College Life Replays: Print Journalism Lesson #1 — Go For It!

The 1989-1990 Western Herald editorial team. All are/were creative forces. Sports Editor, Jim Jensen, is deceased, but is a key reason why I love football so much. Comic Credit: John Fountain, Fountain’s Pen, the last strip for the 1989-1990 editorial year.

If you hear the song I sing,
You must understand
You hold the key to love and fear
All in your trembling hand
Just one key unlocks them both
It’s there at your command

C’mon people now,
Smile on your brother
Ev’rybody get together
Try and love one another right now
Right now
Right now!

—  Written by Chet Powers

Go For It vs. Play It Safe

Faunce Student Services Center (the Bird Cage) on WMU’s Campus. Photo Credit: wmich.edu

I was about four weeks into my freshman year as a print journalism student at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich., when I saw the ad in the student newspaper, Western Herald. It invited aspiring journalists to an orientation meeting at the Herald offices located in the basement of the Faunce Student Services Center — called the Bird Cage by faculty and students — on the western edge of WMU’s main campus.

Originally, I planned to stay away from any extra-curricular activities until sophomore year. In response to seeing this ad, the rational, play-it-safe side of my brain said, “Don’t go. Get a grip! Focus on studying and adjust to “college” life.”

My intuition said, “Go for it! Why wait?”

Herald Office/Bird Cage location in proximity to other buildings on campus. Many of these did not exist during my years there (1989-1994). Photo Credit: wmich.edu

So, at the date and time stated in the ad, my intuition and I walked into the Herald offices. We listened with great interest to the editorial team talk about the various sections of the paper. All needed for more writers. Prior journalism experience wasn’t necessary. Bonus!

I knew taking the opportunity to write for the Herald was as vital to my professional success as acing all of my classes. There isn’t coursework out there that surpasses the experience one gains from practicing what will be expected in the newsrooms around the globe. Student newspapers at both Central Michigan University and Michigan State University wouldn’t have even glanced at freshmen-level, inexperienced writers.

As I left the Herald offices that afternoon, I heard the The Youngblood’s rendition of Chet Power’s Get TogetherI would later associate this song along with Elton John’s Rocket Man and Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus with time spent in the Herald offices during fall and winter semesters. There I conducted interviews, wrote and edited copy and learned the inner-workings and politics of a newsroom.

During the long trek back to Ackley-Shilling, I felt pride swelling in my chest. For once I had taken a risk. I listened to my gut; and went with it. My first story assignment for the Herald was stowed in my backpack. I had decided to begin my Herald experience with the arts and entertainment section. Later that evening — using the press release and accompanying information — I wrote a draft to use while typing the story into the computer when it was due back in a couple days.

Goldsworth Valley 1: Ackley-Shilling. Photo Credit: wmich.edu

As promised, I returned to the Herald offices with my what I thought was a completed story. I typed it into one of the MacIntosh computers reserved for the paper’s writers in the Herald’s copy room. Upon keying it in, I let the A&E editor know I was finished. Within seconds, he told me it was a great re-write of the press release, but not what the Herald needed as a finished piece.

The story needed more details as well as quotes from the sources listed on the press release. They were closely connected with the piece I was writing and would give depth to the story. As I listened to the fair, but telling critique, obtaining the said quotes and details meant picking up the telephone, punching the phone numbers in, and talking to people.

One of the MacIntosh dinosaurs in the Herald copy room in the early ’90s. Photo Credit: One of my fellow Herald alums.

Those who know me today, might be trying to stifle a giggle at this admitted bought of shyness. But, it’s true. Up until that day, I hated calling people on the phone — I was not well acquainted with — to ask questions. This particular situation was pushing me to ask experienced media and public relations professionals relevant, intelligent, and quote-producing questions. Gulp!

Well, I couldn’t just sit there looking at the phone. I needed more details and some good quotes. The A&E editor was counting on me; I couldn’t let him down. Plus, I wanted more writing assignments. After three successes, I would receive payment (beer money) for each story the Herald printed.

“Go for it,” I said to myself. “Think about attending Bud Light keg parties instead of the ones offering Natural Light.”

So, I made my list of questions and called my first source. After that, each time I needed to make over-the-phone or in-person interviews, the whole Q&A bit became easier. In fact, my ability to swallow my fear and forget my anxiety that day prepared me for what I would do later in my career as a writer. I had deadlines to meet, this is what was required, and I would do my best.

To me, the success stories in the creative world are all about going for it; and taking risk. Those creative forces — writers, filmmakers, actors, photographers, artists, designers, stylists, painters, chefs, etc. — who inspire me all push the envelop to evolve, develop their talent, and achieve their goals.

Some of those creative forces worked right along side of me in the Herald offices in the Bird Cage. But, you’ll have to wait until next week to obtain a glimpse of who they are.

College Life Replays: The Drop-Off and Wrong Way Home

Remember when the days were long
And rolled beneath a deep blue sky
Didn’t have a care in the world
With mommy and daddy standing by
When “happily ever after” fails
And we’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales…

Bruce Hornsby  and Don Henley

It must be the time of year. Proms, graduations and summer vacation are a mere seven weeks away. That’s 42 days, folks. All this looking forward sentiment actually has me looking backwards.

Western Michigan University
Western Michigan University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nostalgia hit me back in March. A favorite vintner and business owner, Gerard Giacona (Filipo Marc Winery), chatted with me about his son’s anticipated graduation from Eisenhower High School; and his son’s plans to study journalism at my alma mater, Western Michigan University.

Then, last week a number of my fellow and extremely distinguished j-school peers began swapping memories on Facebook. The stories being shared about the years we spent as writers, editors, business managers and advertisers for the Western Herald, the student newspaper, took me back to September 1989, which was the start of my freshman year.

The Drop-Off

My parents had just dropped me off and helped me move into my 12- by-12, dorm room. For the next seven months I would be living at Ackley-Shilling, a residence hall in the Goldsworth Valley 1 segment of WMU’s campus. There was no telling what stories would unravel in the seven months that followed.

Illustration Credit: Western Michigan University, http://www.wmich.edu

Kalamazoo — my adopted city — offered a diverse mix of neighborhoods to explore; Ackley-Shilling sounded more like a foot disease than home, and no parental supervision meant freedom.

Wrong Way Home

After three weeks of learning the WMU/Kalamazoo party scene, my roommates and I earned a coveted invitation — from the hot guys on Ackley’s sixth floor — to a mega keg party. Some wannabe-Greeks hosted these lovely brew fests at their fake frat house on Lovell Street near Waldo’s Campus Tavern and Kalamazoo College.

At midnight a roommate, a couple sixth-floor friends and I cut ourselves off from the Milwaukee’s Beast (sorry Best) keg. The four of us exited the party and started to walk back to Ackley, which was to the west. Unfortunately, a collective decision was made to go east.

Photo credit: Google Maps

This flirty stroll was expected to take approximately 30-minutes or so to complete. One hour later we were wandering Kalamazoo’s downtown pedestrian mall, garden hosing, and cop dodging. Our walking tour also included a stop at the infamous Burger King — on South Westnedge — where Elvis Presley was allegedly sited after his passing.

More scenes from freshman year are coming soon. My 40-year-old memory can only remember so much. But, you can be sure, future scenes will include post-game riots during WMU-Central Michigan Homecoming weekend, Bonus Fries at Maggie’s Campus Cafe, and the student-lead, sit-in following an incident where a professor allegedly bit a student.