As a complement to our retrospective on 50 years of the student newspaper at UC San Diego, Triton collected conversations from three of the founders of the Triton Times – Renney Senn, the paper’s founder and editor-in-chief, news editor Roger Showley ’70, and business manager Geoff Moyle ’70.
What does the 50th anniversary of the student newspaper mean to you?
Renney Senn: The 50th anniversary of the paper means several things to me apart from a miserable justification for total physical disintegration. When I decided to start the paper there had been about a dozen newspapers that had come and gone in the eighteen months before the Triton Times published. Not wanting to add another failure, I spoke with a number of people from the prior publications and decided that there had
been a common element to their demise. In each case everyone was captivated by and focused on the sexiest part of their venture—the first edition. As a consequence, everyone was focused on the right story, the right headline, the right graphics for the first edition. Since it was a labor of love and there was little if any organization underlying their efforts, there would be a great feverish all-hands push to get the first edition put to bed. When it was finally done, everyone was spent and they returned to their books.
Conversely, I spent a year building the organization and only when it was firmly set in people’s minds that the Triton Times was an institution that was designed to publish a semi-monthly newspaper did we actually tackle the first edition. Apparently this worked since it is still around.
Roger Showley ’70: When we started the Triton Times, we knew we were making history. Everything in the earliest years of the campus was new, unprecedented and free to vary from what other UC campuses and colleges might have done before us. From the student standpoint, every club, student government body, sports team and other extracurricular pursuit started from scratch. In the case of the student newspaper, as Renney says, several student papers were founded, principally the Revelle Times, Sandscript and then the Indicator. By the time I came to campus in September 1966, only the Indicator had survived and I quickly volunteered to join their staff and wrote stories about orientation week and other events in the first few weeks. But I soon realized the staff was more interested in radical political coverage than simply covering campus news. By the second quarter I had got wind of the Triton Times effort and connected with Renney, Geoff and a few other students to get the first issue off the ground.
Senn: The Indicator was a political magazine that came out irregularly with long treatises on liberal ideas of the day. It did not fulfill the function of a student newspaper but was nevertheless the official student “newspaper” supported financially by the university.
Geoff Moyle ’70: When I started in 1966, UCSD was the Wild Wild West—I think the professors and the students were really feeling themselves along. There were barely more than 2000 students and the Vietnam War was the overriding event that colored the atmosphere on campus, and one of the reasons the Triton Times came into being was in reaction to the overwhelming protests being staged almost every day. Renney, Roger and I came with middle class values and it disturbed us greatly to see America being denigrated. I think we were naively looking for the old college experience, from the 1950s and early 1960s. The Indicator was filled with anti-American sentiment and frankly didn’t even report what was happening on campus. Remember, there was no football team or other sports to socialize around. Those of us that wanted more of a college experience went to San Diego State’s games. UCSD was strictly for eggheads.
Senn: So there was no reliable student publication for people to turn to when they wanted to learn more about what was going on at UCSD, what their famous professors had done and were doing, what the student government was and who was involved, etc. The need for a student-oriented informational clearinghouse was obvious but the rigors of Revelle College worked against the creation of it.
It was a huge fight to get any academic credit from the lofty UCSD Literature Department who wanted to have nothing to do with dirty fingernails. Eventually we prevailed but not without considerable emotional bloodletting. When I approached the Communications Board with the Triton Times there was a furor over the idea of there being two official student publications. This would go on for years. After much wrangling we were granted a non-voting seat on the Communications Board but no money. They did provide the Justowriter contraption which more closely resembled a stationary, armored vehicle than a justifying machine and an old Marine Corps building from WWII. The Justowriter had cost UCSD $5k (about $35k in today’s dollars) so we were grateful to be able to use it. We bought a waxer to affix the copy to the paste up sheets and bought our own headliner.
The most important aspect of this non-financial relationship with UCSD was that obviously we had to be self-supporting. I asked Geoff to be the business manager and sell ads which he did brilliantly. This laid the keel for the Triton Times to be one of the nation’s very few completely self-sustaining, non-university, editorially independent, official student newspapers.
Regarding the protests on campus and how the Triton Times was founded somewhat in response did those events inevitably change your perspective on the purpose of the newspaper?
Moyle: I remember vividly arriving on campus one Monday morning (I lived at home in Chula Vista) to find a scorched patch of concrete in Revelle Commons where one our students had set himself on fire, emulating the Buddhist priests in Vietnam. That was wake up call for the Triton Times.
Showley: In my first year of 1966-67, the anti-Vietnam War protests were only just beginning, but in the next year and thereafter, it became a central focus of student unrest. There also were issues familiar to today’s students—student fee increases, the imposition of tuition, state government interference in the university and issues about faculty research. Through all this turmoil, the Triton Times covered every controversy with as much objectivity as possible. We had no faculty adviser but turned for advice to the student activities dean and other administration leaders. We also endured endless bickering with the Indicator and student Communications Board. The politics of student government never deterred us from our dedication to journalistic excellence and I feel the Guardian over the years has upheld those high standards we set in the founding years. To the question of the 1960s turmoil, the Triton Times sought to cover and inform the wider student body what was occurring and never veered from our responsibility to cover all sides fairly and completely. The ’60s only challenged us to keep our heads and try to remain as objective as possible. Importantly, we also covered the lighter sides of student life and served as a unifying organ in helping make UCSD a great place to learn and mature.
Any notable stories from covering that lighter side?
Senn: One of the stories that stands out to me was our announcement of the birth of Muir College and the plans for what is now the Central University Library. It gave us a chance to collect information in depth that would have been difficult for most students to uncover. This, I believe, helped to engender something that was nonexistent which I first came to the school—school spirit and pride.
What would you say to today’s newspaper staff at the newspaper today, The Guardian?
Senn: One of the greatest rewards to me personally has been hearing from people who have gone on to professional journalism where working on the paper gave clarity to their career direction and, in a number of cases, positively transformed their lives. To the present newspaper staff I would start by thanking each of them and their predecessors for having made such an outstanding publication out of what started the way most things do—humbly. Also, I would commend everyone for giving of themselves in a tangible, valuable way to help keep the students, faculty, and administration aware of what others are thinking and doing. For those who intend to pursue journalism, it will probably not make you rich financially but the excitement and thrills it brings with it are rare in most other professions with the possible exception of Explosive Ordnance Disposal.
View past issues of the student newspaper at Geisel Library archives.
Showley: Above all I congratulate them for carrying on 50 years of responsible, informative and ever-experimental news gathering and publication. This is all the more impressive when you consider that, at least in our earliest years, we had to re-form the staff three times a year because of the inevitable dropoff of staff from one quarter to the next. No one received any remuneration at the outset, except for the advertising staff, and we had to constantly recruit new students to join us. I am sorry that the Guardian has not grown beyond a twice-a-week publication but I am impressed that it remains in business, in print, when so many commercial newspapers around the country have merged or folded in the face of competition from online news outlets and aggregators. Even if it cannot publish daily, the Guardian maintains an online presence and that serves as a satisfactory replacement. My advice going forward is that the students continue their experimentation with online forms and social media opportunities and show us in the commercial world new ways of operating. Multimedia is all the rage and it would be interesting to see what they might do with that facet of journalism. I realize the University of California does not include journalism as a major and the communications major at UCSD does not provide a practical training ground for journalists. And so it is all the more laudatory that every year the Guardian manages to find talented students to publish the paper and thus keep the institution fresh and relevant. That’s all we as the founders could have hoped for. And so I say that they and their successors should just carry on and do the best they can and know that they are providing a very valuable communications service to the campus and are keeping the student voice ever present.
Where are they now?
Renney Senn’s career as a serial entrepreneur resulted in the creation of eight start-ups, two of which became public companies. He and Geoff Moyle, who retired from the insurance business, both reside in Redmond, Ore., where they live down the street from each other and remain close friends. Roger Showley has been a reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune since 1974 and has written three books on San Diego history.
But why “The Guardian”?
Triton magazine asked our alumni audience why they thought the student newspaper ultimately became “The Guardian.” Responses were varied with no definitive answer–lend your opinion in the comments section below.
“It was originally called Triton Times, which changed when the paper went through a rebranding phase where they completely separated financially from the university. They did this so that they could write unbiased news and be the “guardian” over the students, to ensure that students were getting the right information without the influence of the administration.”
— Madeline Mann ’14 (Guardian staff 2010-2014)
The guardian of truth?
— Beda Nelson Farrell ’81
The Guardian against the Koala?
— Eric Chan ’06
The Guardian of discourse and inquiry?
— Andra Morrow ’02
The student newspaper was named The Guardian as it was intended to serve as the voice to safeguard/protect UCSD students’ best interests.
— Paula Thomas ’87