CHAPEL HILL – The Daily Tar Heel celebrates its 120th birthday Saturday.

“We think it is a big deal,” says Editor-in-chief Andy Thomason. “We were called for a large portion of the 20th century the only college daily in the South, so we believe we have a very proud history of independence and journalistic integrity and excellence. We are proud to look back on 120 years of work, to do more learning and really celebrate that history.”

The Princeton Review awarded the paper with the best college newspaper award in 2010 and 2007.

The paper has not used student fees as a source of funding since 1993. Thomason says that independence was a huge step for the paper.

“It was a really big deal, because every year the staff had to go in front of Student Congress to present the budget,” says Thomason. “It was just a huge problem. Editors admitted to having pulled punches about Student Congress in coverage around budget time. So they admitted to compromising their own journalistic honesty.”

Prior to becoming independent, about $100,000 of the paper’s $600,000 budget came from student fees.

The most recent example of that independence came in 2010 when the paper joined 7 other media outlets in suing the University over public information. But Thomason says the paper was able to break stories even before becoming financially independent.

“I’ve been told by Ken Zogry, the historian who is writing a book about the history of the Daily Tar Heel, that the first one they every broke was about a cheating ring –I believe that was in the 30s,” says Thomason. “That’s just one example of how being a student at UNC has benefits because you are on the ground all the time and be able to report on your peers.”

Thomason says journalists from the Daily Tar Heel have also gone on to make further impacts in the news world.

“I could go on and on,” says Thomason, “but I think the ones that people might name most quickly are Charles Kuralt, Peter Gammons worked here, Peter Wallsten, who covers the White House for the Washington Post, Thanassis Cambanis, who’s a correspondent in the Middle East and covered the Arab Spring, and Thomas Wolfe.”

Wolfe initiated the paper’s change from a weekly to a semi-weekly in 1920. The paper became a daily in 1929.

To view a video about reflections on the paper’s birthday, click here.