Washington University in St. Louis has no journalism school. But it does have Student Life, a storied independent student newspaper. This fall, some 100 alumni of the paper along with current student journalists gathered on campus to celebrate the 140th anniversary of Student Life and reflect on how their experiences led to their future careers.
“We joke that Student Life was our real major, and it’s true. So much of what I learned at WashU happened on production nights in the Student Life offices,” says Michelle Merlin, AB ’12, who served as editor-in-chief and now is a reporter at the Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania. “I found that once I started asking questions, I never wanted to stop.”
Among the returning alums were Mike Peters, AB ’65, a Pulitzer Prize winner and creator of the cartoon Mother Goose & Grimm; Ken Cooper, AB ’77, a Pulitzer Prize winner and senior editor at WGBH News in Boston; Mike Isikoff, AB ’79, chief investigative correspondent at Yahoo News and author of three New York Times best-selling books, most recently Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump; Laura Meckler, AB ’90, national education writer at the Washington Post and former White House reporter for the Wall Street Journal; and Jonathan Greenberger, AB ’05, ABC News Washington bureau chief and executive producer of This Week with George Stephanopoulos.
During the weekend, alumni and students participated in a panel discussion about journalism in the age of President Donald Trump and attended a gala with Chancellor Emeritus William H. Danforth and Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton, who reaffirmed his support for independent student journalism.
“Sometimes you’ve been a little hard on us,” Wrighton joked. “But I have always appreciated and respected your role as independent journalists and your work to make us a better university.”
Alums also visited the offices of Student Life, which recently moved to a new location in the Danforth University Center. There, Isikoff — known for his investigative reporting in the Monica Lewinsky and Abu Ghraib scandals — searched the bound issues for his very first investigative story — an expose about absentee university trustees. The lede: “Truancy is plaguing the meetings of the WU Board of Trustees. A Student Life examination of the attendance records of the board has found nine trustees have attended less than half of the meetings of the body.”
“Afterward I was kicking myself because I didn’t report how much they were paid,” Isikoff recalled. “I was like, ‘Where was my editor!’”
Diane Toroian Keaggy, AB ’90, is a former news editor of Student Life. She currently serves as a senior news director in the Washington University Office of Public Affairs.