100 Years of Students Delivering the News

Ten distinguished journalists celebrate a century of student media at Marquette as they trace their path from Johnston Hall to Esquire, USA Today, the History Channel and more.

Read reflections below from prominent former student journalists, or see a photo gallery from the 100th anniversary celebration in March 2017.

The reflections in this story are just the beginning of the anniversary coverage in Comm, the annual magazine of Marquette’s Diederich College of Communication. Want more? Explore 100 years of student media milestones, the stories of Pulitzer-winning student media alumni and the career in pictures of longtime White House correspondent Ted Knap, class of 1940.
For aspiring journalists across a century, the charge has been the same: Do everything it takes to put out the news, from start to finish. As Marquette University’s Diederich College of Communication celebrates 100 years of student media of all types — tied to the founding of the Marquette Tribune in 1916 — we asked ten notable alumni to share what’s stuck with them from their student media experiences. A lot, it seems.
Their reflections reveal Marquette’s student newsrooms as breeding grounds for indelible memories, lasting lessons, storied careers and lifelong respect for the responsibilities of newsgathering.
Charles P. Pierce, Jour ’75: The Tribune’s editorial page editor in 1974–75, Pierce built a career as a prominent magazine feature writer and author. He currently writes Esquires politics column.

“The value of omnivorous curiosity in pursuit of telling the tribe its stories.”

My most lasting memory of my time on the Tribune is the day I didn’t get killed on the job. The J-school and student publications had just moved out of the old Nursing dorm on Kilbourn and into Johnston Hall, where renovations were still underway. One day, as I was writing something on my Royal office typewriter — Ask your parents, kids — I had to get up and get some more paper. (Ask your grandparents, kids.) As I stepped away from the typewriter, a huge chunk of the ceiling fell not very far at all from where I’d been sitting. This was followed by the appearance of the head of one of the guys working on the floor above. “Hey, sorry, man,” he said.

I loved journalism already, but I was not prepared at that point to give my life for renovation.

I learned the most at the J-school from the late George Reedy, the dean without whose support I likely would have ended up as the lawyer that broke the camel’s back. Long sessions in his office — occasionally spiced by the bottle of Jameson’s that he secreted in his bottom desk drawer — taught me the value of omnivorous curiosity in the pursuit of telling the tribe its stories, which is all journalism ever has been. I owe a great deal to him, and to the late Father John Raynor, S.J., who was smart enough to hire him.

Mary Schmitt Boyer, Jour ’77: One of the Tribune’s first female basketball beat writers, chronicling the 1975–1976 season, Schmitt Boyer later covered the Cavaliers for 18 years as sportswriter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Johnston Hall became a refuge, a home away from home, a place to fit in.”

I owe my career to Al McGuire. I went to Marquette in order to try to become part of the magic/madness of the basketball program. A woman sportswriter, though rare in those days, was never an issue for the legendary coach. I’m sure I was far more anxious about it than he was.

Though I only covered the basketball team for one season — 1976, when I was a junior and the sports editor of the Tribune — I made lifelong friends and contacts. For a commuter student, the Tribune offices in the basement of Johnston Hall became a refuge, a home away from home, a place to fit in. The lessons I learned there served me throughout my career, and when something good or bad happens even now — or when I need advice on how to approach a story — my first phone calls are to some of the people I shared that space with more than 40 years ago.

Joy Bennett, Jour ’79: A former Tribune contributing writer and founder of an alternative student newspaper while at Marquette, Bennett went on to serve as senior editor for Ebony magazine.

“Our J-School dean stood behind our First Amendment rights…”

My time with the Tribune was brief but it encouraged me to start a companion newspaper aimed at campus minorities called Counterpoint. It got the Black journalism students in a lot of trouble for calling the administration to account for its lack of minority hiring. (Full disclosure: my dad, who was on Marquette’s board, reportedly told fellow trustees he was appalled that at that time Playboy magazine had more minorities in its employment than our esteemed Catholic University!) Our J-School dean stood behind our First Amendment rights and we continued
 to publish with no interference.

John Barron, Jour ’80: The rare student to hold leadership positions on the Tribune (entertainment and summer editor) and Journal (editor), Barron later became editor and publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times. He is now general manager of the Tribune Content Agency.

“Student media provided … the tactile thrill of near-immediate feedback when the newspapers or magazines were delivered with a thump.”

For a place with no windows, scarred furniture, harsh lighting and bad wardrobes, it sure was exciting. Heated arguments. Stories pounded out on typewriters that were built like tanks. Phones ringing everywhere. Pica poles snapping. Journalism was louder in the ‘70s!

But the denizens of the basement of Johnston Hall also knew the place could get quiet enough late into the night to afford a few hours of desktop slumber. Is it really any wonder that a bunch of lifelong friendships germinated in that environment? Student media provided the opportunity to instantly practice your craft (take that pre-med), and get the tactile thrill of near-immediate feedback when the newspapers or magazines were delivered with a thump. We learned, we made mistakes … and we learned from our mistakes. Most importantly, however, we experienced what success felt like. There is no greater lesson.

Ron Smith, Grad ’05, ’09: The Tribune’s only editor-in-chief of color, Smith has worked as an editor for the Los Angeles Times, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Newsday and The Oregonian. He is now managing editor/news for USATODAY.

“We need journalists who hold powerbrokers accountable, who shed light on dark things … and who strive to make a difference. We did all of that at the Marquette Tribune.”

Working for the Marquette Tribune continues to be a highlight of my journalism career because of the great people I met along the way and because of the great journalism it has done and continues to do. In a fragmented world, news organizations continue to serve democracy by connecting communities to one another. Now, more than ever, we need journalists who hold powerbrokers accountable; who shed light on dark things; who offer us insights we would not otherwise have; and,most important, who strive to make a difference. We did all of that at the Marquette Tribune. I think we made Marquette a better place through our words and pictures. I can still remember the excitement of having my byline on the front page of the Trib as a freshman. And I am proud to say that my excitement for journalism is still strong. Happy birthday, Marquette Tribune!

Greg Borowski, Comm ’89: A former Tribune managing editor, Borowski is now deputy managing editor for projects, investigations and digital innovation at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, where he has edited several Pulitzer-winning projects. Borowski is an alumni representative on the Student Media Board and a former part-time instructor in the college.

“It’s not enough to write well, you also need something to write about.”

As a reporter and editor, I have often been called upon to talk with young reporters, and often find myself offering the same words I heard around Marquette and first tried to put into practice in the Tribune newsroom: It’s not enough to write well, you also need something to write about. Yes, it’s the requisite nod to a well-rounded Jesuit education. But I also see it as meaning your work should have a purpose — maybe it’s to expose a problem, or provide a voice to those without one, maybe it’s just to bring a smile. The tools may change — who ever thought of Twitter back in the late 1980s? — but that advice will always be sound.

Len Kasper, Comm ’93: A familiar on-air sports presence on Marquette Radio from the early 1990s, Len Kasper is the play-by-play voice of the Chicago Cubs on WGN-TV, WPWR-TV, WLS-TV and Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

“As an 18-year-old newcomer, I could easily have been told to wait my turn. But the upperclassmen in charge of WMUR took me in from day one … ”

When I was a freshman, I badly wanted to do radio play-by-play, having already done some commercial radio at a small station in my hometown. As an 18-year-old newcomer, I could easily have been told to wait my turn. But the upperclassmen in charge of WMUR took me in from day one and gave me on-air responsibilities based on my experience. That start helped me a ton, as I ended up doing a lot of basketball games on the station.

My WMUR work, coupled with my public relations internship with the Milwaukee Bucks, introduced me to the world of sport media years before I ever graduated. I rubbed elbows not only with Milwaukee media but also with national media. Those connections would be invaluable to me down the road.

The biggest thing moving forward is that broadcasters need to write and writers need to broadcast. It’s a world of versatility and, unfortunately, a down-sizing one. Media companies want employees who can do many different things well, so it’s imperative to be well-rounded.

Jason DeRusha, Comm ’97: A former MUTV general manager, DeRusha is now morning anchor at WCCO, the CBS affiliate in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

“There were no boundaries to push, because no one set boundaries for us.”

MUTV had an experimental spirit that I still try to bring to my work. We were really just a group of crazy kids trying
 to put on a show. There were no rules; if it was raining like crazy and we wanted to interrupt programming with a “breaking news” bulletin, we could — and we did. When we thought it would be cool to have a morning news show in 1996, we just did it. I remember running a cable out of a 2nd floor Johnston Hall window so Steve Chamraz, Comm ’98, could do live reports from Wisconsin Avenue. To do our election coverage live from the AMU in 1995, we borrowed some equipment from WISN-TV and beamed back a two-hour live show. There were no boundaries to push, because no one set boundaries for us. It really was a magical experience.

Literally every morning when I wake up at 2:30 a.m. and head off to my big- time TV station in downtown Minneapolis to anchor our morning news, I try to channel that same spirit. How can I do something incredible? How can I push a boundary and create a memorable moment for our viewers? How can I make sure I don’t say, “No” to my team and instead say, “Let’s make it happen”?

Brian Huffman, Comm ’06: A frequent producer of MUTV content during his student years, Huffman is now a senior producer at the History Channel in New York City.

“I could find refuge at MUTV, where I was encouraged to take risks and experiment.”

Student media at Marquette (MUTV for me) was invaluable to my development as a creative person. While I was being graded on essays and exams in classes during the day, at night I could find refuge at MUTV, where I was encouraged to take risks and experiment. With those risks, there were many failures, but I always learned a valuable lesson from them. And I never repeated the same mistake twice. When you’re just getting started in your career, you aren’t afforded these failures as often. So fail while you can, and learn those lessons now, because one day they will come at a higher cost.

Martina Ibañez-Baldor, Comm ’15: Editor of the Marquette Journal in 2014–15, Ibañez-Baldor is a news designer at the Los Angeles Times.

“Marquette student media taught me more about the industry than all four years of classes combined.”

From the second we stepped into Johnston Hall for our first freshman journalism class, we were warned about the ever-changing and uncertain future of the business. This lesson quickly came to fruition our senior year as, after 110 years, the Marquette Journal stopped printing and became online-only. As editor, this initial disappointment eventually lead to one of my proudest achievements as we learned new ways of storytelling and reaching audiences. We published six issues with 55 stories spread across 419 pages. The experience (and Marquette student media in general) taught me more about the industry than all four years of College of Communication classes combined.

Read the entire 2016 issue of Comm, the annual magazine of the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette.