A look at The California Aggie 40 years ago, alumni experiences in a different world
40 years is a huge gap in time with lots of room for change. In 1977, the world was vastly different than it was in 1937, before World War II, the Civil Rights movement and humans walking on the moon. Today in 2017, with the advent of computers, cell phones and DNA testing, the difference from 1977 could not seem greater.
At UC Davis, the newspaper is one constant part of campus life that has existed for over 100 years. But there are certainly differences between The California Aggie 40 years ago versus today.
“I would type up a story on paper [with a typewriter] and then I would hand that story to one of the composing typists who would retype it into a machine that would spit out a little yellow tape that was about an inch thick,” said Derrick Bang, who graduated in 1977 as an English major with an emphasis in creative writing. “And then you’d run that tape through a machine which would spit out a tape of column-wide strip of your story, and then that would be given to the layout people […] and they would run the strips through a waxer […] so that it would stick when you put it down. One story at a time.”
Bang started writing for The Aggie in the fall of 1974 as a sophomore. He started at UC Davis as pre-vet, but quickly realized that writing was his strong suit. After his stint as a reporter, he transitioned to become the entertainment editor for his junior and senior years.
“We had no way of knowing how long or short the story had to be, so cuts would be made at the last second literally by taking pair of scissors and cutting out two paragraphs in order to get the story to fit with the ads,” Bang said. “That was one of the reasons we were there for so much time because it was a much more time-intensive process. When I wasn’t in class and not doing homework, I was there.”
As entertainment editor, Bang experienced an emerging entertainment scene in Davis. At the time, Davis only had two theaters and couldn’t accommodate the number of movies that were coming out. Nowadays it’s easy to look up movies and reviews at the click of a button, but Bang came up with the innovative idea to run listings of movies that were playing in Sacramento — something none of the other local papers were doing then.
“I knew that people were going to Sacramento [to watch movies],” Bang said. “So every Monday night I would spend two hours calling all of the managers in about 20 different movie theaters and finding out what they were going to be opening that coming Friday, which I would then run in Wednesday’s or Thursday’s paper.”
Today The Aggie runs once a week, but for a long time it was running daily, Monday through Friday. Needless to say, staff members were constantly writing in order to fill the 14 to 16 pages of the daily paper.
“You ended up writing just a lot and it seemed to me that it wasn’t unusual that you would write a story every day, and sometimes more,” said Richard Moreno, a 1978 graduate who majored in political science. “We used to have Associated Press and we were able to plug in wire service stuff to fill some of the holes, but we always tried to make the front page as much as possible local stories in the school or city stories.”
During Moreno’s time with The Aggie, he was at one time or another a reporter, campus editor and city editor. He eventually became managing editor for an entire quarter before becoming ASUCD President. He worked closely with the editor-in-chief at the time, Rob Pattison, and the other staff to run a fun and professional paper.
“I really loved being managing editor,” Moreno said. “We did a lot of projects together, […] and I think that’s part of what I liked, is we were a good team and we liked each other. I remember we did a series called ‘All the Chancellor’s Men,’ which obviously we’re talking about right after the book [‘All the President’s Men’] came out. [It was] a series on each of the vice presidents. It was always fun, there was a good staff of people that we worked with.”
The Aggie ran a few fun and creative projects at the time, including a daily soap opera known as “From the University Chronicles.” Every day ended with a cliffhanger, leaving readers begging for more.
“There was at that time so much freedom,” said Erin McGraw, who graduated in 1979 as an English major with a creative writing emphasis. “I could do anything I wanted to, and I could try anything. If I wanted to write a review in the form of a question and answer series, I could have. Anything would have been a totally reasonable thing to try, as long as I put my back into it and as long as I didn’t make it a joke. That was just super fun, it really was, it was awesome.”
McGraw worked at The Aggie as a writer for the entertainment desk. When she first started, she was assigned to cover a city hall meeting but soon discovered she truly prefered covering dance shows and classical music.
“I really did stay in my narrow little furrow and I was cranking out all of these reviews which were fun for sure and allowed me to see performances and to hear performing arts and all kinds of stuff that I wouldn’t have been able to do on my own,” McGraw said. “There was wonderful, wonderful classical music that came to Davis. There was a terrific arts scene in Davis in those days, and that was before the Mondavi Center!”
Throughout history, the public’s view of media has come in waves. Moreno said that despite the fact that The Aggie was underappreciated while he worked there, it was still seen in a positive light compared to the public’s opinion of news outlets in 2017.
“In those days there was the Davis Enterprise, and the Woodland Democrat had the Davis Edition […] so I think that was always a challenge to try to get respect and have people look at the paper and consider us serious,” Moreno said. “[Students] don’t get the respect they deserve for the amount of work they put in. Especially in this new era of ‘fake news,’ it’s even harder. We were coming out of a post-Watergate period where there was a little higher opinion of news outlets.”
Despite these waves in attitudes through the years, something Bang, McGraw and Moreno all share is a deep reverence for journalism and journalists themselves. Working at The Aggie helped prepare them beyond college in various writing careers.
“Working at the Aggie prepared me for the 13 years that I was a desk editor at the Davis Enterprise, though one did not immediately follow the other, there’s no question that the experience of one led to the other,” Bang said. “Journalists are fabulous people and nothing distresses me more today than the realization that for about the past 18 months, journalists and journalism in general have been held and are being held in such low regard. I certainly hope that I live long enough to see that trend reversed.”
Written by: Marlys Jeane — firstname.lastname@example.org