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Reflections on publishing a university newspaper

URL: http://oncampus.osu.edu/reflections-on-publishing-a-university-newspaper/

Description

As onCampus ends its run at almost 46 years, six current and former editors look back on the memorable moments that defined their time at the helm.

Content

By Steve Sterrett
Editor, 1978-1982

When I joined the staff of the university as editor of onCampus in 1978, Woody Hayes was still coaching the Buckeyes. The IBM Selectric typewriter on my desk was the height of office technology. A half-dozen Linotype machines, which produced the metal type for letterpress printing, lined the wall of the printing facility.

But change was in the air. The Lantern and onCampus already were being published using the relatively new offset printing technology. The Linotype machines quickly vanished, except for one used for years to print diplomas.

In 1980, the onCampus staff acquired among the first word processing machines — a monitor and keyboard on wheels that stored data on 8-inch floppy disks. We moved to the head of the line because we could save money — and pay for the word processors — by transmitting our stories directly to the printing facility over a 300-baud modem.

We didn’t fully grasp it at the time, but technology would continue to evolve and fundamentally change how we communicate across the university and around the world.

I use daily the information and data instantly available on the Internet, and I am slowly adjusting to connecting through social media. As a former editor of onCampus, I will pause, however, to reflect on news on the printed page.

I began my journalism career as editor of the weekly student newspaper at a small liberal arts college. A few years later, I found myself at Ohio State reporting on one of the largest universities in the nation. It was a challenge, a learning experience and a lot of fun.

In those days, onCampus was eight and occasionally 12 tabloid pages with no advertising. I enjoyed the challenge of how we would fill those blank pages every couple of weeks.

Early in my tenure as editor, Madison Scott, then vice president for personnel services and secretary of the Board of Trustees, asked me to come to his office. He knew I didn’t determine the university’s communications and public relations policies, but he recognized that how I did my day-to-day job could impact his offices. He didn’t tell me how to do my job, but he let me know to call him when I needed information.

As editor, I came to know and appreciate the faculty members and administrators who were entrepreneurs within academia. They created programs that they were passionate about, and they were savvy about promoting those programs — whether it was the world’s largest Romanian language program outside of Eastern Europe or the College of Optometry’s celebrity eyewear collection. They gave me good stories to tell.

The most interesting aspect of my job was the privilege to roam across the whole university and its many campuses, colleges and offices. Those of us in University Communications had a great overview of this complex institution.

We were there in meetings of the Board of Trustees, University Senate and senior administrators when policies and programs were being shaped because we eventually had to tell the story in onCampus. Occasionally when we asked our standard questions of who, what, when, where and why, the answer or the lack of an answer led to some rethinking.

I believe onCampus has been the newspaper-of-record for the university. We endeavored to report fully and accurately on university people, programs and policies. While there was serious purpose, we had our lighter moments. I’ll always remember my colleague’s headline for a research story on the impact of exercise on pigs: “Swine sweat for science.”

The most satisfying aspect of my job as editor was to hold one of the first copies of onCampus as it rolled off the huge web press at the printing facility. I scanned the headlines, photographs and stories — the life of the university spread over eight black-and-white pages.

And, yes, once or twice in my four years as editor, I yelled, “Stop the presses!” I had found a typo in a headline or an error in a caption that had escaped our earlier proofreading. The correction was made. We lost a little time in the printing, and my printing budget was dinged a bit, but we had to get it right.

I was proud we had a printed product, even if it left a gray stain on my fingers. In a couple of weeks, we would begin again to fill eight blank pages and, I hoped, the product would be a bit better.

By Gemma McLuckie
Editor, 1991-1997

I had no idea how lucky I was to get hired as an assistant editor by Ohio State’s University Relations department in 1984. I had just spent the summer lazing at the pool with my kids when someone suggested I apply. I blithely sent my resume. Later I gulped when I realized how stiff the competition had been.

From my first day at 1125 Kinnear Road I saw that I had joined a highly professional team. The office was responsible for internal communications (onCampus), research communications (Quest and news releases), media relations and duties as assigned. We worked long and hard.

onCampus had a strong tradition of bringing news to Ohio State’s faculty and staff. For the next 13 years, it was my goal and pride to continue that philosophy.

Well, that sounds pretty darn stuffy. University Relations (later University Communications) had its full complement of clever and intelligent staff. We did a lot of laughing, occasional griping and even some arguing. The grammar nerds spent many happy hours debating the use of serial commas. onCampus dreamed up fun projects, like when we featured best-dressed staff and faculty for a two-page photo spread.

There were deeply sad times, like covering the funeral of Officer Blankenship, killed by a gunman. And while we certainly bragged about university accomplishments, we examined some tough campus issues. In the early 1990s, the state legislature began drastic state funding. Our job was to explain the crisis and then explain the administration’s reasons for budget cuts and negligible raises. I’ll always admire our “publishers,” presidents Ed Jennings and Gordon Gee, as well as the vice presidents, for accepting our efforts.

I’m going to brag a bit, too. We won awards for our writing and design. More than once we were selected as one of the top internal communications tabloids.

The editorial team’s loyalty knew no bounds. In addition to the usual sacrifices (long hours, tense deadlines and so on), we had a couple uniquely our own:

• When his Mustang burst into flames, then-editor Greg Brown risked life and limb to save material vital for the next edition. Greg and galleys were uninjured. The car, not so much.

• The transition to desktop publishing certainly brought out our differing personalities. Reporter Dave Tull wanted to take the computer apart to see what was inside. I kept suggesting we read the manual. Greg waited for the optimal moment to turn his machine on.

• In a room with minimal heating and cooling, we had daily adventures in climate control. The record was a rise of 40 degrees in eight hours. We followed the Girl Scouts advice — dress in layers.

• Once, a presidential message highlighted excellent Ohio State programs. We misspelled “excellent” in the headline. We got to yell, “Stop the presses!” but it wasn’t nearly as much fun as it looked in the movies.

I had so many other teammates over the years: my successor Jeanette Drake (who went on to get a PhD in communication) along with David Sonderman, David Bhaerman and Toni Robino. Jo McCulty gave us the most amazing photos. Advertising coordinator Amy Ax set up the first display advertising program. Designer Mary Meyers made every issue shine. Intern Simina Vourlis spent many hours finding the things I lost. (It was good training — she now is a successful lawyer.) Print facility experts kept a creaky web press going long after its past-due date. I’m sure to have missed many others. I hope they will forgive me.

I miss you, onCampus.

By Bill Estep
Editor, 1998-2000

I was struck by two things when I arrived at Ohio State as editor of onCampus in August 1998: The upcoming issue was scheduled to be only eight pages with a handful of advertisers, and the newspaper’s advertising manager had quit two weeks earlier.

Our advertising program was in trouble, and we were two weeks away from our ad deadline for the second annual Resource Guide. So, I joined then-managing editor Dave Bhaerman and began selling ads, because we had no choice.

Bhaerman went on to double as advertising manager for several months before heading to President Brit Kirwan’s office, and I proceeded to handle double duties as editor and ad manager for nearly another year.

We were selling more advertising, and the paper was growing, but I was working 60 hours a week and driving everyone nuts. That’s when the Powers That Be told me to pick one job and, to their surprise, I selected advertising.

I think it was a good decision both for me and for onCampus. In my 12-1/2 years as onCampus’ advertising manager, sales increased 87.6 percent — from $225,790 in 1999-2000 to a record $423,483, and 171 clients in 2010-11, my last full fiscal year. I took early state retirement in April 2012.

onCampus also topped $400,000 in sales in 2007-08 and earned more than $350,000 for eight consecutive years. The advertising program centered around the success of several special sections, including those devoted to Health & Wellness, Conferences & Workshops, the Arts, and Homecoming Weekend.

Sales for the Resource Guide, published each year right before fall classes began, topped $55,000 five consecutive years and jumped 269 percent on my watch.

I was a one-person advertising staff for 10 years, then was joined by part-time saleswoman Chris Graves in 2009. I also served as the newspaper’s circulation manager for several years.

It was Executive Director of University Communications Malcolm Baroway who began the onCampus advertising program in 1993 as a way of making the paper more self-
sufficient. He had done the same thing at the University of Michigan, which still publishes its faculty/staff newspaper, The University Record, both in print and online.

In the late 2000s, advertising revenue covered the newspaper’s production and distribution costs, and half the salaries of the eight-person Internal Communications staff.

I returned to my old job on an interim basis for three months after I retired, until a permanent advertising manager was named. I was very proud of what we did, that we were publishing 28- and 36-page issues and folks both on and off campus considered onCampus a go-to advertising source.

I always liked to tell people we had the best clients in town, because they almost always came back for more and paid on time.

But it was the editorial product that sold the paper.

Surveys from 1999 through the last one taken around 2010 showed onCampus readership rates ranging from 86 percent to 92 percent — an unbelievable number for a newspaper or a periodical of any kind. We had a very loyal readership and a very loyal advertising base.

By Emily Caldwell
Editor, 2000-2002

I have three reference books on my desk: a dictionary, an AP Stylebook and an Ohio State faculty/staff directory from 2000, when the publication included home phone numbers and addresses. I like to open the books when I need to look up a style rule or check my spelling. An online search might be faster. But I enjoy using print materials. Always have.

And so, I will miss the print edition of onCampus. I was editor for only a short time, from 2000 to 2002. But I’ve had affection for the publication for all of my 18-1/2 years on the staff at Ohio State.

onCampus was still a black-and-white newspaper when I took the reins, but a redesign launched in late September 2001 introduced regular use of color and a fresher, updated design to the publication — including much better use of the excellent photographs shot by longtime university photographers Jo McCulty and Kevin Fitzsimons.

With that redesign, we had the good intentions of publishing a “Forum” page for columns and letters to the editor. We ran columns for a few months, but I could probably count the letters we received on one hand. Eventually, we gave up on that effort.

In that first redesigned issue, we covered the campus response to 9/11.

I’d say my focus as editor was sharing institutional news. The Internet existed then, and OSU Today (now onCampus Today), the campus-wide daily email newsletter, was launched around the same time that I became the onCampus editor. However, I still thought the print issue of onCampus should function as the “record” of major institutional happenings — decisions regarding the budget, administrative priorities, faculty governance, major personnel appointments, student recruitment and admissions, human resources updates — all that plus innovative research and teaching initiatives. University Senate and its committee meetings and administration and faculty presentations to the Board of Trustees supplied content for many a story in onCampus during that time.

Looking back, I’d say my approach was a whole lot of “work” and probably not enough “play.” The publication — and I — would have benefited if I had lightened up a bit and shortened some of the ridiculously long stories I wrote about the university’s fiscal concerns.

There was one foray into play that was quite fun: On two consecutive Take a Daughter to Work Days, the onCampus staff led a workshop allowing visiting girls to interview women faculty and staff and write short profiles for the
newspaper.

A review of the issues published while I was editor — I have carted all of them around in a canvas bag to three new positions and seven offices since then — offers glimpses of what was to come for Ohio State: establishment of a permanent President’s Council on Women’s Issues, a recommendation to start planning for the semester conversion, demolition that would make room for the South Campus Gateway and the founding and naming of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity as we said farewell to President Brit Kirwan.

Two of my favorite pieces in onCampus during my editorship involve cherished members of the Ohio State community who are no longer with us. In February 2000, I wrote a feature about Bill Hall’s deft coordination of campus visits by presidents, presidential candidates and other national leaders. Hall, assistant vice president for student affairs at the time (and later vice president), was considered the “mover and shaker,” “expediter” and the university’s “very own
commander-in-chief” when VIPs showed up on campus.

Hall died of cancer in November 2005. I still miss him.

The best thing I did as editor, in my humble opinion, was publishing two of David Citino’s poems on page one: first when he addressed graduates with verse as the 2000 winter quarter commencement speaker, and again when he wrote a poem titled “Cell Phone” after the 9/11 attacks. Citino, professor of English and the university’s poet laureate, left us much too soon, also in the fall of 2005, dying of complications from multiple sclerosis at age 58.

And so, I will conclude with a very brief excerpt from Citino’s “Pomp, Circumstance, and Other Songs of a Lifetime,” presented to graduates on March 17, 2000. It reminds me of what onCampus has tried to do for its readers: “We’ve all come together around the kitchen table of Ohio State.”

By Joni Bentz Seal
Editor, 2002-2006

The four years I spent as the editor of onCampus were among the most fulfilling of my career. The newspaper was well regarded by the faculty and staff and through my role, I had the opportunity to interact with people across the university and learned tremendously from the leadership. A decade later, my experience as a member of the University Relations team is unparalleled. Their talent, support and professionalism brought out the best in me. Goodbye, onCampus!

By Jeff McCallister
Editor, 2007-2016

I am proud to say that, as editor for its final eight years, I am one of, if not the longest-tenured editors the paper had — and it has had some outstanding leaders, including the other five whose reminiscences appear on these pages.

When I was hired in 2007, it was with the express purpose of building a sense of community within the university. Gordon Gee had begun his second go-around as president only a month or two earlier, and one of the guiding principals he preached was a focus on Ohio State as “One University” — as opposed, he said, to a system of individual buildings and units joined only by a common power plant.

So when I came on, my charge was to help bring the people of the campus together.

I had worked in community newspapers nearly my entire career in journalism and that was how I saw onCampus — a community newspaper for the Ohio State community.

Yes, we still covered the Board of Trustees and University Senate — we still were the university’s paper of record, after all, and I took that responsibility seriously. We wrote biographies of dozens upon dozens of university distinguished award winners, both faculty and staff, to properly give those awardees their due.

And the Faculty and Staff page at the back of the paper remained the most popular and well-read pieces we did — as an old editor of mine always said: “Names and faces make the news.” Everyone, he reasoned, loves to see his or her name in the paper, and that page alone got thousands of names into print.

When administrators wanted to talk about merging arts and sciences colleges into a single college, or needed to get the word out why a transition from quarters to semesters was necessary and how it was to happen, or to show employees that a lease of parking operations would be a boon to the university, onCampus was the way they did it.

But we also wrote stories about interesting and unique jobs held by interesting and unique people at Ohio State: the Whiz Bang Science Show guy, a veterinary social worker, the submarine operator at Stone Lab, the crew in charge of the sometimes-hectic conversion of the Schottenstein Center from an ice rink to basketball court to rock arena, and the man in charge of tuning and maintaining every piano in the university’s inventory.

We also did a series of stories about interesting things Ohio State employees like to do when they are away from the office — such as the man who bought a used fire truck and transformed it into a tailgate vehicle.

But I will never forget standing with then-Executive Vice President and Provost Joe Alutto almost exactly six years ago, waiting to pay final respects to Larry Wallington, an FOD manager who once had been a janitor in the buildings of Fisher College when Alutto was dean there. Wallington had been shot and killed by one of his employees, and the entire campus community, including Alutto, lined the route of the funeral procession as it wound past Wallington’s favorite places on campus.

That story ran full-cover on page 1 on March 18, 2010, and was one of the best examples of community journalism I have seen — covering the way hundreds of Ohio State employees lined West Woodruff Avenue and Woody Hayes Drive to say goodbye to a man the vast majority of them had never met, but felt like they knew.

Those are the stories that kept folks picking up the paper for 45 years in an era when lots of general circulation newspapers were suffering falling circulation, falling advertising revenues and falling readership.

onCampus held out for a while, and enjoyed strong and loyal readership (while also winning a few CASE awards along the way) until this, the very end. But in the end, with tightening budgets and digital alternatives becoming more and more the norm, revenues coming in just didn’t keep up with the costs associated with printing and distributing a newspaper, no matter how well it was liked and respected.

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Item Information

Content type: Rss
Published: Tuesday, Mar. 22 2016, 6:35pm
Imported: Tuesday, Mar. 22 2016, 6:40pm
Channel: onCampus
Entity: onCampus

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oncampus-staff-features

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audience-faculty-staff news