year," she said. "I see the online work that the students are doing and I'm just so proud. My hope is that it never goes all digital. I think that even if that happens at some point, there will always be a printed product, even if it has to become a newsletter."

Kenneth Zogry is a public historian and author of "Print News and Raise Hell," a book about the history of the DTH. He said the moment from DTH history that sticks out most to him is an April Fool’s issue published in the Cold War era satirizing former Senator Joseph McCarthy and his tactics against potential communists. 

“This worried the FBI so much that they sent someone in,” Zogry said. “Apparently, the editor told him off. That story sticks out in my head. It’s a combination of the humor involved in the sharpness of the actual April Fools’ issue, and it also happened to be some of the people who became giants in journalism were there as students at the time.”

For Marco Quiroz-Gutierrez, co-editor-in-chief of the DTH, the Silent Sam saga has been the most important story during his time at the paper.

“Another defining moment for me was filing the lawsuit against the University about the open meetings law, regarding Silent Sam and how the decision was handled because the decision was not held in plain sight,” he said. “I think that’s something that I’m going to remember at least for the rest of my life.”

In January, the parent company of the DTH filed a legal complaint against the UNC System and Board of Governors, alleging that their plans for the disposition of Silent Sam were created in violation of N.C. open meetings laws. 

Ryan Tuck, former editor-in-chief of the DTH in 2006 and now a media coach and consultant, reflected fondly on his experience at the paper and what the DTH means to him.

“It was this beautiful reflection of what the DTH is,” he said. “Just really, really passionate student journalists who want to report the best way they know how to do.”

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