From the Freelance to the Daily Collegian

Trudi Gilfillian
April 18, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The newspaper industry and its need to evolve are frequent topics of conversation in the digital age, but the Daily Collegian has been evolving since day one.

In April 1887, the publication was born as the Free Lance, a monthly news magazine with a clear mission. “It shall be our aim to sedulously represent to our readers the status of our College, an institution which enjoys, against a sometimes faulted past, a prosperous present and the assurance of a most successful future," said the editors in the inaugural issue. "To our Contemporaries we say we are glad to join the ranks. We say ranks, because Student Journalism is surely a fixture of the American university.”

The magazine carried out its mission, but like today’s news publications, it faced plenty of difficulties, too. In April 1901, the struggling Free Lance turned its focus on itself in its pages:

“We begin our new task by asking for the support and cooperation of the College, the alumni, and the undergraduate students. Please remember that the Lance is published by the student body and not by the staff of editors; that we shall be very glad for any literary contribution whether published or not; that we need your financial support; and if you have any criticism of the College Magazine or of college matters in general, we shall be pleased to have you submit it to us.”

The magazine eventually concluded publication with its April 1904 edition, which didn’t appear on campus until May of that year.

The State Collegian followed, putting out its first issue on Oct. 1, 1904, with plans to succeed where the Free Lance had failed: “We claim that with proper care and loyal support this publication can be made as interesting and newsy as the other was dry and stale ... Fact and not literary effort is to be the basis of this publication.”

The paper was published once a week on Thursdays and grew, adding photos and printing as a broadsheet rather than a tabloid-size paper.

In 1911, the State Collegian took a new name, reporting in its pages that, “In accordance with the usage which has developed rapidly within the past two years, we have decided upon a change in name — to the ‘Penn State Collegian.’

“‘Penn State’ is but little longer than ‘State,’ and is so much more definite and expressive that we advocate its use in all cases where the official title of the college is too long and dignified. The arguments in the question were discussed last year, and student sentiment seems to indicate that our familiar title for the college be from now on, ‘Penn State.’”

By the fall of 1920 the paper became a semi-weekly. Reporters covered all aspects of daily life as well as global events, even scooping local media by managing to publish a brief on the crash of the German passenger airship Hindenburg just as the paper was going to press.

Daily Collegian front page, September 1940

The Thursday, Sept. 5, 1940, front page of The Daily Collegian, of the then-Pennsylvania State College, when the newspaper changed its name to reflect its new 5-day-a-week publishing schedule. At that time, "Penn State's Prexy" was Ralph D. Hetzel.

IMAGE: Trudi Gilfillian

The publication was an essential part of daily life and that led the way for the newspaper to start daily production. On Sept. 5, 1940, the Daily Collegian, published five days a week, made its debut: “With the College continually expanding, the present staff believes that a semi-weekly is no longer adequate to fulfill the demand on the campus.”

More than a year after making the switch to daily, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entered World War II. The Collegian cut production days due to wartime necessity, and returned as a daily in 1946.

The Collegian’s pages documented presidential elections, the establishment of sororities, the latest fashions, the wins and losses of the University’s athletic teams, new construction across the sprawling campus, changing roles for female students and developments within the various colleges, and so much more.

In 1996, Collegian Inc. introduced The Digital Collegian and today the website has taken on new importance as students rely on the digital devices that have become as commonplace as a cup of coffee.

Social media also has become the most efficient means of reaching a large audience and the Collegian is active on multiple platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Readers interested in browsing back issues of the Collegian in all its forms can visit the Historical Digital Collegian Archive.

This month, the Daily Collegian marks 130 years of covering the Penn State community — and the evolution continues.

  • The Free Lance, January 1890

    The cover of the January 1890 issue of the Free Lance, the Daily Collegian's earliest predecessor. Back issues of the Free Lance, the State Collegian, the Penn State Collegian and the Daily Collegian can be found in the University Archives' Historical Digital Collegian Archive.

    IMAGE: Penn State University Archives

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Last Updated April 20, 2017