College Life Replays: Print Journalism Lesson #2 — A Riot Mixing Grain with Grapes

A few moments ago, I came across an excerpt from a quote George Clooney gave during a speech in Houston, recently … “Never mix grain with grape.”

As I sit drinking my glass of TerreDomini’s Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2009 that quote takes me back to those first few weekends of freshman year at Western Michigan University. The irony is wine consumption was limited to whatever was the cheapest (i.e. Boones FarmMad Dog 20/20Bartles&Jaymes, etc.) and tasted fruitilicious. Further, I knew very little about the unpleasant effects brought on by mixing it up with Boones Farm Strawberry Hill and Keystone.

A Riot Mixing Grain with Grapes!

Love in an elevator
Livin’ it up when I’m goin’ down
Love in an elevator
Lovin’ it up till I hit the ground

— Aerosmith: Joe Perry, Steven Tyler

My roommates and I were strolling Kalamazoo’s Lafayette/Knollwood Avenue neighborhoods on the search for a keg party. We decided to check out California West Apartments; and we spy an open door as well as happy people drinking. B-E-E-R!

The happy people welcomed us, took our dollars and directed us to the keg line. As I filled my cup with Bud Light, I scanned faces in the apartment. Instead of seeing eye candy, I saw familiarity. Shit! I know these people!

Comic Credit: John Fountain, Fountain’s Pen
Comic Credit: John Fountain, Fountain’s Pen

The editor-in-chief as well as the news, sports and A&E editors from the Western Herald were all there. I felt a sinking sensation in my heart similar to the one I experienced in Vegas upon realizing I might have unwittingly set my boss up for a dinner meeting at an exotic supper club.

But, within seconds — just like in Vegas — it became clear —despite the beer buzz — that all would be okay. I would still have a job the next morning. Six creative forces I became better acquainted with that evening included Kyle (editor-in-chief), Susan (news editor/party hostess), Jamie (A&E editor), J.C. Jensen (aka Coach/sports editor), Shirley (photo editor), John Fountain (Fountain’s Pen Comic Strip) and Carrie (assistant news editor/party hostess).

Shirley and John Fountain
Comic Credit: John Fountain, Fountain’s Pen

In fact, my appearance at this keg party initiated me into a group that would eventually expand to include quite a few Western Herald editors, writers, illustrators and business people. These individuals were not only newsroom mentors and peers; they were now friends who partied as hard as they worked honing their talents.

Lafayette Neighborhood Riots, October 18, 1989

Like grain and grapes there are certain ingredients that do not mix well. The combination of WMU’s Homecoming weekend and its annual football contest with Mid-American Conference (MAC) nemesis, Central Michigan University, is one well-documented example. I do not know what the MAC decision-heads were smoking when they scheduled this match-up for this particular weekend. WMU’s Homecoming is usually enough of a reason for photos — of students doing incredibly dumb things — to be plastered on front pages across local, state — and sometimes national — newspapers.

Photo/Scan Credit: Susan

WMU’s post-game festivities — as reported in the Western Herald and around the country — included wiener squirting contests, car-b-ques, and riots. S’mores anyone?

Grain and Grapes

Comic Credit: John Fountain, Fountain’s Pen

As a freshman, the choice between drinking Boones Farm Strawberry Hill and Bud Light often settled upon whichever was available. Sometimes both were. What to do? Instead of drawing a hard, fast line, I usually opted to start with the wine. Then, when the wine bottle(s) went dry — due to sharing with friends — of course — switching to beer was common practice. I rarely succumbed to the unpleasant results of mixing grain and grapes.

But, then, there was that one night at another party Susan hosted…

Comic Credit: John Fountain, Fountain’s Pen

As Michelle — a long-time writer friend — and I primped at her dorm room in Bigelow Hall, we slurped Boones Farm Strawberry Hill through the straws of our squeeze-bottles. At the party we played quarters with J.C., Susan, Carrie and a few others. My poor quarter-bouncing skills emptied my squeeze-bottle quickly. To stay in the game there was only one choice: Bud Light.

J.C. Jensen
Comic Credit: John Fountain, Fountain’s Pen

As you may recall from my College Life Replay last week, I am not a quitter. My quarter-bouncing skills just required some practice. So, why not fill up a glass; or two; or three; or four? Besides, I was among friends. They had my back and, plenty of sympathy later on that night 😦


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:

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:

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:

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,

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.

NaNoWriMo: Week 2 – Where It All Started

It all started in eighth grade, actually. That’s when I really knew I wanted to write. My English teacher was the first to point it out.

She read an essay I wrote — to the entire class — about a short story the class had read together. To this day, I still remember writing it. I had arrived early at my grandma’s home for a family reunion. Since my cousins had not yet arrived and I had this to write, I sat down and wrote.

Toward its completion, there was one word I wanted to use. It would give the essay that extra you-know-what. But, being brought up in a Catholic household, using the word was frowned upon. Plus, this essay was for my eighth grade English class. Would the teacher send me to the principal’s office or send a note home to my mom? The word in limbo was Hell.

In the end, I said the Hell with it. It went in. My teacher didn’t call my mom or issue me a detention. She read my essay along with two others to the class. I believe the difference was my choice of words. I took a risk.

To me, the success stories in the creative world are all about 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.

At the start of my freshman year at Western Michigan University, I took another risk, which was to write for the student newspaper, the Western Herald. Originally, I planned to stay away from the newspaper’s office in the basement of the bird cage until sophomore year. The rational, safe side of my brain said to get a grip, focus on studying, and adjust to “college” life.

My intuition said, go for it! Why wait? So, I went for that initial orientation and picked up my first story assignments from the entertainment editor and then progressed to writing news and feature stories. The risk taken afforded me the opportunity to meet and work with some of the finest, creative forces spinning our planet today.

Plus, I…

received freelance writing opportunities at a community newspaper in my hometown;

attended campus and sometimes city events (sports, cultural, concerts, etc.) for free;

watched — with active engagement — my more esteemed peers cover a student-lead, campus-wide protest and sit-in;

learned not to mix fruit-based alcoholic drinks with grain-fed brew;

went trick-or-treating at the then-university president’s home;

covered the 1992 elections;

influenced slumlords renting to students living off-campus to take complaints about horrific living conditions seriously; and

admitted to the guilty pleasure of wanting to know what was happening around me before anyone else.

Here’s a shortlist of links to some of my j-school peers…

My inspiration for this post all started from viewing a photo a former Herald colleague shared on Facebook. See the vintage Mac below? We all used to write our news copy on dinosaurs such as this.

Life Replays: Party Scenes from Freshman Year

Simple refreshment

In anticipation of the four-day Memorial Day weekend, I mixed up a white wine cooler recipe I found at Whole Foods. All of a sudden party scenes from freshman year at Western Michigan University replayed in my head. In an instant it was 1990 and I was back at my friend Susan’s off-campus apartment sucking Bartel’s and Jaymes through the straw to my water bottle.

Along with sharing good times with fellow aspiring journalists from the campus newspaper, Western Herald, cheap and plentiful drink were the standard those days. Wine coolers fit the bill along with kegs of Milwaukee’s [Beast], Keystone and Natural Light. Rewinds of those raucous nights feature scrambling to escape visits from the cops, playing quarters, and learning an age-old lesson about mixing grain with grapes.

Dressed up to celebrate journalistic excellence

Today, all of these fine creative, journalistic forces are true professionals sharing their many talents with the world.

Classic Cooler Recipe from Whole Foods

1 bottle white wine

1 cup raspberries

1 liter sparkling water

Mix ingredients in your favorite glass carafe or pitcher, add plenty of ice and serve.