COLUMBIA -- The Daily Gamecock, USC's student newspaper that has survived threats of closure from angry politicians and hoax editions calculated to entertain students, turns 100 years old today.
Last year, it tackled one of its toughest real-life dramas, when six University of South Carolina students died in a house fire at Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. Editor Jackie Alexander said it pushed her fledgling staff's abilities to their limits.
"The first day, we were grasping at straws," Alexander said. "Facebook was not a great tool, but it was all we had.
"We discovered the importance of our newspaper," she said. "We learned to think beyond the immediate story."
USC President Andrew Sorensen said he has sought to keep his door open to student journalists, to make of them allies rather than adversaries.
"They have, by and large, been fair, accurate and timely in their reports," Sorensen said. "I've been very pleased with their coverage.
"Their role is to protect the freedom of expression. There have been times when I have questioned their judgment, but those times have been very rare."
That has not always been the case for the student publication, which is under the umbrella of university student media but has editorial autonomy.
In 1971, The Gamecock published a letter from Brett Bursey, described as a fugitive from the draft. The letter mocked and ridiculed the Selective Service System and stirred the anger of some politicians. House Speaker Sol Blatt declared The Gamecock should be closed.
The university's board of publications published a letter in The Gamecock defending the right of students to practice freedom of expression. But the board admonished student journalists to act responsibly. The board did not close the newspaper, as Blatt had suggested.
Alexander said that while the tensions of that episode were tough on the students, they also were a good lesson in the role of the press in a free society.
"They struck a nerve on campus and caused some useful discussion," Alexander said.
She said the newspaper receives protests from time to time about subjects covered in its pages. Numerous letters recently protested a student's opinion column in which he wrote about his religion.
It is part of a newspaper's role to be provocative, Alexander said.
"It's remarkable how often people say we shouldn't be allowed to publish certain things," she said. "We want to make people think and to want to think."