Alum Editor Lauded for Revolutionary Career

Contact Alice Tzou at [email protected]





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As an editor-in-chief of The Daily Californian during the tumultuous 70s, John Emshwiller helped steer the paper through controversial stories, battles with administrators, and its eventual transformation into an independent paper.

Nearly three decades later, he was doing navigation of a different sort, leafing through dense U.S. Security Exchange Commission files as one of the first reporters to break the Enron corporate scandal.

Emshwiller, who will be honored Saturday as this year's Daily Cal Alumnus of the Year, has covered everything from cars to criminals, braved lawsuits and threats, and faced slammed doors in a decades-long journalism career that began at The Daily Californian and continues today at the Wall Street Journal.

"It's fun to learn things, to meet new people, to unravel new mysteries," Emshwiller said. "There's always new challenges ... it's above all fun."

In 2001, Emshwiller and Wall Street Journal colleague Rebecca Smith broke the Enron Corp. scandal that rocked the nation, spurring investigations and legal reforms.

While looking at the company's most recent government filings for background for a story, he noticed footnotes describing suspicious transactions with entities controlled by former Enron's chief financial officer.

Less than two months after the appearance of the first story, Enron declared bankruptcy on Dec. 2.

Looking back, Emshwiller said he had no idea his stories would cause such shock waves at the time.

"We didn't really have a sense," he said. "Things were breaking so fast."

One of Emshwiller's first experiences with the deep impact that a story could have come when he was an editor of The Daily Californian in 1972.

Emshwiller and Daily Cal staffers were shocked when an editorial published on May 15, 1971, which encouraged Berkeley citizens to rip down the fences police had erected around People's Park, sparked a riot that led to some $100,000 in damages.

"It was sort of an underlying theory that nobody really reads the Daily Cal editorials," Emshwiller said.

The riot infuriated university officials, resulting in the Daily Cal's move to an off-campus location.

Emshwiller called the controversial editorial "the final straw" in a relationship between the university and the paper that had long been marked by tension, one that even led then-Chancellor Roger Heyns to ask Emshwiller, "Why do you hate me?"

"There had been talk off and on for years from both sides that we should be independent," Emshwiller said. "It had to be just a big enough event, so we inadvertently provided it."

The paper moved off campus and Emshwiller and his senior editorial board resigned, handing the newly independent paper to a new staff.

Since walking out of the Daily Cal office, Emshwiller has been working at the Wall Street Journal, where he has served as an editor and Los Angeles bureau chief, covering the California energy crisis and the fall of the nuclear power industry, among other areas.

He has also authored two books: "24 Days," about the uncovering of the Enron scandal, and "Scam Dogs and Mo-Mo Mamas," on the rise of Internet stock trading.

Now based in Los Angeles, Emshwiller fondly recalls his days reporting on riots and tussling with administrators as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley.

"I had a great time at The Daily Cal. It did alter my life. It helped me find a profession that I'm still in," Emshwiller said. "It was also-despite all the pain and sleepless nights and angst-it was just a hell of a lot of fun."

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