Remembering Tom Hayden

by Jenny Geyer on October 26, 2016

Stephanie Steinberg, author of In the Name of Editorial Freedom: 125 Years at the Michigan Daily, wrote the following piece as a tribute to her work with Tom Hayden while writing her book.

 

Many will remember Tom Hayden as a 1960s radical activist, California state legislator or that guy who was once married to actress Jane Fonda. I’ll always remember Tom as a fellow Michigan Daily editor-in-chief, and someone who cared as much about the University of Michigan’s student-run newspaper as me.

After his passing Sunday night, newspapers across the country highlighted Tom’s significance in history. The New York Times said he was “a radical leader of America’s civil rights and antiwar movements.” The Los Angeles Times called him “one of the nation’s best-known champions of liberal causes.” My own newspaper, The Detroit News, described him as “the conscience of a generation.”

Nearly all of the pieces referenced Tom’s involvement at the Daily, where he served as editor in the early 1960s and was often spotted snoozing on news desks.

Tom sleeping on a desk at MDaily

In 2013, I started a book to honor the 125th anniversary of the Daily. My plan was simple: contact notable alumni now retired or working at top media outlets such The New York Times, The Washington Post, ESPN, etc. and ask them to write first-person essays about something they covered on campus. It could be a significant historical event like a presidential election, sporting event like the Rose Bowl or just something significant to them—like the time a Daily photographer stole two chairs from Vanderbilt’s basketball arena. (You’ll have to read the book to learn how that turned out.)

Soon, I had 40 alumni from across the country who agreed to submit their Daily memories. I just needed one more voice, someone who could speak for all of us Daily alumni and tie our stories together, someone who represented the 125 years of editorial freedom.

That was Tom.

Only having met him once during a newsroom visit (when I was a reporter and too intimidated to talk to him), I reached out to him through email with an invitation to write the foreword for the book. He responded with the subject headline: “it would be an honor.”

Throughout the next three years, Tom and I exchanged sporadic phone calls and emails. His first draft of the foreword landed in my inbox in April 2014 with the subject: “here you are.”

I quickly skimmed the text and wrote back, “This is everything I was hoping for–and more. It’s the perfect mix of Daily history and your personal Daily story, and it drives home the message of the importance of college papers and editorial freedom.”

As his editor, tasked with fact-checking all names and references to decades I never lived through, I’ll admit I started editing his submission with trepidation. This was a man who planted the idea for John F. Kennedy to start the Peace Corp., co-founded Students for a Democratic Society, accompanied the Freedom Riders in the South, and led anti-war demonstrations with the notorious Chicago 7—not to mention, he had written over 20 books. With all his life and writing experience, was I really qualified—at age 24—to edit his words?

But I had nothing to fear.

Tom graciously approved my edits and wording suggestions and sent me his sources when I struggled to find obscure facts from the 60s. He also rightfully called me out when I mistakenly switched philosopher John Dewey to presidential candidate Thomas Dewey (a Daily alum).

But my favorite part of our interactions was when he’d drop bits of Daily history and his memories.

“When I was editor, ‘investigative journalism’ had not gone mainstream,” he wrote in one email. “There was a red line between facts and opinion. We just intuited that you had to have an opinion about what mattered before you could assign a story. And so it began.”

His tenacity and strong will surfaced only near the final stage of edits, when the factual basis of one sentence was called into question, and Tom, believing its validity, fought against changing it. From this exacerbating experience (I’ll spare the details), he taught me a great lesson: that every word matters, but more importantly, that if you believe in your words, then you have to stand by them.

In February, Tom joined me for a book talk in Los Angeles, along with Hollywood film editor and book contributor Jay Cassidy. Still a bit weak from a stroke a year prior, he wobbled in the room sporting a Michigan Daily sweatshirt under a sport coat and 60s-era hat.

Without the Daily apparel, he could have been anyone’s grandfather or any grey-bearded alum. Indeed, no one recognized the renowned 76-year-old who sat to the side, until I introduced him as a special guest.

For eight minutes, Tom discussed his editorial involvement in exposing the UM Dean of Women, who interfered with interracial dating in 1960. He also recognized the professors who allowed him to spend 80 hours a week at the Daily and submit his papers “just in time to get graded.”

“They were the protectors of the Daily reporters, but they were also the protectors of students in whom they saw a rising activism that was combined with being a journalist…and putting philosophy into action,” he said.

Tom also emphasized the importance of college newspapers, informing the audience that there are now more college newspapers than Daily newspapers in the U.S. “It’s a backbone for what lies ahead for journalism,” he said.

I, too, believe that the future of journalism lies in the hands of young college journalists who are as passionate about the craft as Tom and I were when we led the Daily as young 20-somethings. It’s a passion that doesn’t quite leave you, whether you choose to be a reporter or an activist.

Stephanie and Tom

As Tom wrote in the foreword, “We who lived, breathed, and sometimes slept at the Daily went through an educational process that tested us, that mattered, that would remain forever in our bones.”

Though decades separated our terms at the Daily, the paper has a way of bringing generations together, and I couldn’t be more grateful for all of Tom’s support and willingness to contribute to In the Name of Editorial Freedom: 125 Years at the Michigan Daily. 

In his last sentence of the foreword, Tom wrote, “Bury me at Maynard.” While I’m fairly certain his tombstone will not be placed in the 420 Maynard Street newsroom, I am certain that his Daily legacy will live on forever.

 

 

Stephanie Steinberg is a metro Detroit native and features reporter at The Detroit News.

 

 

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