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Cover Story: Start the Press!

The News Record and 125 years of journalism at UC

By Kathy Y. Wilson · October 12th, 2005 · Cover Story
  Stop The Press!
Sean Hughes

Stop The Press!

The smell of former basketball coach and talk radio lightning rod Bob Huggins isnÕt even gone when University of Cincinnati President Nancy Zimpher is in a late-September roundtable with the editorial brain trust of The News Record in the Swift Hall basement newsroom.

ItÕs the collegiate equivalent of politicians getting an audience with the editorial board of a daily newspaper pitching for an endorsement. ItÕs smart public relations on both sides.

The paper is editorially independent from UC, receiving support only in office space and a director of student media. Staff is paid from advertising revenue.

¨I have to make sure the values of the institution are reflected in my statements,Ó says Zimpher, who might or might not be addressing her firing of Huggins and the academic vs. athletic smackdown that ensued. ¨IÕm sure there are people who were frustrated with the decision or with the process. IÕm acutely aware that we have to win back students.Ó

Zimpher fields all manner of questions, addressing inadequate parking, tuition and her plans to add 5,000 students in five years. She asks the staffÕs help telling a USA Today reporter about student newspapers.

¨IÕm prepared to be asked what the "value addedÕ is of student newspapers,Ó she says.

Columnist Doug Remington asks Zimpher if, at the end of 2005, society is beyond asking whether being a woman informs her decision-making.

¨You know, Doug, IÕm beyond that,Ó she says.

Several female News Record staffers smile and nod pridefully.

The paper
ItÕs a production day, the afternoon before the paper hits stands, and after Zimpher leaves, News Record editors -- 13 in all -- must resume reading and clearing pages all afternoon for the midnight deadline. Just like in a daily newsroom, a bureaucratic stop stick slows the day but not the work.

¨Publishing (Monday, Wednesday and Thursday) means theyÕre always pretty much on deadline,Ó says Albert Salvato, director of student media and News Record advisor for five years. ¨We work two weeks ahead, we keep two-week budgets. We donÕt want knee-jerk stories. We are reactive, but we want to think ahead because thatÕs the way the business is supposed to work.

¨Students teach students. That is the basis of an independent newspaper.Ó

Gone are the days of the paperÕs dodgy editorial commitment along with its musty and, Salvato says, roach-filled space in the old Tangeman University Center. The modern News Record stresses editorial accuracy and consistent editorial style and is forging ahead as a professional training ground for students serious about futures in all aspects of print journalism.

Managing Editor Michael Rovito says the paper owns the UC beat.

¨We treat UC like our city,Ó says Rovito, a rangy and easy-going counterpoint to Editor-in-Chief Julie HollydayÕs compact seriousness. ¨The Enquirer has Cincinnati. Most of the students donÕt subscribe to The Enquirer, so UC is our city. We report crime, sports, good news, bad news, and we do it in a professional manner because we all get internships and this is the best training before we enter the real world.Ó

Strangely, The News Record celebrates the 125th anniversary of student journalism at UC just as the university is establishing a journalism department for the first time. After years of completing the tastes great/less filling requirements of the writing certificate in lieu of journalism, students can now receive a bachelor of arts degree in journalism in one of three tracks: news editorial, magazine/narrative non-fiction and photojournalism, which is pending.

ItÕs an official stamp that will validate students who begin at The News Record, put in the grunt work of internships at daily newspapers and who have, in turn, returned to the schoolÕs newspaper with professional experience. It puts them in the running for real journalism jobs, Salvato says.

¨WeÕve been around since 1880,Ó he says, referring to Belatrasco, UCÕs first foray into journalism. ¨ItÕs time to put it on the map.Ó

Theory in the trenches
Jon Hughes is a professor of English and journalism and director of the new journalism program. He came to UC in 1972, is a former News Record advisor and in 1975 was one of the founders of the writing certificate.

ItÕs been for Hughes a long, strange trip to the journalism program. HeÕs a former hard-boiled daily reporter who kept track of the shifting roles and responsibilities of modern journalism, and he was the first full-time English professor at UC to teach journalism.

¨Coming from a daily newspaper to academia was a culture shock,Ó he says. ¨I remember when I literally sat at my desk and shook because I was coming down from that daily high. I also had to be careful not to push my daily (grind) on them but to let them find it.

¨I was basically a consultant (as the News Record advisor). I didnÕt read copy before it came in unless they asked me to. They knew if they had legal questions, they could ask me. I didnÕt really care about their feelings. We werenÕt blogging. We were gathering news.Ó

And the big news stories havenÕt changed in 33 years, Hughes says.

ThereÕs war. Then it was Vietnam. Now itÕs Iraq.

There are demonstrations. Then it was against Vietnam and President Johnson. Now itÕs against Iraq and President Bush.

There was in 1972 the mediaÕs correlation between racism and poverty. There is in 2005 the mediaÕs slow, post-Katrina connection between racism and poverty.

Hughes is the second News Record affiliate to use the ¨cityÓ analogy to describe how the young journalists report campus news.

¨IÕve always felt that they oughtta hoe their own garden, that they ought to cover what topic readers want to know,Ó he says. ¨And their readers are UC students, staff and faculty. They could stay busy covering this city -- the city of UC.Ó

Having a new journalism program will make it harder for students to get in the pages of the school newspaper, Hughes says.

¨Students will compete for space, which is the real world,Ó he says. ¨The best-written story will be published. Welcome to journalism.Ó

The department will mix faculty and staff, the traditionally educated who already teach journalism courses with guest spots filled by some of the cityÕs name-brand working journalists like The Enquirer sports columnist Paul Daugherty. ItÕs theory in the trenches.

Hughes says his previously proposed journalism program never came to fruition because area universities with long-established programs reserved the right to reject his proposal on the basis that UCÕs proximity to the cityÕs urban center would drain graduating journalism talent.

¨I was interested in proposing a journalism major, but that policy -- which has been reinstated -- deterred me,Ó Hughes says. ¨To get a new program approved, the Ohio Board of Regents had to approve it and other schools could reject it. I wrote a proposal about 30 years ago, but I didnÕt have support. IÕve outlived everybody.Ó

McMicken College of Arts & Sciences Dean Karen Gould called Hughes in July 2004 to ¨talk about journalism.Ó He told her that teaching journalism without a journalism department affected the staff.

¨I think there was kind of a problem with identity for the (journalism) faculty,Ó Hughes says. ¨(The certificate program) is equivalent to a minor. Up to two years ago weÕd awarded 500 certificates.Ó

There can be imbalance for students writing and editing the school paper, however, without the intellectual might of a journalism program. Salvato says a journalism major equals more coursework, better-prepared journalists and better post-graduate opportunities.

Regardless, graduates who cut their journalistic teeth in that newsroom, many of whom also received the writing certificate, number among the countryÕs best and brightest journalists.

All the president�s men
¨The group I was with, most of us are professional journalists now,Ó Glenn Gamboa says.

Gamboa, a Cleveland native, has been the Pop music critic since 2000 for Newsday in Long Island and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist this year as the lead writer of a series on the effect of Hip Hop on popular culture over 30 years. He graduated from UC in 1989 with a degree in English literature and a writing certificate.

For three years he was a News Record staffer, beginning as the deputy editorial page editor before switching to entertainment editor covering R.E.M. and JaneÕs Addiction.

¨I was going to be an engineer, which never worked out,Ó Gamboa says by phone. ¨(The atmosphere) was very close to my experiences afterwards at other papers. It was a real paper.Ó Gamboa has worked at The Cleveland Plain Dealer and The Akron Beacon Journal.

Production of the paper was in transition. TheyÕd just switched to Macintosh computers and gone from the old-school cut-and-paste style to printing the entire page for editorial changes.

¨We still had to finish at 1 a.m. and somebody had to drive it from the office to the printer,Ó Gamboa says. ¨It seems like a whole lifetime ago.Ó

Not only was production of the paper in transition, but so was the paperÕs image.

¨It was a weird time,Ó Gamboa says. ¨Immediately before I got there, it was just a hobby. People did it just because they thought it was cool. Then we had a couple of strong editors in a row. The business manager figured out a way to sell more ads to generate more cash.Ó

The News Record was named best college newspaper in a statewide competition during GamboaÕs tenure.

¨It was something for us because, obviously, we didnÕt have a journalism department,Ó he says. ¨We were going up against Ohio State and Ohio University.Ó

Once UCÕs journalism program becomes established, Gamboa says, winning awards wonÕt be such an anomaly. Without it, ¨our grads start at a level below where they normally would because we didnÕt have the infrastructure.Ó

Lewis Moores, whose byline is known to Cincinnati readers as the first editor of the now-defunct Clifton Magazine and from his 17 years at The Cincinnati Post, ascended the News Record editorial ranks from 1970 to 1973, eventually becoming its executive editor.

Moores says the political climate of the day -- namely the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Tet Offensive, the violent outbreak during the Democratic Convention in Chicago -- dictated his editorial output.

The school newspaper was a fertile training ground for what would become his lifeÕs work marked always by inquisitiveness.

¨The student movement was the epicenter of social unrest,Ó he says. ¨Back then, to be a student journalist meant you were at the center of was happening. To be on a college campus in 1968, 1969 and 1970 was to be center stage in the whole anti-war movement. It was extremely exciting. The News Record helped immensely with handling writing on deadline, with curiosity. That was instilled in me at The News Record

Moores, now a reporter for the Sunday Northern Kentucky Challenger, says he learned his first real lessons about journalism at The News Record.

¨We learned the most important function of the media, and that was that the media serves as a watchdog function,Ó he says, adding that the paper was funded then by a percentage of student fees. ¨The irony was that even though it was subsidized by the university, The News Record resented any attempts by the university to control it. It was almost a "fuck youÕ attitude. Nowhere was that more prevalent than at The News Record, especially in the late "60s.Ó

Ben Neiman published an Oct. 4, 1968, column alerting incoming freshman girls to the five types of UC men, the ¨pseudo hippieÓ among them. The issue featured an ad for Janis Joplin, whoÕd be performing two shows at Music Hall, and a story about members of the ¨hip communityÓ along Calhoun Street meeting with city officials. Contrary to widespread fears on campus, they didnÕt inform city fathers of the areaÕs ¨unlawful activities.Ó Both groups were concerned with ¨problems of a drug nature.Ó

The paperÕs late-Õ60s coverage included numerous news briefs on President Nixon and a point-by-point column condemning George WallaceÕs stance on nepotism, racism, voting rights, violence and Vietnam.

¨If there was an engine that drove The News Record back then, it was the editorial pages,Ó Moores says. ¨It was fuelled by the fact that there was a draft. And it was fuelled by the fact that kids who were in college knew kids who werenÕt in college who ended up in Vietnam.Ó

You�re gonna make it after all
On yet another production day, Editor-in-Chief Hollyday shows me a Missed Deadline Form, a checklist outlining a writerÕs infraction (missed deadline, plagiarism, insufficient quotes) and the actions taken (first or second warning, discussion or suspension) as proof of her seriousness as editor and the paperÕs role as a stepping stone to the trial-by-fire world of journalism.

Over her shoulder, a staffer yells out an invitation to get some breadsticks. Staffers are eating from fast food bags, passing around cell phones and chatting with writers about their stories.

¨When I started here I didnÕt know exactly what I wanted to do,Ó Hollyday says. ¨I thought, "Someday IÕm gonna be a journalism major. ThatÕs what IÕll do to validate all the time and money.Õ Now that (the major) is here, I feel like itÕs a relief. IÕve been keeping up my end of the bargain to make sure students know what itÕs going to be like when they step out the door, not to be shocked when someone yells at them.

¨WeÕre not as harsh and as regulated as other independent newspapers, but this is my job, this is my business. This is what I do to set up the mentality of the people who work here and the structure of the paper so it can only get more and more professional.Ó

The paperÕs recent coverage includes front-page, above-the-fold stories on reports of rapes, robberies and assaults near campus; a campuswide Katrina fund-raiser netting $30,000 in donations; UCÕs receipt of $17 million in stroke research funds; a proposed smoking ban; and the first victory of some UC College of Law students who worked with the Ohio Innocence Project.

Hollyday, also president of the UC chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists who aspires to be a professional copy editor, spends 45 to 50 hours weekly in the newsroom attending editorial board meetings, talking with Salvato, shuffling stories and ideas streaming in from 75 student contributors, checking reportersÕ progress and working closely with the business manager and with Rovito, the managing editor.

Even with her dedication, Hollyday doesnÕt skip classes for the sake of the paper and says the paper could always be better.

¨At the beginning of the year everything could be better,Ó she says. ¨As long as people are learning here, thatÕs good for me. As long as people are reporting fair and accurate stories, thatÕs good for me.Ó

Roaches, 9/11 and a has-been coach
In his office just off the newsroom, Salvato remembers the old newspaper offices in Tangeman University Center (TUC).

¨When I first came here, we were at TUC,Ó he says, the previous dayÕs News Record spread before him dotted with his editorial comments and criticisms in brown marker. ¨The roaches used to crawl up my leg, and IÕd tap my leg.Ó

He taps his foot for effect. ItÕs SalvatoÕs good humor and earnestness that makes him approachable, but not soft.

He teaches three journalism classes at UC, is a part-time copy editor at The Cincinnati Post and is the Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana correspondent for The New York Times.

¨There was a time when the spirit was not good here, not real strong,Ó he says. ¨They were without an advisor for about six months. We cut out all wire stories.Ó

Five years ago the paper comprised 60 percent wire copy and 40 percent staff-driven copy.

¨I said, we need to have a paper thatÕs staff-written and that brings staff from all disciplines,Ó he says. ¨Some of our best writers come from history, broadcast and other disciplines.Ó

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Salvato says the newspaper staffÕs editorial thinking shifted, informed as it was now by violence and lost innocence. The post-9/11 staff doubled from 35 to 70 who wanted to write news and opinion.

¨These kids have some heavy things theyÕre dealing with,Ó he says. ¨After 9/11, they had something to say. They werenÕt just talking in (social) groups. That one event got them thinking, and they wanted to express their opinions. No longer do they think their generation has a free ride.Ó

Salvato will push the limits of college journalism at The News Record in years to come, ratcheting up the investigative stories the paper will cover, perhaps energized by the dawning of the new journalism department.

¨WeÕre still a little knee jerk,Ó he says. ÓWe still struggle through the day-to-day. IÕd like to see more series, more digging. We could take our upperclassmen, our veterans, and have them do more digging. If you look at the political things going on in this country, weÕre going to need more journalists who can dig.

¨IÕd love to know who really runs this university,Ó he says. ¨How many students leave because of crime and fear? (News Record staffers) want to do it. They want to know about the Calhoun Street development. TheyÕre furious the bars are gone. They say it seems homogenized. Maybe it is. LetÕs find out.

¨We need to focus our energies instead of focusing on a has-been basketball coach.Ó ©



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