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The college newspaper

Last year, I was the advisor to a college newspaper.

This year, I am not.

I’m not going to get into specifics, because they don’t matter. Things happen in life, and sometimes they’re quirky. Hey.

I will say this: I loved advising a college newspaper. Absolutely l-o-v-e-d it. I loved the feelings of accomplishment from my students. I loved that they created something out of nothing. I loved that, suddenly, they had voices. Angry voices. Sad voices. Happy voices. The food here sucks. The basketball team is great. We need nicer dorms. We need better teachers. This school stinks. This school rocks. I loved helping them learn editing and layout. I love that one of my students became a design wiz. I love the bond; the passion; the heart.

It’s funny. Back in the early 1990s, I was editor of the University of Delaware’s student newspaper, The Review. Traditionally, UD had a tremendous journalism program. The paper always won awards, and professional publications throughout the country staffed old Blue Hens. We had an advisor, a man named Dennis Jackson who, at the time, I couldn’t stand. Dr. Jackson was, I felt, unfairly critical. He ripped my work, called me out on numerous occasions, dogged staffers, etc. And yet, come day’s end, he allowed us to make our own mistakes. He rarely (if ever) entered the office, and never, ever, ever, ever walked around with a red pen, line editing stories. I didn’t realize or appreciate it at the time, but Jackson knew the secret of college journalism: Namely, students have to make mistakes. They absolutely have to.

In other words, the newspaper couldn’t be perfect, and shouldn’t have been perfect. Errors needed to exist, because it’s how students learn. Having a professional final edit stories would only backfire, because … well, it’s college. A professional isn’t supposed to final edit. A student is. Then he screws up. Then he learns.

I digress. The above cover is from The Review of April 1, 1994. It was our April Fool’s issue, and—as editor—I was told and told and told and told not to do it. So, naturally, I did it. I actually wrote the SNOOP EXCITED TO ADDRESS BITCHES AT COMMENCEMENT front-page piece, and it was—I’m pretty sure—my (horribly tasteless) idea to take a little person’s photograph and place a football helmet atop his head. Inside we had gross ads and inappropriate nuggets and inane comics and an advice column, ASK CRAZY DAVE, where we had a pretend David Roselle, the University’s president at the time, answer fictitious letters from students (while heavily medicated). I will never forget a professor, telling me, “Twenty years from now this will be your biggest regret.”

Nearly 20 years have passed—and the front page is framed in my office.

I looooooove that April’s Fools issue, because it symbolizes (in an odd way) everything college journalism is about to me. Self-discovery. Self-expression. Overwriting for the sake of overwriting, and experimenting with ledes and words and graph length and all sorts of stuff. Although students often believe the process is about achieving perfection, it’s not—and shouldn’t be. It’s about learning how to be a journalist. Learning what works and what doesn’t work; what’s ultimately professional and what’s ultimately unprofessional.

It’s about staying up on deadline until 4 am with a soggy pizza and a lukewarm Coke. It’s about everlasting bonds and ink smudges and last-minutes changes and passion for bringing forth the truth—even when you’re the only one who cares.

That’s what it’s about.

3 replies on “The college newspaper”

agree 100 percent. i wouldn’t trade my time at the student newspaper for anything…

and just what you wrote is why so many of my fellow red & black alumni felt so strongly about what happened at uga recently. if you haven’t read up on it, please do so.

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I don’t remember many lessons from actual classrooms, but I remember and still use skills I learned at the student newspaper. My school didn’t have a journalism program, and the one journalism class was a joke. We learned by doing and – yes, making mistakes.

I was editor for two years, and I’m a freelance writer and author. Same for my assistant editor. So I guess we learned something.

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That issue of The Review is a part of what led me to eventually switch majors and join The Review staff myself. I thought it looked like fun.

And it was fun. But the lessons I learned there — and the lessons I learned later by looking back at my work and realizing how really, really bad it was — I learned more from those experiences than the collective of all my classroom work.

Fifteen years later I’m still in the business and can’t imagine doing anything else.

And you are right on about Dr. Jackson. I can’t imagine the restraint it takes to watch kids make big, public mistakes. But he knew we would survive and be stronger for it.

It’s a shame some educators can’t see it that way.

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