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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Guest: Eulogy for The California Aggie newsroom

A former Aggie opinion editor mourns his college newsroom

The California Aggie newsroom is a nostalgia machine.

Anybody who’s spent any real time in 25 Lower Freeborn knows it, but to an outside observer, the place might feel like the headquarters of an unusually bookish cult.

Then again, maybe that’s not so far off.

Get together a bunch of half-formed but dangerously smart adults. A little cynical, these kids, but they’re reporters, and they’ve got the perspective for a sense of humor. Stick them in a basement for hours on end. You’ll come up with the Aggie’s newsroom.

Unfortunately, that newsroom will soon be demolished.

UC Davis said last month that it had decided to tear down Freeborn Hall rather than spend extra money for renovations and seismic retrofitting. Other offices in Lower Freeborn, like the KDVS radio station and the Food Pantry, will also be destroyed.

I was the Aggie’s opinion editor from 2015 to 2017. The news devastated me, and many other alums of the Aggie who had spent so much time working in the basement.

You can see the characters of those alums literally written on the walls. Taped-up quotes include musings on hostile workplaces, murder, North Korea and Disneyland.

Staffers long graduated maintain a presence in the newsroom through these quotes. They’re the thing visitors point out the most and find the most entertaining.

That, or the Orgasmatron.

The Aggie newsroom will turn you on. So go ahead: Take a whirl through the Orgasmatron. Check out the half-dozen Mark Ruffalo pictures. This place leaves an impression.

I won’t miss Upper Freeborn. I only took one class in its auditorium, a several hundred student strong “Introduction to Psychology” type class. That was to please Mom, the psychology Ph.D.

But I understand the Grateful Dead played Freeborn. I’m a fan (which also pleases Mom, the Deadhead). So maybe losing the auditorium will also be a tragedy.

But let’s go back downstairs.

Here’s a trivia question: How much of the Aggie office was taken up by oversized PC monitors in the early 90s?

a.) 70%

b.) 35%

c.) 15%

d.) What’s a PC monitor?

The answer is D, but I wouldn’t knock you for picking any of the other options.

Let’s see. What else?

A stale bagel has sat for years atop one of our ventilation tubes. We call it “The Bagel.”

There was also the actual newspapering. Working with columnists, reporters and editors was the highlight of my college experience. It led to my current career in journalism.

The newsroom I knew was active, serious about covering issues like sexual violence, the resignation of Linda Katehi as chancellor, the hiring of Gary May to replace her and one of the most consequential presidential elections in United States history.

These concerns breed the kind of discussions that shape half-formed adults. It’s always painful to lose a place where you see so much intellectual and personal development.

Of course I argued in the newsroom. Had unpleasant meetings and sharp disagreements about editorial decisions. But those get lost quick in the mythology of the place. (Right, Scott? We’re good? I think Scott and I are good.)

A college newsroom is a place where people think with integrity about hard topics and respect different opinions. Leave the 280-byte Twitter disagreements to the grown-ups.

I guess this was inevitable. Time passes. Newsrooms change.

I’m sad to see this office go. But I’m excited to see what future staffs make of the next basement they get shoved into. It’ll be great, because college reporters are great people.

A few closing words:

Many of you reading this probably have never visited the Aggie newsroom. You should. Pop your head in before these school administrators get the unique satisfaction of bulldozing a newspaper. Some of the best (and weirdest) conversations I had in the Aggie were with strangers who popped in unannounced.

I also would love to hear from former Aggie staff members, or anybody who has spent any time in the Aggie newsroom. Do you have a fond memory to share? Health problems from breathing basement air? Find my contact information below.

And finally, a request for the current staff:

Save the quotes. Now. Don’t wait. After all, what are journalists without their quotes?

Written by: Eli Flesch

The writer is a reporter based in New York City. Reach him at elikafton@gmail.com.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.


  1. Great read. I was the Art Director and then Business Manager back in 88-91. Kale is right, I think the first computer we had was a 1987 512k Mac SE with dual drives. It only started with a disk and was around $3,000 I believe. By 1990 we had over a dozen Mac SEs and Mac 30s cranking away on Pagemaker. By ’91 we had an entire news room of Mac Pluses networked (miraculously) to a server that fed directly into the “graphics machines” in the layout room. I believe we were the first fully digital, daily newspaper in the U.S. We still did some stuff by hand (copy camera, hand drawn stuff) but for the most part we printed entire sheets off of our Compugraphic 9600. So the answer was actually E, the place was full of screens, glowly in all their monochrome glory in a sea of eggshell white cases.

    Shame they’re tearing the old place down, I suppose, but it sure as hell gave us all a lot of memories. I always say I graduated from the Aggie Newspaper while I went to school at UC Davis.

  2. I was a typesetter, proofreader, and copy camera operator starting in 1983, then staff writer, arts writer, copyreader, and night editor through the fall of 1987. I remember John Melendez giving me the go-ahead to set up a network with our brand new Macintosh computers in the mid-80s, joining the group news network for all the UC student papers for the very first time. I read the story of the Space Shuttle Columbia out loud to a stunned newsroom live off the teletype. I pulled many election all-nighters. I put out a fire in an old-style waxer when someone tried to use alcohol to clean it. One epic night, the power went out… and somehow we managed to move everything (including a whole roll of undeveloped galley strips) and finish production over at the Enterprise. I have lifelong friends I made in Happyland: Autumn Labbe-Renault, Heather Ash, Caren Callaway, David Deem, Cindy Scott, Jenny Rihl, Eric Reyes, Derrick Bang!, Matthew Gallagher, Jonathan Healey, and dozens of others. I’d love to catch up someday with Ethan Watters, Victoria Colliver, Renee Allison, John Akers-Sassaman… I went on to do production, writing, and editing for Farmer Bob’s News and Review, The Flatlander, the Dixon Trib, the Sacramento N&R, and finally landed an assistant editorship at The Davis Enterprise in the 90s (where I hired some dude called Sebastian Oñate… I hear he’s still around). Working at the Aggie opened doors for me, all over campus and the city while I lived there, and all through my life once I moved to the Midwest. It was a great run, Lower Freeborn. I’m so glad I got to be part of the team!


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