Lessons learned in ‘Fiat’ office: priceless

Sharon Hoover 1985

By Sharon Hoover, Professor Emeritus of English

 (Editor’s Note: Sharon Hoover, professor emeritus of English at Alfred University, served as adviser to the Fiat Lux for more than 15 years. Before she took on the adviser duties, Sharon had filled her own resume with a number of experiences to “call upon” in her work with her newspaper staff members. There was teaching at Englewood, CO, and Montana State University, then at Alfred-Almond and serving as principal there. Also, some 10 years of general freelance writing and editing. In addition, she was an editor for Instructor Curriculum Materials, which was published in Dansville for Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Sharon now resides in Lewes, DE, and continues to write for magazines, newspapers, and newsletters as well as continuing her cooperation with the Willa Cather Foundation.  

“Nostalgia. The good old days - when a Fiat Lux staff person presented me with a pot that said ‘Unsolicited Advice.’ Ouch.

Being the adviser of the Fiat was probably a job well suited to someone whose personality is somewhat abrupt, sometimes abrasive, constantly in motion, and achievement-oriented but not vindictive. Putting out a newspaper calls for all those traits - all year round.

When the rest of the students returned in the fall to opening games and parties, the Fiat executive staff, selected in the spring, was ready to produce its first issue for the first week. Advertising was ready to lay out Day One. All stories had been assigned for the first issue. The production schedule for the year was set and the publisher fully on board. All computers were up and running and the production staff ready to roll.

The summer’s mail had been answered, the national advertising was lined up for the year, ad people were out locally, distribution points and organization meetings set - ­­Monday nights all staff in their respective corners, Friday noon, executive staff with their lunches. (I always hoped someone had some curly fries to share.) And Sunday afternoons, the editor, production editor, and I checked in with one another to make certain that the copy would all be ready for the publisher before 8 a.m. Monday.

Monday evening, we started all over again for the next issue. Advertising was due for layout Friday, news stories the next Friday, appointments scheduled for news writers to go over stories with someone more senior on staff before stories were due Friday noon.

Supervision of stories and ads as well as subscriptions and mailings, paying the bills, billing advertisers, banking, and keeping good relationships with all those people, as well as with various groups of students, faculty, administration, and support staff were all important ongoing responsibilities. 

The schedule for each staff member was constant and could be grueling at times, especially until a student became familiar with it. The editor-in-chief often took a reduced class load for the year, or at least for the spring semester. Perhaps the most demanding time was immediately in the fall (and summer for ad managers) when everything had to be up and running. The executive staff would plan ahead as much as possible, so the load might be a bit lighter at exam time.

Spring was another busy time: the next year’s executive staff had to be selected and started on their new responsibilities. Staff had to have dedicated people to close up the year. Who would follow up on advertising that was not yet paid for? Some advertisers would wait to send their checks - or not send their checks - out in June. So keeping up with the ad payments was crucial - for hundreds of dollars the Fiat might be owed. Ad managers - and business managers - often came from the business school, and business school faculty would help to train and supervise them, helping make up a year’s schedule and finding people to assist them.

During the summer the work went on. Who would do mail in the summer? Who would plan for subscriptions in the fall? How would ad packages be made up, ready to distribute during the summer and fall?

Why would any student select such a schedule? All for no credit and no pay and sometimes a lot of grief. And, perhaps, play trumpet in the jazz band, work at the local radio station on Sunday mornings, maintain their Work-Study.

Because it’s fun! It’s invigorating! It’s rewarding. We loved to win awards for the Fiat - the smallest independent college newspaper. We loved to place students in internships, paid and unpaid (sometimes to fit in with a hamburger job), and we loved to design independent projects for them so they could follow up on their interests - local government, non-profit organizations, community organizations, British government, radio, and television.

Also, being a newspaper staff person is excellent on the resume. One of my favorite activities was to write recommendations for staff members. Prospective employers or graduate school personnel were glad to hear that a student consistently showed up on time, turned out a job that the world could see and judge, cooperated with peers who had to “boss” them or who took orders from them, could deal with the public, with sports personnel, with performing artists, scientists, administrators, janitors, repairmen, and so on.

And, in most cases (distribution manager was an exception) that individual could also write! On demand. On time. That person had been edited, swallowed it, and rewrote.

I could recommend such students heartily for a job or for more education. Sometimes, I could point out the professionalism with which a student handled a special interest in science, theater, art, or University finances. In many cases, I could mention that the student used the computer under pressure for publishing. I might write that the student had done well in managing complex schedules and diverse personnel, so that I expected the student to go on some day to become a leader, an executive, a mentor.

Some students could also be recommended for working with local government. The Fiat is not funded directly by the University but through the student government, so editors learned that it was important for some persons on the staff to go to student government meetings, write up reports for the body of students who read the newspaper, and keep on the government’s good side - all at once. Sometimes a tricky task, but always a rewarding one if done well. The best ones, of course, realized that student government money comes from the University, so they might smooze administration when appropriate (not in the newspaper). But there are occasions …

Finally, the icing on the cake was that the Fiat Lux was an independent newspaper. I was the adviser. I did not read and approve copy before it was printed. The students did that. Any student could come and ask my opinion about an article, its writing, its sources (and yes, I sometimes suggested that he or she ask a particular person for an opinion). If asked, I was not hesitant to “Hooverize” a story, as students would say. We sometimes ‘read’ with scissors, scotch tape, and a pencil. I also read and marked up every newspaper as it came out. Those would immediately make their way around the staff and were fodder for Friday noon meetings.

Dean and Sharon Hoover 2012Occasions arose when I reminded faculty members that the newspaper was done by students. Students are learning. They make mistakes. If you catch one, inform the writer or editor. If you know of a story the paper is missing, inform the editor. Another side should be told to the community? Write a letter to the editor. Help the staff learn. And faculty, staff, and community members did. It was the best of the kind of cooperation that can be done in a community of scholars and locals.

In my classes, I tried to teach that a newspaper should represent all parts of its community. Fortunately, Alfred University has a diverse community, so the newspaper can be a lively place of interaction, both in its content and in the students who work on it.

Other things were important to me in advising the newspaper and teaching journalism classes, too: fairness, honesty, reasonable background research, good working relationships between sources and staff, and clean, accurate writing.

I was an English professor and was located in the English Department. The department had high standards for writing, including the standards for news writing. English majors often took a news writing course to give them one more style in their repertoire. Communication students took courses in creative writing so they could learn about using metaphoric language. One of the comments I most enjoyed hearing from people outside the University was “We can count on AU graduates with English majors and writing minors to write well.”

Today, I am pleased to have good friends in mass media, public relations, government research, technical writing, finance, law, university teaching, and publishing. That’s the real reward for teaching. Phone rings. ‘Hey, Ms. Hoover. I’ve landed a job in Washington doing research! Remember when you sent me to the library?’ ‘Hello! Just wanted you to know I made partner in my law firm.’ Actually, I rejoiced more when he called and said, ‘One of the Chief Justices likes journalism history!’ This was after he had written one of his first briefs and included a reference he had learned in the course Press in America. It was - still is - a good life.”


1 response to “ Lessons learned in ‘Fiat’ office: priceless”

  1. kenya pressley Says:
    Well done.

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