This story is part of The Commonwealth Times’ special coverage in honor of its 50th anniversary.
Stephen Hicks, reporter, 2005-2007: I always enjoyed being able to go to the office. It would usually be at night pretty late when people are editing stories and trying to make sure that everything is good. I’ve always felt like The CT was like a really great collection simply of smart people. I’ve always considered myself to be somewhat of a cool nerd, and The CT had the right amount of nerdom, but along with coolness where you felt as if you were informed, you were engaged.
I’m super appreciative of that. ‘m just thankful — I think The Commonwealth Times is forever going to be stamped in my memory as a place that afforded me a lot of opportunities and trusted me enough to execute [them].
Christian Finkbeiner, staff writer, co-news editor, executive editor, 1998-2000: We had to paste [the paper] up on flats, all the pages, put it in a shed in an alley somewhere. Our printer was the Hopewell News. They would pick it up by 6 a.m. and print it.
That driver came up to that shed in the alley at 6 a.m., and if they weren’t in there, he left. There were times we missed the deadline, so I had to take the flats and drive down to Hopewell, which is not a brief drive.
Another time, I was young and didn’t know that a tabloid paper, the pages have to be in multiples of four. I sent them 14 pages — you can’t have a 14-page tabloid. I got a call at 6-something in the morning. “There’s no such thing as a 14-page tabloid.” So I had to drive from my house in Southside, go into the production room, put together another flat, put public service announcements on it and drive it down to Hopewell.
It was an interesting time, but we were in there. And for me, I felt, actually for the first time, like a real journalist. I had found something I had a passion for, but it was always an adventure. It was a great time. That’s what really got me to love newspapers and journalism.
Melanie Seiler, copy editor, co-news editor, executive editor 1993-1996: We worked hard and played hard. We were a tight-knit group who spent most of our waking hours together. Many takeout dinners eaten over the light tables in the layout room. Trips downtown to see Pat McGee. Cramming for tests because we’d skipped all of the classes before then to get the paper out.
Jim Meisner Jr., writer, associate editorial editor, 1991-1993: We had a couple of years there where we were kind of on our own when there was very little oversight. What happened when I was there — let me say it right now, I was against it — they published an April Fool’s front page edition that made fun of the president and the sport’s manager, the athletic director, and I think there were allusions to prostitutes. Because it was so, so close to libel, we had to take the cover off [every copy] and replace it. The whole front page was one big parody, then you turn the front page and the real cover is on the inside.
Gail O’Hara, staff writer, calendar editor, folio editor, 1986-1988: It was a lot of fun. It was a strange group of people, probably not as diverse as it is now. I looked at The Commonwealth Times’ website, and it looks like there’s a little more diversity happening now, which is good. But we did have an interesting crew, and I had a lot of fun writing. It was just like any other place where you’re not paying people for their content … whatever comes in.
Sharon Richardson, staff writer, folio editor, 1980-1981: I loved Milheiser house, because by the time I started working with them we were in Milheiser. I just loved the fact that here we were the student newspaper in this gorgeous historic building. The CT had its moments of silliness, but for the most part it was hard-hitting journalism, and I loved that. There was a lot of camaraderie, especially in those early years for me. It just was this really great collaborative and creative process.
One of the things that struck me almost right away, The CT was almost entirely male. But it was collaborative, you didn’t have to fight to be heard. If you wanted to pitch a story idea, you weren’t dismissed because you were a woman.
I think I was the lone [black editor]. I do remember having to constantly fight, remind them to sort of broaden the outlook a little bit. When there’s not diversity on a news staff, you are missing important stories or different perspectives on a story because that’s not your reality, so you don’t even know to consider.
Dale Brumfield, art director, 1979-1981: We didn’t consider ourselves a campus paper. We considered ourselves a community paper. We were picked up by a lot of non-students, which is great.
Probably one of the most controversial stories we did while I was there on a punk rock band called Dickey Disgusting and the Degenerate Blind Boys. It turns out, Dickey is basically a male prostitute during the day. So that’s what we say in the story. The story was full of f-bombs and vulgar language. The story comes out called “I’m Nasty and They Don’t Like It.” That story hit like a nuclear bomb on campus. Ackell sees it and goes crazy, saying it would ruin the reputation of the university. Then he did something he never should have done; he threatened to pull funding from The Commonwealth Times. The president of the university threatened to pull the newspaper’s funding because of a story he didn’t like. That, to us, was the worst form of censorship that you could do.
Bill Royall, staff writer, executive editor, 1971-1972: The camaraderie of the staff — the laughs. Back then, we had to set type and run it through a glue machine. So we were there until two or three in the morning writing headlines and trying to make them fit. Where the provost’s office is now, we used to be on the third floor of that building. The balcony that overlooks Shafer Court, we’d sit on that balcony and talk about stories. It was a great experience.
CT staff report
Latest posts by Executive Editor (see all)
- These spots on the James stand out in the River City - July 16, 2019
- Where to find the best page-turners in RVA - July 16, 2019
- Staying in the loop: the accounts you should follow as a VCU student - July 16, 2019