Since 1887, the perennially youthful journalists of The Daily Collegian and its forebears have recorded the first draft of the history of Penn State and its students.
Throughout its history, students have run both the editorial and business sides of the enterprise, aided by a small staff providing management, professional advice and technical support. In the 21st century, the dual mission of Collegian Inc. is to “publish quality media products for the Penn State community and to provide a rewarding educational experience for the student staff members.”
The news organization now named The Daily Collegian was founded as The Free Lance in April 1887. The front page of the first issue proclaimed the newspaper’s mission: “. . . [I]t 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.” The Free Lance morphed into the weekly broadsheet State Collegian in 1904 and into the semiweekly Penn State Collegian in 1920.
Collegian Inc. was chartered in 1940 as an independent, nonprofit corporation with a board of directors composed of students, faculty, and professionals. The first issue with The Daily Collegian nameplate was published on September 5, 1940. It was an eight-page tabloid with headlines stating that “Record Freshman Class Will Boost Enrollment” to about 7,500 students with the influx of 1,575 freshmen, including 345 women, and that “Draft May Take As Few As 145 State Students,” an estimate that proved far too low. Featured were engraved photos of two presidents: Ralph Dorn Hetzel of Penn State and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Except from 1943 to 1946, when it operated as a weekly or semiweekly, the newspaper was published daily on the University Park campus during the formal school year, with a truncated schedule in the summer. The Weekly Collegian was added in the early 1980s, to be mailed to Commonwealth Campus students, parents, and alumni.
The Daily Collegian Online was launched at collegian.psu.edu in 1996, in the dawn of journalism’s digital era. In the spring of 2018, reflecting customers’ growing preference for digital delivery of the news, the Collegian reduced its print schedule to twice a week, on Monday and Thursday.
Even as its print presence declined, the Collegian earned the “daily” moniker by posting fresh and updated news on the website seven days a week. The Collegian also delivers news via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
When the pandemic of 2021 struck, the Collegian moved to publishing once a week, on Thursdays. The newspaper is typically eight to ten pages with a focus on features, long-form journalism and photography.
In 1982, the Collegian was selected by Sigma Delta Chi, since renamed the Society of Professional Journalists, as “the best all-around” campus newspaper in the country. The honor, perhaps not coincidentally, came in the year that the Nittany Lions football team won its first national championship.
The Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal in the fall of 2011 and the months afterward focused attention on the Collegian. On November 13, 2011, the Collegian published a rare Sunday issue recapping a week that had included the presentment of charges against Sandusky and the removal of president Graham Spanier and head football coach Joe Paterno. The day after Paterno died on January 22, 2012, the Collegian printed a record 35,000 copies. For its coverage of the scandal, the Collegian won a Pacemaker Award from College Media Association.
The offices of the Collegian have been located on campus, in Old Main and the Carnegie Building, as well as in downtown State College, most prominently in the university-owned James Building on Burrowes Street from 1989 to 2019. When the James Building was demolished, the student staff moved temporarily to quarters downtown. In fall 2021, the Collegian returned to campus, in the new Bellisario Media Center inside Willard Building.
The Collegian Chronicles: A History of Penn State from the Pages of the Daily Collegian, 1887-2006, The Collegian Alumni Interest Group and Collegian Inc., 2006.
“Centennial Magazine: Collegian Celebrates 100th Anniversary,” Collegian, Inc., 1987.
The Free Lance, April 1, 1887.
The Daily Collegian, September 5, 1940.
First Published: August 9, 2021
Last Modified: October 3, 2021