Fiat editors have fond memories, still engage in media

Jericho Shackleford

As the Fiat Lux approaches 100 years of serving students, faculty, staff, and alumni, Alfred Online asked several former editors-in-chief, who served during various phases of the newspaper, to reminisce about their time spent on the Fiat staff, how their newspaper days may have affected their careers/lives, and what avenue they use to stay connected today.

 

Dorothy “Dot” Sachs Sparer ’53 served as Fiat editor 1952-53. She currently resides in Athens, GA.

Dot SparerMany of my best memories are not of the journalistic variety, more in the miscellaneous category.” For example, “One week when we didn’t have a front page lead story, we decided to make our own news by drawing cloven devil footprints from a steaming manhole (is it still there?) to the Theology School’s front door.

“But shortly after we concocted the plan, Dean (Fred) Gertz called me in to tell me parents would be visiting and we should put something in the paper about keeping the campus neat and clean. So we abandoned the plan. But one of my more mischievous friends decided to go ahead with it anyway. Unfortunately, he was caught by a theology student that night. The next morning on my way to class, there he was, with a broom and bucket, scrubbing the sidewalk.

“Those were the days when we printed via linotype machine and hot type. Every week I went to the Alfred Sun printing office - a one-person office presided over by Truman (last name?) aka Trumie - to put the Fiat together upside down in a wooden frame. The length of an article was always something of a guessing game. So I’d ask Trumie routinely, ‘Will this story fit?’ And his routine, perennial, inevitable, forever answer was, ‘Let’s drop a perpendicular and ascertain.’  I still use that line - and hear Trumie saying it - to this day, some 60 years later.”

During the Fiat days, Dorothy was not sure about her future career.

“For a time, inspired by (Professor of English) Mel Bernstein, I thought about teaching American studies. But I learned on my stint at the Fiat that you could actually make a career out of writing and editing (I was a slow learner!). Best of all, I made life-long friends. On the other hand, I realized that I did not want to work on a newspaper. That was not my kind of writing and editing. I went on to get a master’s degree (in magazine journalism from Syracuse University) and a career in magazine journalism as well as teaching and producing publications for health care systems of various kinds.”

Dorothy most recently served as director of communications, University of Georgia, College of Veterinary Medicine, leaving that post in 2006. Along the way, she also served as publications editor for the Department of Agricultural Communications, College of Agricultural Sciences, University of Georgia; publications director, Office of Communications and Public Affairs, The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions; associate director, marketing communications, Emory University System of Health Care, Atlanta; editor, American Health Consultants, Atlanta; and communications manager, Rhone Merieux N.A. (a veterinary drug firm), Athens, GA. Over the years she also did a little teaching: Magazine Article Writing and Descriptive Writing at the Georgia University Grady School of Journalism; Agricultural Journalism at UG-Athens College of Agricultural Sciences; and writing to children in the Athens after-school Gifted and Talented Program.

Looking back, Dorothy said she does not “think the newspaper had any distinctive role on campus back then. I’m sure people liked seeing their name in the paper or the name of their sorority and fraternity. But I don’t know that it made an impression in any way on any subject.  Of course I don’t know, but I think it had the role of a newsletter more than a newspaper.”

She continued, “I think (I hope) students are more sophisticated today so that the Fiat might have a more proactive role on campus. Then again, students will be getting information online. That will mean the Fiat will have to go online (as it has, see article) as well.”

Asked about her media preferences today, Dorothy responded, “I read The New York Times online every day and the local paper online occasionally. I also watch Brian Williams and Diane Sawyer at night while I’m on the treadmill. And that’s how I receive most of my news.”

Ron Bel BrunoRon Bel Bruno ’86 is president of Content Mosaic, New York City, whose writers and editors create customized editorial content. Ron served as Fiat editor from 1984-85 and has numerous memories of his Fiat days.

“We had many proud moments,” he said. “Two instances come to mind:

“It's hard to comprehend today, but AU was not always a gay-friendly campus. In 1985, spurred by a rash of harassment and vandalism, Alfred’s gay and lesbian students formed UNITY, and appealed to the Fiat to publicize its formation. Though there were some misunderstandings at first (and quite frankly, some personal apprehensions to overcome because of my own conflicts at the time), we published their appeal to the campus community. If we were at NYU, or Boston University at the time, that wouldn’t be a big deal at all - but in Alfred it was.

“Today I’m proud that Spectrum, the present-day gay and lesbian alliance, has space in an office suite across the hallway from the Fiat Lux office (in the Multicultural Suite). I wouldn't have believed anyone in 1985 who predicted that.

The year 1985 also saw the Fiat leap into world affairs. At the time the Reagan Administration considered Afghanistan’s Taliban forces to be allies. Political reporter Martin Hillman ’87 managed what was then a Herculean level of due diligence and groundwork (Remember, no email, no Google, nada.) to bring a member of the Taliban to campus to talk about his experiences and political views …. you had to be in Alfred at that time in history to appreciate how big of a step that was for our relatively sleepy valley off Route 17. Now of course, the sides are different. But more importantly, we took a chance and pushed a few boundaries. Isn't that what learning’s about?

The Fiat was a hotbed of interpersonal challenges. Given all of the obstacles we were facing - an inadequate budget, a lack of content, and abject student apathy - tempers flared. In that cinder-block office I learned, thanks to Sharon Hoover’s mentorship, how to diffuse and resolve professional conflicts. These skills have served me well as I continue to collaborate with writers, editors, designers, photographers, and business managers, 27 years on.

My editorship also taught me about the business of content, for example, how to create and defend a budget, line item by line item …. Last but certainly not least, my year as editor in particular taught me the value of not burning out, and of balancing your life as best you can …

“Between 1982 and 1986, the paper transformed itself from a poorly funded and under-supported student organization into a vibrant and vital forum of campus news and student opinion. What got us there? For starters, a then-new adviser, Dr. Sharon Hoover, knew how to harness and channel many types of talented people and get them to collaborate in ways I could have never imagined. By the late ’80s subsequent Editors-in-Chief Beth (Goodridge) Mennelle ’86, Craig Peretz ’88, Chad Bowman ’94, Darcia (Harris) Bowman ’95, and Jon Springer ’96, to name a few, all led a publication that actually inspired students to pursue journalism as a career. How great was THAT?”

And today’s Fiat?

“The Fiat Lux can serve as a source of solid, thoughtful content that adheres to industry best practices. The publication should also serve as a safe haven - with standards of fair play and conduct - for developing their powers of critical thinking, debate and creative expression, whether that's through Op-Ed articles, online chats, etc. The Fiat should, by example, show its readers how they can effectively express, exchange, or refute ideas constructively with their peers - it's the best preparation for their careers to come.

Ron is still a newspaper reader, but in a new way.

“I’ve read The New York Times since I was 12. Now, I’ve gone fully online...it was a big step, and I’m still a bit nervous about it. Talk to me after the next blackout. Other than the NYT, I read many local and special-interest blogs and zines.” Also, “I drive more than the average Manhattanite, so the radio is still big for me. After that, it’s online. I haven’t owned a TV in five years, but I do watch news videos online. For example, I caught the Inauguration and the key Golden Globes speeches online.”

Chad R. Bowman ’94 is a partner in Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, LLP, a national law firm representing news media, entertainment companies, and other content providers and advertisers in First Amendment, intellectual property, and marketing matters. He was Fiat editor from 1991-93.

“Twenty years later, my memories of the Fiat center on the strong relationships that develop when people engage in a common enterprise under shared principles and occasionally stressful conditions. I met my wife, Darcia Harris Bowman (editor-in-chief 1993-95), working on the Fiat. We got to know each other talking about news stories over coffee or cocoa at the Collegiate.

“Our faculty adviser, Sharon Hoover (see related article), was something special.  She was smart and questioned authority and managed the trick of providing firm guidance without a heavy hand. At her retirement dinner another Fiat editor talked about his internal journalistic compass becoming tuned to one simple question: ‘What would Sharon do?’ Many of us in the room nodded, because she was our lodestar – then and now. And, on mornings after late-night (or all-night) deadlines, she usually brought us fresh bagels along with news tips.

“When I was working at the paper we had a practice of inviting alumni to an annual dinner, and one of the highlights of each year was meeting our predecessors. I still think the world of people like Craig Peretz ’88 and Ron Bel Bruno ’86 (see above) who took the time in the early 1990s to reassure nervous teen-age journalists.

“I was threatened with a lawsuit following my very first issue after becoming editor in the spring of my freshman year; over a piece I let other staffers review. I then learned the basics of libel law and over the next two years read every single article that went into the paper that had my name at the top of the staff box. 

“I was never seriously threatened with a lawsuit again, but maybe a seed was planted. I later went back to school at Georgetown, became a media lawyer, and have now spent a decade defending journalists in dozens of defamation lawsuits.

“The passion for journalism that I developed while working on the Fiat led me to a first career as a reporter – seven years working on deadlines at a weekly newspaper, daily newspaper, and then a D.C. news service – and a second career as a media lawyer. I now represent news and entertainment companies and their journalists in actions that range from vindicating rights of public access to government proceedings and documents to defending against confidential source subpoenas and defamation or copyright lawsuits. 

“I also ended up dating the Fiat editor who succeeded me, and then after college Darcia and I worked as reporters in different bureaus of the same daily newspaper. This summer we celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. We have two sons in elementary school and a two-year-old daughter in pigtails.

“As with any paper, some people read us and some did not. At our best, we helped both to inform students about their community and to shape the broader campus dialogue about important issues of the time such as student retention rates, tolerance of homosexuality, campus crime, and fraternal hazing. At our worst, we were occasionally sloppy or shallow or one-sided.  We fought hard to remain an independent student paper.

“Hopefully, the paper plays much the same role today as it did when I was there 20 years ago, but with fewer missteps than I recall and more administration tolerance when they do occur.”

Is Chad still a newspaper reader?

“I read newspapers, but the medium has changed. We still get the Washington Post delivered at home in newsprint, and I love seeing my sons studying the baseball box scores. But in an era of smart phones and tablets I no longer bring a folded paper along to read on the daily train commute. I read online stories from the AP wire, the Times, and other publications and blogs. I get most of my news online, or from email digests in niche subject areas,” he added.

Jericho Shackleford ’13, editor 2010-11 – “I ran the Fiat my second year of my Alfred University career. So the authority at a fairly youthful stage in my development was something I cherished more than just about anything else. It affected my understanding of leadership in such a ways that’s stained my character for the better. 

“Involved from the get go, the Fiat allowed me a sense of purpose and community that I’m not certain I would have had otherwise. So, it’s unfair to say the whole thing was one big best memory, but that is how I feel. 

“I do however remember one production night spent up far too late listening to music when our sub 22 editorial staff, me leading the helm as EIC, went steering down a detour toward some great jocund horizon. The sun rose and somehow the paper was done in a not too shabby way. Some nights were dreamy like that. I still have photos that are never to be leaked.

How did the work you did with the Fiat Lux extend into your career life, and perhaps personal life?

“Professionally and personally the Fiat was an all-infiltrating beast. Maybe, the first way my experience with the Fiat affected me is in how it taught me to value good news writing. I believe that is the heart of any decent paper. The tight sentences and crisp images of news writing allow one to look at composition in a mathematical way, much like poetry. It’s no wonder Hemmingway needed no higher education than that he earned on the staff of some small newspapers. 

“So, what I took from the Fiat experience was a solid sense of how I want to sound and a half decent idea of how my sound looks once written down. As a senior at Alfred now I can say the experience landed me a job writing for the University Communications Department. Beyond that, my story is very much too be continued, however I do plan to be working with words for a good long time.  

“Personal life was often in flux as I led the Fiat. The paper had a way of consuming me, but it also led me to develop a handful of relationships I still hold dear.  Most of them are business related, but I do still have those friends I see now and again, keep tabs on, and laugh with when circumstances are so serendipitously kind. 

What was the role of the campus paper during your tenure on the Fiat?

“The newspaper was an unbiased tell of the Alfred condition, both as a community greater than the schools and as the hyper-local University niche. To this issue we instituted a rule that no story should be published if it lacked three sourced facts. We were often talking to local businesses, and, when we could, sent someone to town hall meetings. We were also lucky enough to have a great arts and entertainment editor who graduated and went into writing about music professionally. I can say we did, to the greatest degree of our means, offer a loyal and unbiased informant on issues varied from state, federal, and local government to the latest indie rock bands. 

Do you have a thought on what the role of the campus paper might be today?

“From my understanding, it has lost some ground and is currently, trepidatiously, working to climb itself out of that rabbit hole.”  

Jericho is a newspaper reader today, but also into new technologies.

“I read the printed Wall St. Journal and the printed New York Times. All other news I attain from online sources - Reuters and Project Syndicate mostly.” 


1 response to “Fiat editors have fond memories, still engage in media”

  1. sharon hoover Says:
    Any past editor ought to be able to name several fellow students who helped the newspaper tremendousty. Every position is necessary and valuable. We had a super distribution staff at one time--the Fiat was in everyone's nose--some of our ad reps brought in lots of ads and made sure they were paid for. We took memorable trips (not out of the school or student budgets) to New York City. Joyce Wagner a crackerjack editor won first place for an editorial. We had firsts in comics, a sensitive story (rape) and more. The Fiat was a lively place!

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