Monday, February 18th, 2019

Generational Differences in Student Reporting

Posted on February 12, 2018 in News
By USM Free Press

Orkhan Nadirli

Sam Margolin, Staff Writer


“In the English language, it all comes down to this: Twenty-six letters, when combined correctly, can create magic. Twenty -six letters form the foundation of a free, informed society.”- John Grogan

USM’s student newspaper, The Free Press, has been a definitive source for news and commentary throughout the history of the school and beyond. USM itself has only been in existence for about 40 years or so. To trace the lineage of The Free Press, one must look farther back than that.

USM’s story begins with the Gorham Academy which opened in 1803 as a prep school for boys. This was the first established secondary education institution still connected to the University of Maine system. The first noted periodical from the school system is an edition of The Oracle, released on January 26, 1931 provided by USM’s Archives, Special Collections. The issue describes the early stages of USM’s formation by highlighting the beginnings of the merger between the Gorham Normal School and University of Maine Portland. The main headline reads, “Gorham Normal School Attends Teachers Convention in Portland.”

From the 1930s to present day the newspaper has undergone many changes both on the surface and behind the scenes. The name of the newspaper itself has changed from “The Oracle” in the 1930’s to such names as “The Stein” from 1967-1968, “The Viking” from 1969-1970, and “The Observer”, with variations of them all leading up to 1972, when the name the “University Free Press” was first introduced.

Since 1972, the name of the paper has stayed relatively the same, but the characteristics of the stories and the overall tone and mood of the paper has shifted over the generations.   

Al Daimon was a ‘72 USM graduate and political columnist who wrote under the pseudonym “Baggy Tweeds.” Daimon remembers his time with the paper fondly but recalls some of the differences between generations.

Daimon was a fan of rock writing such as Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy, that were popular in the ‘60s and wanted to focus his writing around music as well. The Free Press was much more willing to publish quirky, offbeat writing.

The Stein was willing to publish just about anything, so that worked out to our mutual satisfaction. For the readers, maybe not so much,” said Daimon.

The changes that have been implemented since Daimon’s time have helped the paper become more credible and professional, but to some this strategy made the writing process less entertaining.

“The Free Press was an attempt to professionalize what had been an extremely amateur effort. To that end, the powers-that-be made a concerted effort to eliminate all the fun,” Daimon said.

In the ‘80s the paper was still representative of a more laid back approach to writing than that of its current image. Jim McCarthy, a USM graduate from 1982 with a degree in English is the current digital editor at Mainebiz. He was a writer for the Free Press from 1979 to 1982. McCarthy joined the Free Press in order to rejoin the college life after he dropped out of Cleveland State University six years prior.

“I was 25 and had a vague notion that somehow writing and/or photography would be my ticket to doing what I loved and also make a living,” said McCarthy.

The paper was more of a unsupervised student organization than it is today. The extreme media scrutiny that our modern digital age provides, makes writing without regard hard to do.

“The best part of working at The Free Press, then and I imagine now, was the fun of being part of a rag-tag team putting out something, week in and week out, with very little guidance or supervision from faculty or professional journalists,” said McCarthy.

By the ‘90s the paper had progressed to the quality of work it has today. Troy R. Bennett, a USM graduate and multimedia producer for the Bangor Daily News, says that he would not be where he is today without the help of The Free Press.

“I went to college to become an English teacher. But I ended up working at The Free Press and falling in love with newspapers. Since there was no journalism program, I got all the experience and professional contacts that I needed through The Free Press,” said Bennett.

One of the largest benefits of working for The Free Press to students is the ability to fail or succeed as much or as little as you want to. The amount of effort put in is directly related to the amount of satisfaction the audience gets out.

“Everything I learned there still helps: how to work as a team, ethics, precision, news judgement,” said Bennett. “It was wonderful. We were free to triumph or fail on our own.”

Some of the current staff and faculty include Dennis Gilbert of the Communications and Media Studies Department, and Lucille Siegler, the business manager and administrator for the paper. Siegler, who joined the paper in 2004, says the paper provided her with respite from other jobs such as working for crematoriums and cemeteries. She remembers the days when the merger between campuses was still fresh and new. A slogan was chanted at sporting events and student gatherings that represents the blossoming partnership between Gorham and Portland campuses. A combination of the towns themselves that now hosts the University of Southern Maine: Go! Po! Go!

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