The Independent Florida Alligator

The Independent Florida Alligator

Infobox Newspaper

type=Weekday newspaper
format= compact
1971 (as independent paper)
owners=Campus Communications Inc.
headquarters=Gainesville, Florida
editor=Jessica DaSilva
sports editor=Brian Steele
publisher=Campus Communications, Inc.
website= []

"The Independent Florida Alligator" is the daily student newspaper of the University of Florida. "The Alligator" is the largest student-run newspaper in the United States, with a daily circulation of 35,000 and readership of over 53,000.

The paper prints every weekday during the spring and fall semesters (mid-August to early May) and on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the summer semesters. "The Alligator" has been financially and editorially independent from the university since 1973. The "Alligator" has been owned by non-profit, student-controlled 501(c)(3) Campus Communications Inc. since its independence. Students from both UF and Santa Fe College, also located in the city of Gainesville, Florida, are allowed to work at the paper. Only college students are allowed to work in the editorial department or be advertising representatives or interns.

"The Alligator" is distributed free on campus and around the city of Gainesville, Florida, and contains a mix of campus and local news coverage, as well as national an international stories from wire services. It also contains a sports section that begins from the back of the tabloid-format paper, and an entertainment section ("The Avenue") published every Thursday. "The Alligator" prints on 11 x 14 inch paper, somewhat smaller than a tabloid size, closer in size to the compact format of "The Times of London" and the "Chicago Sun-Times".


Early history

"The Alligator" began as an independent student-run newspaper called "The University News", on October 19, 1906. The paper came together in time to report on the University of Florida's opening ceremony in its new permanent home in Gainesville. Much of the first issue was devoted to reprinting word-for-word the farewell speech given by then-Florida Governor Napoleon B. Broward.

"The Alligator" remained independent until 1912, when it became part of the university and was renamed the "Florida Alligator" after the university's mascot, the Florida Gators.

For the next six decades, the paper was supervised by the Office of Student Publications, which was also responsible for the university's "Seminole" yearbook (later renamed "The Tower"), "Florida Magazine", the "Orange Peel" humor magazine, and other recurring publications. "Alligator" staffers often worked on several of these at the same time. (None of the other publications still exist). "The Alligator" also had a radio news show on campus station WRUF for many years.

Until the 1950s, the editor-in-chief was chosen by the student body in campus-wide elections, similar to student government. Candidates slated to political parties, published campaign ads, and debated each other not unlike today. The editor was roughly on the same level of prestige as the student body president, and various fraternities controlled the newspaper at one time or other. According to bylaws still in effect with the prestigious and controversial honor society Florida Blue Key, editorship remains an automatic qualification for admittance.

By the early 1960s, the rapid post-World War II growth of the university, which had started with the G.I. Bill and continued with the decision to admit women in 1947 and to admit blacks in 1958 caused "The Alligator" to grow. The newspaper printed in broadsheet until 1962 (except during World War II, when paper was in short supply). In 1962, the paper switched to the smaller tabloid format, which it still uses today. Around this time, "The Alligator" was one of the first college newspapers in the nation to switch from hot type printing to the more modern offset standard. The same year, the paper switched from twice-weekly printing to its current daily format.

In 1963, Ed Barber started working at "The Alligator", as a student writer. By 1972 he became general manager of the paper.

Barber left the paper in 1973 to become Director of Publications for the University of Florida, but returned as general manager in 1976 and became president of Campus Communications, Inc., the student-owned 501(c)(3) organization that publishes "The Alligator". Barber now holds the title of president emeritus of "The Alligator" and is executive director of the Alligator Alumni Association. Tricia Carey, a veteran manager of the newspaper, succeeded Barber as general manager of "The Alligator" and president of Campus Communications.

Originally, the Office of Student Publications was located in the basement of the old Florida Union (today Dauer Hall), which was then the student union, in the north part of campus. In 1968 the paper moved into a new suite of offices on the third floor of the new union, the J. Wayne Reitz Union, directly adjacent to Student Government administrative offices. At least one of "The Alligator" former offices is now occupied by Florida Blue Key.

Events leading to independence

The tumult of the late 1960s featured the resignation of editors who disagreed with an editorial denouncing the university's public tenure hearing for Marshall Jones, a professor who was accused of being a communist by the university administration. He was forced from the university. The university's crowded public hearing on Jones was denounced in Florida newspapers as reminiscent of the McCarthyist Red Scare of the 1950s.The editorial, written after the first hearing by journalism student and reporter Michael Abrams (who later became a journalism professor), was censored by the University's Board of Student Publications, and a blank space with the word "Censored" run in its place. Several of the student editors of the newspaper resigned over what they saw as the tone of the editorial and its anti-administration bent.

A national controversy ensued. Columnist Drew Pearson came to campus and gave strong support to the remaining staff. Editor Steve Hull, who also remained, assembled a new set of student editors. Throughout this time, the School of Journalism and Communications won a series of Hearst Journalism Awards, and many "Alligator" reporters and editors ultimately became well-known in their professions.

The newspaper continued to do investigative reporting including stories about low wages paid to maintenance employees. It was during this time the newspaper was awarded the Pacemaker award as the best college paper in the nation. Among the key writers of the "Alligator" at the time were James Cook, later an attorney, who wrote the "Uncle Javerneck" column, and Joe Torchia, later a novelist, who intercepted humorous letters from "God" to various people, sparking an uproar among some religious readers.

Many copies of the final edition of the newspaper, with its somewhat racy collage of farewell pictures including the university president in a less than auspicious pose, were seized by those who supported the university administration.

Controversy ensued with a new set of editors being selected by the board, and an off-campus newspaper, "University Report", published by Hull, Abrams, and Scott DeGarmo, a master's student in history. The paper exposed spying on students by government officials and law enforcement agents and was an outspoken critic of the administration of Stephen O'Connell, the former Florida Supreme Court justice and University President. One of its stories told of a government agent "Palmer Wee" who was apparently hired to watch radical students. The headline read "Wee is watching you." The paper printed several issues and was typeset on an old typesetting machine that was somewhat larger than a typewriter and sat on a living room floor. It was published out of town, as at least one local printer refused to print it.

The university administration continued to simmer over radical editors. In late 1971, editor Ron Sachs approved an insert to be published in "The Alligator" that printed the addresses of known abortion clinics. At the time, not only was abortion illegal in Florida, but even the printing of abortion information violated state law. The insert, a deliberate challenge by Sachs in protest of laws against abortion, threw the university into a firestorm. Both Sachs and university president Stephen C. O'Connell faced intense public pressure. When O'Connell discovered that Sachs was protected by federal First Amendment case law, he started working to disavow any connection between the university and "The Alligator".

To diffuse the hostile situation, Florida Attorney General Robert Shevin ruled that to protect students' First Amendment rights, the university and "The Alligator" should split. At the time, O'Connell declared that never again would UF sponsor a student newspaper on campus. As a further compromise agreement between the university and the newspaper’s staff, the students were allowed to take "The Alligator" private and off campus. Sachs' challenge of the abortion law was successful; his criminal prosecution ended when the law was declared unconstitutional. Sachs later won an Emmy Award as a television producer in Miami, for his documentary "Cocaine: The Lady is a Killer".

History after independence

The newspaper changed its name to "The Independent Florida Alligator" and took several years to find a permanent home. New owners Campus Communications moved in 1981 to the former Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity house two blocks east of campus on University Avenue, its current location.

"Alligator" writers and photographers won a dozen Hearst Awards during the period 1971 to 1979, a period when the paper also won several awards from the Associated Collegiate Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. Until the mid-1990s, "Alligator" alumni had won more Hearst writing and photo awards than any other student newspaper. (It now ranks second behind the "Daily Northwestern" of Northwestern University).

"The Alligator" also was one of the first college papers on the Internet, hosting a bulletin board system as early as 1985 and a website beginning in 1994.

In 1990, Campus Communications bought the "High Springs Herald", the weekly newspaper of High Springs, Florida, about 30 miles outside the university. "The Alligator" remains the only student newspaper in the country to own a nonstudent, commercial newspaper.

Current and recent editors


Former "Alligator" staffers work at major newspapers, magazines, and news agencies, including the "Miami Herald", the "Los Angeles Times", the "Florida Times-Union", the "Palm Beach Post", the Associated Press, and "The New York Times", among others.

"Alligator" photographer and editor Robert Ellison (1944-1968) died in Vietnam while covering the Battle of Khe Sanh for the newspaper. His work, later published in "Newsweek" as "The Agony of Khe Sanh," won several posthumous awards.


ponsored rivals

Since Stephen C. O'Connell stepped down as UF president in 1973, several rivals to "The Alligator" have set up shop. Most of these publications were started or actively encouraged by the university Student Government.

One notable contender was "Campus Leader", a monthly alternative newspaper started in 1983. Sponsored by Student Government and edited by W.H. "Butch" Oxendine, Jr., it lasted somewhat less than a year as a direct competitor. Losing his sponsorship, Oxendine changed the magazine's focus, limiting it to students and education and renaming it "Florida Leader". The paper printed until 2006.

Another rival was "The Orange and Blue", a twice-weekly newspaper in operation from August 1999 to July 2002. The "Orange and Blue" was similar in format to and was started by the publishers of, "FSView", a student newspaper at Florida State University in Tallahassee that won a long-running battle with a rival FSU newspaper, the "Florida Flambeau".

In 2000, confusion with a university publication also called "The Orange and Blue" led the newspaper to change its name to "The Gator Times". Although Student Government leaders quickly supported the new paper, the "Times" did not survive. (The name "Gator Times" is also used by the administration as the title of its email newsletter and in promotional material).

In recent years, Student Government has starting readership programs with larger commercial newspapers such as "The New York Times" and "USA Today". "The Gainesville Sun", the local city newspaper owned by The New York Times Company, also made an agreement with the university for a similar program in June 2005. To seal the agreement, the "Sun" started its own campus edition called the "Campus Sun", ostensibly to compete with "The Alligator".

Andy Marlette

Andy Marlette joined the staff of "The Alligator" in 2002, as an editorial cartoonist. Marlette, the nephew of Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Doug Marlette, won several awards in his three years working for the paper, but his sarcastic brand of wit and often feigned disregard for social and ethnic taboos led to controversy.

He graduated from UF in 2006 and has followed in the steps of his uncle, becoming a syndicated cartoonist. "The Alligator" occasionally still runs his professional cartoons.

In October 2003, Marlette inked a cartoon for "The Alligator" depicting caricatured members of campus organizations Gators for Israel and Nakba '48 (labeled "Gators for Palestine" in the cartoon) yelling "We hate you!" at each other, in reference to the escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Gaza Strip at that time. The character's insults also made reference to Hitler and Jesus. The cartoon drew ire nationwide from some students, alumni, and advocacy groups, and Marlette was accused of stirring up antisemitic sentiments on the campus. Editor Joe Black and Opinions Editor Laura Merritt later printed an apology for upsetting readers but did not apologize for the intent of the cartoon.

A 2005 Marlette "Alligator" cartoon featuring Florida Gators men's basketball player Matt Walsh crying with his tears forming the word "choke" in 2005 sparked controversy. The cartoon was a reference to the Gators' season-ending loss to fifth-seeded Villanova Wildcats men's basketball in the second round of the 2005 NCAA Basketball Tournament in Nashville. Walsh, a junior guard grew visibly frustrated during the 76-65 loss and scored 12 points in the game, considered one of his low scores. Tears streaking down Walsh's face were captured by CBS Sports television cameras. The Gators had several early-round NCAA tournament losses to low-seeded Manhattan, Creighton and Temple, and Walsh was blamed for the team's failure. Because of the column, Marlette received multiple death threats and skipped town. "Alligator" editors received thousands of letters from Gators fans criticizing the cartoon. Marlette, a rabid Gators basketball fan, later apologized for any offense caused.

A September 2005 Marlette cartoon depicting Kanye West holding up a life-sized joker card reading "The Race Card" in front of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has her arms crossed in disgust and tells West, "Nigga please!" also caused controversy. The cartoon was a reference to West's statement "George Bush doesn't care about black people" at A Concert for Hurricane Relief. The use of the term "nigga," a direct comment on Rice being criticized as a "house nigga" by the black press, drew immediate criticism from black student organizations on campus. Black students and professors held rallies and protests in response to the cartoon, which came the same week West was due to perform on campus. Marlette responded a few days later with the same cartoon, but replaced the phrase "Nigga please!" with "As per the cultural standard of African American entertainers deriding each other using a racial and/or ethnic context, I would like to address you in the same way. You are a rapper who constantly uses terminology denigrating to the African-American community. I am an African American and close friends with President Bush; hence, Bush does not hate black people. Please." Student Government temporarily withdrew advertising in response to the cartoon after both the editor and opinions editor refused to apologize, and eventually the editor published an apology.

External links

* [ Official website]
* [ "The Florida Alligator"] and [ "Summer Gator"] historical archives of The Independent Florida Alligator available in full-text with images in [ Florida Digital Newspaper Library]
*McKeen, William. [ Carl Hiaasen: Trustworthy as Captain Kangaroo] . Retrieved 20 April 2005.

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