Decade team: Dante Sacomani, Jason Jenny, Lauren Burt and Tom Barton (captain)

The 1980s were an eventful decade for The Iowa State Daily, beginning with a divisive conflict on the newspaper’s Publication Board and including award winning opinion writing and in-depth coverage of events.

In 1980, a religious student group on campus, ISU Bible Study, became upset with the content of The Daily, claiming it “allowed objectionable advertising and inaccurate reporting into the paper.” Members of this group served on The Daily’s Publication Board, leading some within the newspaper to worry The Daily would be taken over by religious fundamentalists. Ed Blinn, The Daily’s faculty adviser, resigned his position, citing “Continuation of the attack on the Daily by members of groups associated the ISU Bible Study.” The paper went to great lengths to separate itself from the ideologies of the Publication Board and defend its news coverage and advertising decisions. 

After intervention from the ISU Government of the Student Body, the Graduate Student Senate, two college councils, and the Sciences and Humanities Councils, the issue was settled by the creation of a code of ethics for The Daily and its Publication Board that defined the paper’s professional guidelines and basis for news judgment.

In the following years, the student paper’s coverage became like that of any other paper – it covered state, national and international issues as well as local ones, and offered robust and unfettered opinions on its editorial pages. In 1983, The Daily’s editorial board won a national award for a staff editorial calling for the university to name the football stadium after former football player Jack Trice. The editorial board took on all issues with an emphasis on pragmatism and non-partisanship. Members of the 1983 editorial board ranged from “quite conservative to quite liberal to those who hated politics altogether,” said Jeff J. Hunt, the editor in chief that year.

The opinion page handled its fair share of difficult issues through out the decade and so did the paper’s newsdesk. In 1985, the paper reported on perhaps one of the most tragic events in the school’s history.  On November 26, a plane carrying five members of the women’s cross country team crashed outside Des Moines, killing all five runners along with their coach and the pilot. The story dominated the front page for the month after the event keeping the students updated on all the case’s developments. ISU President W. Robert Parks resigned several months after the crash. Parks held the university’s top post for 21 years, the longest tenure in school history.

“It was one singular moment that pulled the entire campus together,” said Finn Bullers, the year’s editor. “We had to put together a special memorial edition to help remember the students.”

In addition to the content the paper also followed the nationwide trend of taking a more visual approach, thanks in large part to the colorful, modular layouts of USA Today.

The paper’s editorials slammed students for being apathetic. Activism declined in the 1980s, and interest in student government and national and international issues waned. One thing that continued to spark students’ passions was Veishea, the annual rite of spring. In 1988, a riot occurred on Welch Avenue when students began to light couches on fire.

Another major issue for ISU’s journalism students and faculty was the duplication of the mass communication programs at Iowa State and the University of Iowa. Originally, a recommendation was made by a university committee to scrap the school of journalism and make it into a science journalism program. However, the faculty estimated that such a program would draw approximately 50 students, too few to make it worthwhile. Then the Board of Regents for the Iowa system hired an outside firm to look over the program. The outside accountants determined that the ISU program should be eliminated. Rallying behind the leadership of department chair Tom Emmerson, the program was able to save itself thanks in large part to alumni and the efforts of the Des Moines Register, Cedar Rapids Gazette and other media in the state.

And Iowa State’s mass communication program remained known for producing competent journalists who have gone on to work for media organizations all over the world and who have won several Pulitzer Prizes. Later, Bob and Diane Greenlee announced they would donate $9 million to the program, and the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication was born.







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