The Collegian celebrates 150 years
Every Wednesday afternoon around 4:00, Kevin Guckes '06 negotiates four flights of stairs in Peirce Hall, making his way up the tower to the newsroom of the Collegian. The first time he climbed to the offices of Kenyon's student newspaper, he was a freshman photographer. Today, as the spring semester gets under way, the senior enters the room as an editor in chief.
Four desks topped by computers cram the room, which measures barely twenty feet along each musty wall. By the time Guckes enters, two or three copy editors are peering at the monitors, clacking away on the keyboards, shaping news stories for this week's edition. In a good week, most of the newspaper will be edited and laid out before Guckes and his co-editor, Ted Hornick '07, arrive to toil over the pages. In a bad week, reporters are scrambling to complete their final assignments as the copy editors and designers watch the clock.
The lights will burn in Chase Tower until 5:00 a.m. Thursday, when the paper--stories finished, headlines written, photographs captioned--will travel via e-mail to a printing company in Mount Vernon. Guckes, Hornick, and a few other staffers will lumber down the stairs, heading back to their rooms to sleep for a few hours before classes begin for the day. By late afternoon, they will be able to see the ink-and-newsprint fruit of their labor in the hands of readers all over campus. The paper is out: another Collegian to inform, amuse, engage, and provoke the Kenyon community.
The Collegian has been playing that role for quite some time--150 years, to be exact. This year marks the sesquicentennial of the student newspaper. While its personality has changed since it started in 1856 as a literary publication, the Collegian has always been an outlet for student voices. Its history reflects the dedication (and, at times, the antics) of generations of undergraduate editors and writers. Its pages offer a glimpse into the College's own history, as well as into the concerns of Kenyon students over the years, from compulsory chapel to the Vietnam War.
"The Collegian has played a critical role in documenting the College's history because it's one of the only relatively consistent voices we have that tells about the College from a student perspective," says Christopher Barth '93, director of information services in the Kenyon library. Barth, who teaches a course about the College's history, regularly sends his students to the Greenslade Special Collections Room in Olin Library, where they can find every issue of the newspaper, all 150 years' worth, in bound volumes. Barth says: "There really aren't any other good sources of commentary on academic life and student life on campus."
Finding its voice
Although it is difficult to piece together a complete history of the publication, this much is certain: Kenyon was just thirty-two years old when the Collegian made its debut. It was a monthly literary publication, where the more than 150 students in Gambier could find poetry, essays, the musings of the editors, and a smattering of campus news. The journal appeared for four years, before the Civil War and waning interest led the editors to set the endeavor aside.
It re-emerged in 1887, looking more like a newspaper, with some coverage of campus events, but still leaning heavily on poetry and essays. Judging from the editors' frequent pleas for subscriptions, the Collegian's funding seemed always to be in peril. "We would ask those whose three months' subscriptions are now up to please renew immediately," the editors asked readers in December 1887, "as we are in need of all the money we can get." Indeed, the newspaper didn't even have an office until 1915, when the College offered the staff a small space on the second floor of Alumni Library and $75 for a desk and typewriter.
Eventually, the Collegian found its way to Chase Tower--no one seems to know exactly when--and in time the paper became a fixture on campus. "There's nothing in the world like walking into Peirce Hall, which is usually very noisy, and it's quiet because everyone's reading your newspaper," says Liesel Friedrich '73, who co-edited the paper in 1971 with Denise Largent '73 (now Denise Largent Roberts)--the first women to edit the Collegian.
Today the Collegian is firmly established as a weekly, appearing every Thursday during the academic year. Less firmly established is the journalistic experience of the students who decide to make the paper their project. The Collegian staff has always learned the newspaper business more or less on the fly. Journalism has no place in the Kenyon curriculum; there are no classes where the staffers can learn how to report a story, edit copy, or design a page.
Over the years, countless editors have endured the experience of giving a 500-word assignment on a basketball game to a freshman, who proceeds to turn in a 2,000-word essay on the nuances of dribbling. Many new Collegian recruits have found themselves struggling to decipher the jargon bandied about by the veterans. What's a Linotype machine? A lede? A cutline? A dek? And what, for crying out loud, does "TK" stand for?
"If there were water-cooler grousing points, one of them was how little the newspaper was integrated into the regular program of the school," says Michael Ludders '05, who was co-editor in chief his senior year along with classmate Bryan Stokes II '05. "There is no template. There is no plan other than students watching other students and trying to emulate what they're doing."
Mark Straley '71, who edited the paper during his junior year in 1969, called it "the immersion method." Before the days of e-mail, layout software, and PDF files, "cut and paste" had quite a literal meaning. Straley and his staff set story text with a Linotype machine, a contraption that cast molten lead into one-line "slugs" of type that were imprinted onto paper. They ran the finished pages through a wax machine, cut each article with an X-Acto knife, and pasted it to a diagram drawn on another page. When the paper was composed, Straley jumped into an old car on loan from the printer in Mount Vernon and drove the pages to the presses.
"Friendships were born of late nights," Straley recalls fondly. "It was like giving birth every week to finally get the paper out."
No one on the Collegian staff gets paid, although editors used to receive dorm accommodations free of charge. Students volunteer to write stories, but often turn in their copy late or, sometimes, not at all. The diligent among the staff ultimately ascend to an editor's slot, gluttons for punishment but also believers in the value of the newspaper and in the creative effort that goes into it.
During their editorship this past spring, Guckes and Hornick each spent twenty to thirty hours a week putting the paper together. Guckes stuck with the Collegian for four years because he loved photography; he was the photo editor before assuming a share of the top job. For Hornick, who had been the arts and entertainment editor, the pull came from several directions--a love for writing, a fondness for deadlines, and a belief that without the Collegian, students would be poorly informed about things that affect their lives on campus. The regional and local media simply don't cover topics like Kenyon's switch to a new food-service provider and the construction of the new athletic center.
"I got an e-mail once from someone who said, 'No one cares about the paper except the people who work on it,'" Hornick recalls. "Yeah, we love doing this or we wouldn't do it. But I like to think that people see the paper as theirs."
Journalism has been described as the first draft of history, and the Collegian has been there to cover and comment on some of the big events in the history of Kenyon.
One was the mysterious death in 1905 of freshman Stewart Lathrop Pierson, whose body was discovered on a railroad trestle south of the Hill. Pierson, a pledge in the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, had been waiting for his fraternity brothers as part of an initiation ritual when he was struck by a train. Rumors that he had been tied to the tracks caused a national outcry. Kenyon's reputation suffered grievously, and enrollment plummeted.
In the weeks and months following Pierson's death, the Collegian devoted pages and pages to the story. The first reports sought to clarify the events of the night. There was also an article about memorial and funeral services. But the paper's follow-up articles explored other issues, including the impact of the negative national news coverage on the College and the coroner's initial suggestion that Pierson had been tied at the wrists and ankles.
"It is true, the coroner's verdict has been rendered," the editors wrote in the November 17, 1905, edition of the Collegian, "but his verdict can in no way change the unanimous conviction of the student body which holds that the death was purely accidental." The paper continued to follow the story into the spring, with editorials about alumni loyalty to Kenyon in the face of such a tragedy and coverage of anti-hazing legislation in the Ohio Legislature. (A more extensive coroner's investigation ultimately absolved Kenyon and the fraternity of any wrongdoing.)
By contrast, the Collegian provided relatively superficial coverage of the Old Kenyon Fire of 1949, which took the lives of nine students in addition to destroying the landmark building. The few articles that ran in the weeks following the fire included news from the fallen students' memorial services, an editorial praising the College's commitment to rebuilding Old Kenyon, and a small piece highlighting a talk on fire safety. There were no reports on the investigation into how the fire started and no follow-up on the results of the inquiry.
The paper was more thorough in following the issues raised by plans to welcome female students in 1969. By that time, the Collegian had evolved into more of a modern newspaper in content, design, and ambition. A September 19, 1968, editorial promised that the paper would "make an effort this year to keep the Kenyon Community abreast, if not one step ahead, of plans for expansion for the women's college." The piece went on: "We feel that student opinion must be heard concerning the innumerable questions about the women's college, and we will seek to perform a certain 'watchdog' role."
As the first female class settled in during the 1969-70 academic year, the biggest question involved the wisdom of establishing the "coordinate college" instead of assimilating the women directly into Kenyon. Mark Straley and his small staff--which included a few of the newly arrived women--attended meetings, conducted interviews, and hounded the administration about the planned governance of the new entity for women. In its editorial pages, the Collegian questioned the logic behind the administration's vow to keep the men's and women's colleges separate.
"The idea was that somehow Kenyon and its tradition as a men's college could be preserved and that this separate women's college would also have its own identity," Straley says, looking back. "That whole concept of having a coordinate college for women--it was doomed to fail."
After a long year of editorials and reportage devoted to coeducation, Straley and his staff had put the final edition of the Collegian to bed when one of the most traumatic events of the Vietnam War era exploded, just two hours up the road. On May 4, 1970, thirteen students at Kent State University were shot by National Guardsmen sent in to quell anti-war protests. Four students died.
The nation was in a state of shock. At Kenyon, where classes had ended, the administration decided to postpone final exams for three days and give students the option of further deferring their exams until the fall. The College scheduled a series of public forums to discuss the events at Kent State and how the violence might affect higher education in general as well as Kenyon specifically.
Sam Barone '72 and John Ryerson '72 realized that the Collegian had to do something. The two friends, both sophomores, had worked on the paper during the year. Barone had been chosen to become the editor in chief when classes resumed in the fall; Ryerson was to be his assistant editor. They knew this story couldn't wait until September.
The two assembled a few writers, borrowed money from the following year's newspaper budget, and quickly put together a special edition devoted to the shootings and their aftermath. They printed about a thousand copies of the issue, a nine-by-nine-inch tri-fold that featured a cover photo of a casket in a mock funeral.
"We wanted to take something that was going on just eighty miles up the road and try to make some sense of it," Barone says. "We thought we could use the paper to mobilize opinion on a lot of things, including what had happened at Kent State."
The paper also rose to the occasion when national news happened right in Gambier less than two years ago. It was November 2, 2004, Election Day: Bush versus Kerry, a country evenly divided, a fierce battle in the swing state of Ohio--and, in the tiny village of Gambier, a polling place where students were waiting patiently to vote, and waiting, and waiting.
Early that afternoon, Mike Ludders's phone rang. The editor learned that voters had been waiting in line for five hours. A voting machine had broken. A court ordered that paper ballots be provided, but rumors and conspiracy theories were flying--don't use the paper ballots, students were telling their classmates, they won't be counted. Nobody knew quite what was going on. It was a reporter's dream story, and a nightmare to report.
Ludders and co-editor Bryan Stokes sent every reporter they had into the field. Some went to the polling station, others went to the local headquarters of the political parties. Still others worked the phones. They interviewed students, professors, village leaders, local residents, and officials at the Knox County Board of Election.
By Wednesday, there were stacks of notebooks filled with quotes and information that needed to be verified. Ludders didn't sleep for two days. He and Stokes worked around the clock to craft an account of the Election Day drama. When they finished, the story was five times longer than the paper would hold. So they threw themselves into the task of trimming the piece without losing key facts, dropping the names of sources, or getting events out of sequence.
When they sent the paper to the printer in Mount Vernon early Thursday morning, they were exhausted. And pleased.
"We realized that something had happened for which there was no preparation, no defined roles, no way of knowing what it was going to become," Ludders says. "It was a test of what a newspaper community that all of us had tried to build could do under duress. I was amazed. All things considered, it came together brilliantly."
Poking the Bear
Somewhere in the code of student newspaper conduct, there must be a provision requiring editors to rattle their colleges' administrations at least once a year. Like the all-night deadline frenzy, pushing campus leaders' buttons seems to be a rite of passage for college journalists. The Collegian is no exception--nor should it be, says Richard Rubin '62 P'00, who was editor in chief in 1961.
During Rubin's time, one of the contentious issues was compulsory chapel. All students were required to attend Sunday morning services. Those who failed to show received demerits.
Rubin had always felt that the rule was unfair. So when he took the helm at the Collegian, he used his editor's column to pressure the administration to eliminate the policy. After months of editorializing, Rubin found himself in church services one Sunday morning in April, preparing to sing the Doxology, which opened the service each week. When the organist struck the first note, clouds of flour shot out from the organ's pipes, filling the chapel with chalky white dust. The services, needless to say, were ruined.
The next morning, President F. Edward Lund ordered Rubin to his office and accused the editor of orchestrating the flour prank. Rubin professed his innocence, but Lund was convinced that the Collegian was behind the incident.
Then, two weeks later, Rubin received a letter from the chairman of the College's board of trustees. The board had decided to rescind the chapel requirement, and the chairman wanted to thank Rubin for pursuing the issue so diligently in the Collegian. "I marched that letter right into the president's office and put it on his desk," Rubin recalls fondly. '"President Lund,' I said, 'I thought you might want to see this.'"
Rubin still chuckles at the memory. But, in all seriousness, he says that the crusade against compulsory chapel demonstrates the influence a newspaper can have in changing society. "I think we coaxed the position faster than it would have occurred by itself," Rubin says. "I wasn't smirking all the way, but we were happy that we'd done this."
One of the more enterprising editors in recent Collegian history was Matthew Winkler '77 H'00, who would go on to write for the Wall Street Journal before helping to create Bloomberg News, a global news service that he leads as editor in chief. Winkler applied for the top post at the Collegian as a freshman. He felt the student paper needed a tougher, beefed-up news operation, and he proposed bold changes. "It seemed to me that what Kenyon really needed was a newspaper that was reporting what people were saying and doing," Winkler says. "I was rather audacious."
Despite his youth, he got the editor's job. One of his first stories he assigned was a piece on the cost of fraternity rush. Winkler saw the subject as straightforward and newsworthy, hardly controversial. He realized he had underestimated its sensitivity when he was brought before the College's journalism board and given a reprimand for what was called "yellow journalism." Not easily deterred, he printed the
reprimand in the newspaper.
Winkler served as editor in chief for two years, going on to write stories about the basketball team's attempts to get their coaches fired and about Kenyon's health service, which struggled to meet the needs of female students.
But one of his biggest journalistic coups, and slips, came during his first year as editor, shortly after William Caples announced his plans to retire as Kenyon's president. Winkler learned the name of Caples's successor before it had been announced. He spent hours preparing an in-depth background piece on the next president, Philip H. Jordan Jr. It was an impressive biography, and every detail was accurate--save one. Jordan's name was misspelled (as Jordon). The mistake was repeated twenty-seven times in the story, and Winkler didn't spot it until the paper was rolling off the presses.
Although Winkler had had little contact with Caples, it was well known that the president hadn't been happy about Winkler's aggressive approach to reporting. So when someone shoved a note under Winkler's door the day after the Jordan story came out, his heart sank when he realized it was on presidential stationery. "Dear Mr. Winkler," the letter said. "In case you haven't already learned, it's spelled JORDAN. Sincerely, President Caples."
Sometimes, the Collegian's attempts to prod the administration took a more artistic form. In the fall of 1975, budding cartoonist Jim Borgman '76 became a regular weekly contributor to the paper's editorial pages. Borgman had heard stories about an incident involving Kenyon's security office and a student's cat. Apparently, over the summer a student staying on campus had a cat in his room--a violation of housing policy. For reasons Borgman could never discover, security shot and killed the cat. The story was too tempting to ignore. So, for his first cartoon of the academic year, Borgman drew a room filled with Mafioso cats, Tommy guns in hand, peering out the windows and plotting their revenge on the security force.
Former editors such as Rubin celebrate the Collegian's tradition of pressing for social and academic change and applaud its ongoing efforts to pursue issues editors think important. "I would insist that the Collegian be given the right to investigate all stories," says Rubin, who now serves as a member of Kenyon's board of trustees. "As long as it's good journalism, I think it's a must."
More than a Byline
Collegian editors continue to feel a kinship with one another and a loyalty to the newspaper. For some, working on the student paper was their only experience in journalism. For others, it was just the stepping stone.
"A lot of my work wasn't good, but they published it anyway," says Borgman. "So in that short period of time, I published enough cartoons to put together the portfolio that helped me get my job." In fact, thanks to his Collegian portfolio, Borgman landed a job, right out of Kenyon, as the political cartoonist for the Cincinnati Enquirer. He has been there ever since, turning out cartoons that have earned him a national reputation, not to mention the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning.
Many former editors echo Borgman's sentiments, crediting their work with the Collegian for helping to shape their careers and their outlook on life. Matt Winkler points to his two years at the Collegian's top post as the staging ground for his path to the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News. Liesel Friedrich went on to work for the television news magazine 20/20, a job that, despite the prominence of the program, could not compete in some ways with her Collegian experience. "TV is beamed out into the ether and you have no sense of its impact," she says. "But with the Collegian, you can see the faces of the people who get the paper."
Some alumni editors receive the paper today and are proud to see that the traditions they believed in are still alive. One long chapter in Collegian history, however, came to an end with the close of the academic year this May: because Peirce Hall is being renovated, the newspaper had to vacate its cramped office in Chase Tower. After a sojourn in trailer offices near the Ernst Center, the Collegian will return to Peirce--but not to the tower, which will no longer be used for student office space.
Still, the important traditions will carry on. "It was the best source of ongoing news about the latest events on campus," says Rubin. "That's a very important contribution that it continues
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