America’s Oldest College Newspaper? At Least 8 Papers Claim the Title (Sort of)

Common sense dictates that only one college newspaper should be able to rightfully proclaim itself as the oldest in the country. In reality, not so much.

At last count, at least eight papers publicly claim the crown– sort of. They boast online– typically atop their homepages or in their Twitter profiles– about either coming first, being around the longest or staying the same throughout their entire run. Yes, there are differences in those designations, at least to those who run the pubs.

It’s all in how you look at what constitutes oldest– and the description that comes next. Be warned: This is geekier than geeky, which is what makes it so much fun.

First, let’s take a look at the contenders. Here’s a screenshot sampling.

The Bowdoin Orient, Bowdoin College

3

The Cornell Daily Sun, Cornell University

8

The Dartmouth, Dartmouth University

5

The Harvard Crimson, Harvard University

6

The Miami Student, Miami University

4

The Simpsonian, Simpson College

2

The Transcript, Ohio Wesleyan University

1

Yale Daily News, Yale University

7

As you can read in the profiles or mastheads above, some of the differentiations are easy enough to understand– oldest daily, oldest weekly, oldest independent daily, etc. The key phrase that provides a clue as to why there is so much confusion over all this: “continuously published” (or as The Transcript puts it, “continually published”).

You see, a student newspaper began publishing at Dartmouth College in 1799, a few decades or longer before other student papers. So they are the champs, right? Not so fast, in part because the paper wasn’t originally known as The Dartmouth. It started as Dartmouth Gazette. It didn’t become The Dartmouth until sometime in the 1800s. And it didn’t always publish on a regular basis (or “continuously”).

MiamiStudentTherefore, The Miami Student at Miami University claims it is actually the oldest college paper, with a founding year of 1826. Except, maybe not. The first issue historians have located is from 1867, sporting a Volume 1, Issue 1 designation atop the front page. And apparently this paper also didn’t publish on a regular news cycle in its early days. (I warned you this was geeky.)

So we come to the importance of “continuously published.” The related pubs throw in that phrase to assert that the true measure of a paper’s age is how long it has been printed under the same name (or as ostensibly the same publication) and in a regular fashion.

I explained all this to a colleague yesterday. Her first response: “Well, duh. If the paper changed its name or evolved into something else, it shouldn’t pretend it’s the same thing.”

I agree, but only partially. After all, we are seeing immense changes among student media at this moment due to the digital-mobile revolution.

For example, The Broadside began as the student newspaper at George Mason University in 1963– although under a different name, The Gunston Ledger, changing to the Broadside in 1969. At the start of this school year, the paper merged with an independent student news site at GMU called Connect2Mason to form a new outlet known as Fourth Estate. Does that mean the Broadside is dead? Or is it now a month old, with an asterisk? Or can it still claim to be 50 years old? Or should it be 44 years old due to the name change in ’69?

As I told my colleague, it can be complicated– and geeky.

What’s your opinion? Comment below.

Comments
5 Responses to “America’s Oldest College Newspaper? At Least 8 Papers Claim the Title (Sort of)”
  1. At Simpson, our campus historian Joe Walt investigated these other schools’ claims about 20 years ago and came to the conclusion that The Simpsonian was in fact the oldest continuously published student newspaper in the nation. Whether that conclusion would hold up under an independent investigation, I can’t say. (And Joe died a couple of years ago, so I can’t summon him for a full defense.) All I can say is that we’ve published every Thursday of the academic year since Sept. 1, 1870 (although we’ve never published during breaks or summers).

  2. Tom Stinson says:

    The Ohio Wesleyan Transcript requires an asterisk here, I believe. It claims to be the oldest “independent” college student newspaper. That dates back to 1867. While I was there, the paper nearly went bankrupt due to some, shall we say, experimental business decisions by a previous staff. But we had it back in the black by 1975 without OWU assistance.

  3. Bryan Murley says:

    I really dislike superlatives like “oldest,” “largest,” “first,” etc. precisely because it can lead to these kinds of judgment calls. And honestly, I could care less who’s oldest. What are you doing today that’s worthwhile?

  4. Geoff Lister says:

    Don’t forget the Dalhousie Gazette, trying to claim the oldest continuously run newspaper in North America.

  5. Hannah Cho says:

    Don’t forget Rutgers “The Daily Targum” which was established in 1869…