Sixty-six years ago this week, the Forty-Niner, started printing on a mimeographed sheet that was distributed outside the first Park Estates apartments that became Long Beach State. The newsroom consisted of a manual typewriter housed in a tool shed that leaked when it rained.
The newsroom grew to more roomy and less drafty spaces — the old LA 4 building, the dim SSPA basement, then, last winter, the new, refurbished LA 4 building. Over the years, students learned to write and edit deadline stories over varyingly sophisticated mediums, ask questions and collaborate with each other. They’ve won some awards and also made some mistakes.
They did this while working other jobs, and of course, going to class, taking tests. Usually.
Isabel Patterson, one of the first editors of the paper, informed her professors in 1950 that they absolutely could not give pop quizzes because she had to get the paper out and had no time to study.
Patterson went on to a career as a teacher and real estate mogul whose largesse brought us the child care center that bears her name. So apparently she turned out all right.
And #tbh, editors at the paper today occasionally skip class from exhaustion or to tend to their duties in the narrow, carpeted confines of the newish 49er newsroom. Students are in the newsroom all day and into the night. They eat there and nap on the blue hand-me-down couch. They become friends, hang out with each other, sometimes marry each other. (And they graduate. Just sayin’.)
In the early days, when the college was new, students showed the paper to administrators for approval and that seemed OK with students, according to Patterson, one of the paper’s first editors. The paper evolved and became more independent. It initially was overseen by Associated Students, which was then dominated by the Greek community, a big influence on campus in the 1950s.
When Lee Brown wanted to become editor in 1959, he said he would kill off a gossip column on Greek affairs that he thought was too fluffy for a newspaper. When Associated Students said they would cut 49er funding if he did, Brown ran for and won a seat as ASI treasurer. He did indeed kill the column, yet all talk of funding cuts ceased.
In 1961, Press Telegram columnist Bob Wells, who opined that college newspapers possessed “as much sparkle as the unfinished drinks on the coffee table the morning after,” said he nevertheless found the 49er “fun” but a little too liberal for his taste and a little too eager to “pick a fight,” particularly with conservatives on campus and elsewhere.
In June 1970, Long Beach State and other colleges were near the peak of campus anti-war and other activism. The Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram, wanting to give readers insight into the college mind, conducted an “experiment” and printed an entire copy of the 49er in its own paper.
And the phone lines lit up.
While many readers appreciated being “much better informed on college thought,” as one reader put it, others were far less appreciative.
Many “grown-ups,” one reader said, are aware of the “incessant, puerile clamor of adolescents who insist, with the arrogance of ignorance, upon having the last word on complicated issues,” wrote one reader. A few others called the supplement Communistic and another objected strenuously to the paper’s reporting of a black professor’s frustrating quest to rent an apartment in Long Beach. “We know there’s discrimination against blacks,” the reader opined, “by why let THEM know?”
Letting people know is pretty much the point of having a newspaper under the banner of a gloriously free press. Students have worked hard over the years to do this, with the varying degrees of success one might expect from a college paper, and just as much enthusiasm. On Sept. 11, 2001, the editors stayed in the newsroom and put out a special edition in defiance of campus officials who had ordered everybody out.
The old newsroom was dominated by a horseshoe desk that was the center of copy flow. In the early 1990s, it also became a theater-in-the-round for poetry readings, according to John Canalis, an editor with the Los Angeles Times. “Our features editor, an artist at heart, often stood in the middle of the desk, delivering verse to those of us lining the edges,” recalled Canalis. “This was, of course, the early 1990s, when the coffee house craze began to grip Southern California, and we, of course, took ourselves very seriously and would snap our applause when he finished his impromptu performances.”
The 49er editors of course ventured out to cover news, including national events such as the Los Angeles riots, which blazed into Long Beach in 1992. The 49er editors and reporters were nervous, but the twenty-somethings were eager to show they were up to the job. A photographer was injured and his equipment was stolen. One former 49er told students, that when he was covering the melee in South Central Los Angeles for the old Los Angeles Herald Examiner, he looked up and noticed there was a CSULB alum on every corner photographing the action.
On Nov. 11, 1949, classes at Long Beach State were being held for 169 students in living rooms, bedrooms and garages of makeshift apartments. The first editors announced that the new paper “finally gets off the bulletin board and on to the mimeographed sheet. Here it is — Volume I, Number I. We hope you like it.”
The editors apologized for the “roughness” of the first edition. “Everyone is just experimenting.” Sixty-six years later, they still are.
Kingsley-Wilson is content adviser for the Daily 49er and author of Long Beach State: A Brief History.