By Sasha Nyary
The first issue, a broadsheet printed in black and white, was published on Oct. 3, 1917. The lead story was a speech from President Mary Woolley welcoming students back to campus. A photograph on the upper right corner — the sole photo in the issue — was of a group of students perched on a massive tree that had fallen down. The photo included a caption that called it the “oldest and largest black walnut in Massachusetts.”
The Mount Holyoke News turns 100 this year. Still a weekly, today’s paper features stories about current events on campus and in the world. Photos are on every page, many in color. While much about the News has changed — and changed again — the student newspaper of Mount Holyoke College remains an essential forum for student voices.
The paper has consistently reflected world events as well as College news, said Samantha Snodgrass ’18, a gender studies major. She, along with Shannon Reilly ’17, an English major, worked with Archives and Special Collections to create an exhibit of the paper’s first 100 years.
“Campus and colleges can never truly be isolated and this newspaper has shown that throughout its existence,” Snodgrass said. “You can always see the student personality coming through.”
Those voices started right with the paper’s earliest days, she noted. Articles covered the right to vote, critiquing the way other media dismissed the issue and encouraging women to vote. Students and faculty discussed World War II as it unfolded. In the 1950s students wrote about the required church services. From 1968 to 1982 the paper was called Choragos, named after the leader of the ancient Greek chorus, the one who asks questions and provokes discussion.
“Choragos was a reflection of the times,” said Julie Van Camp ’69, the editor-in-chief at the time. “Our first issue was March 1, 1968. The Vietnam War was raging on, as were protests across the country against the war and the draft. We published longer pieces, thought pieces and dramatically upgraded the photography.”
Today the paper, which is published every Thursday during the semester, has a website and maintains a social media presence with Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr accounts. The staff — the masthead numbers about seven core staff with close to 70 writers, editors and photographers who contribute regularly — is exploring ways to publish more frequently.
“We’re in the age where speed is so important,” said Liz Huang ’17, the current editor-in-chief, who has worked on the paper since she was a first-year student. “The world never sleeps. The news never sleeps. We have to be on top of it. We have a responsibility to the campus.”
That responsibility has given her an extraordinary set of life and career skills, said Huang, a biology and economics double major. She noted that to work on the paper, sharp writing and editing skills and deep knowledge of grammar and punctuation are essential. Today’s publishing environment also requires expertise in design software — InDesign and PhotoShop — and with web design and video-editing tools.
“Working on the newspaper teaches you to think on your feet, work on a team, be collaborative, create content, produce a product and market that product,” Huang said. “You have to work on a team. Whether you go into journalism or something entirely different, it’s really career-focused. I know from my internships that this experience is very appealing to employers.”
As Huang points out, the experience is beneficial to more than just future journalists. Many alumnae who worked at the paper have gone on to journalism and publishing careers, working at places like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Time magazine, Bon Appetit, BuzzFeed, and Simon and Schuster. But they’ve also become physicians, attorneys, biologists, academics — and more.
Alumnae have been a crucial part of the paper’s community since its founding. Before there was the News, there was The Mount Holyoke, a monthly journal founded in 1891 that published a combination of College news, alumnae news, literary magazine stories and humor pieces.
The Mount Holyoke split in two in 1916, and swung into production the following year. One half became the News, produced by and for current students. The other became the Alumnae Quarterly, designed to meet the needs of the growing alumnae community. The Quarterly is therefore also celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
News alumnae, who have long been supportive of each other, established a formal relationship with current students in the early ’90s with the creation of an alumnae advisory board. The alumnae relationship deepened in 2015, when Kate Grundy ’95, a former editor-in-chief, collaborated with another News alumna, Sara Taylor ’95, to reach out to the paper’s current staff in advance of their 20th Reunion.
“Because Katy and I would be on campus for our Reunion, we were interested in meeting with some of the current staff and having a Champagne toast,” said Taylor. “Our thought has always been that the News connection spans class years — and generations. Obviously so much had changed since our days on the News, but we all had more in common than we ever could have expected.”
Huang is unsurprised that graduates who worked on the paper want to reconnect.
“You work with these people seven days a week, you don’t sleep — the bonds that are created are intense,” she said. “At the end of the day that’s what the newspaper is, a family.”
Alumnae always want to see the newsroom when they return to campus, Huang said, and meet with the current staff.
“When they come back, we do newspaper things,” she said. “We go out with them to Johnny’s. We discuss the paper, how can we improve it. I can’t imagine my Mount Holyoke experience without the paper and I can’t wait to come back and have that alumnae experience.”
The Archives and Special Collections’ exhibit about the paper’s first 100 years opens Feb. 9 and continues through June. The show is arranged thematically — advertisements, politics, campus social life — and includes enlarged displays of front pages through the decades. A digital component of the exhibit will follow this spring. Digital Assets and Preservation Services is digitizing all the back issues of the News, to be available later this year.
Of course, the exhibit will be on display during Reunion.
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