My undergraduate years at UCSC were about working at City on a Hill, an alternative weekly newspaper that just happened to be put together by a collective of college students. I finished a major, but school was just something to get through because I was going to be a writer. I found my art and my friends at that newspaper. If you've read City on a Hill recently, please know that it was much better then. It was the best college weekly in the country, but we are never to see anything like it again. At the 40th Anniversary Reunion last weekend, I found out why.
Saturday night one of us made reservations for at Tampico's, where the newspaper staff often ate together. One by one we arrived, and conversations with old friends were interrupted by new arrivals and conversations started and split and we sat down and stood up and hugged as people do. Several brought spouses and kids, and I liked them. We seem to have made good choices by this time of life. I wish a few more of us could have joined us, because they were missed.
I last said goodbye to these friends so long ago that they pre-date most of my life, and sitting down with them in a familiar place with a drink and a conversation I understood that they had influenced me so deeply I can only recognize that influence when I am with them, because I am taken back to a time when I had not yet lived what they taught me.
After dinner we went to the Red Room, just like we always used to on Thursday nights after the paper was printed. Our gathering together felt familiar, except almost none of us smoked and we didn't have to argue about a newspaper. I remember twenty-some years ago the last night I drank at the Red Room with City on a Hill and I never, ever, thought I'd be doing it again. How I love these people. How talented and smart and witty and vulnerable and dedicated they are.
The next day we met for a brunch at the University sponsored by the paper. I stopped by Shopper's Corner to buy some cheap champagne for mimosas. I was in such a time warp that I expected to be carded.
We ate a great brunch and chatted until the program started. First, we were pitched at to give some money for a lecture series and a scholarship fund or something. Then retired CHP advisor and journalism lecturer, Conn Hallinan, spoke, but I'm afraid don't remember about what. Carter Young talked about things that I wish I could remember, but everything I remember I heard him say in conversation, not in his talk. But it was great. Martha Mendoza spoke about her experience teaching journalism at UCSC and about what kind of journalists emerge from UCSC. Actually, I don't remember much about the program until the open discussion started and a few of the students said how awful it is that the Journalism minor was eliminated in a budget cut.
This had been a recurring topic among those of us of our generation, when we discussed what we thought of the paper now. We didn't talk about it in front of our hosts. It felt like the elephant in the room. We were snobs about j-school and how much better our paper was than any other because we had no faculty advisors and no journalism school. When I saw a few years ago that UCSC had a journalism minor, I sniffed; sniffed at their academic study of journalism, sniffed at their ugly desktop publishing, sniffed at their terrible writing and editing and proofreading and sniffed at their crappy little paper of so few pages. I have been embarrassed twenty years later to admit that I was a CHP writer. I always have to add "it was much better back then," just as I did at the top of this post.
So I asked the group, "Help me to understand why you want a journalism minor. We didn't have journalism classes and we had the best paper in the country. "
Well, I got my answer. I now understand why it is so vital to have a journalism minor. The four classes of the minor provide remedial writing instruction. The students entering college can't write a sentence, let alone put together a feature story. The editors spend all their time correcting spelling and grammar and finding topic sentences. And they had crappy educations too. There's no time to debate ethics or think about story placement or reporting. High school failed all of them. It broke my heart when the Managing Editor said "I wish I had had the education that you all had, but I didn't."
I still don't think that journalism is something you can study in school; I know that good writers must have a liberal education. But these kids arrived at school wanting to be journalists just like we did, but they couldn't write. So they, with a few instructors, made something up and called it a journalism minor. Good for them. Now they have to figure out something else, or get the minor funded. It was only $50K. I've worked at UCSC long enough to know that $50K is not very much money. This is all about politics.
Then, as I was leaving, Conn and I got into an argument. I said something about how we wouldn't have stood for any grown ups working in the Stonehouse with us and Conn said that the staff advisors that work in the press center never interfere with the paper, but I said that it definitely would have affected us if grownups had been working in the same room with us as they do with the current CHP staff, and he pointed his finger at me and said "But you're wrrroooonnnng!" and I pointed my finger at him and said "I AM NOT WRONG I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT IT WAS LIKE. YOU WEREN'T THERE AND I *NEVER* TOOK YOUR CLASS and I think someone got photos. Big fun.
As several of us noted afterward, we always had lots of disagreements, but very little hostility. What a shock it was to leave school and learn that argument and conflict and stress and long hours and fatigue were things my adult co-workers avoided, while at City on a Hill it was the foundation of the most enduring friendships I'll ever know.
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