Monday, April 30, 2007

Thank you, Poppop

I wear a bracelet on my left wrist.

It’s not expensive or particularly trendy. It’s not even a gift that I remember receiving.

I found it in the bottom of a drawer at home almost exactly a year ago.

That day, I put it on. It’s still there, and I’ll tell you why.


But first I need to be completely honest about what you can expect from this blog entry, my last one as the Collegian’s editor in chief.

I’m not going to analyze the trends of the newspaper industry or take any last jabs at media critics.

This time I’m abusing executive privilege and using this space to say whatever I want.

If I could write two senior columns, this would be one of them.

The other you’ll see in Friday’s paper.


I’m a big fan of shout-outs.

Anyone who was at our spring Collegian formal knows this.

Give me a microphone, and I will erupt into a series of shout-outs. It helps a lot if I’ve had a couple glasses of Chardonnay first.

For lack of a better phrase, this blog/senior column is a list of shout-outs.

If you don’t care, so be it. But I’ve got people to thank and things to say. Best of all, I’ve got unlimited space.


First, I want to thank the Collegian’s readers. You are the reason I do this every day. Sure we’ve got out critics, but most Penn State students, faculty and alumni appreciate the service we provide. I am eternally grateful. Please continue reading.

Thank you to the Atherton Hotel. You’re not cheap, but you’re far and away a better venue for a formal than the Days Inn. Two words: Cash bar.

Thank you to Margaret and Juan at Margarita’s, who have fed me and the rest of the Collegian staff with moderately priced Italian cuisine all year. There is no better cheesesteak this side of Philadelphia than you can find at Margarita’s, 222 W. Beaver Ave. That also goes for the pizza, stromboli, grilled chicken salad and tuna sub, all of which I’ve sampled.

Thank you to Café 210 and Sports Café for being within stumbling distance of the James Building so my fellow Collegianites and I can go right from work to a pitcher of iced tea. My credit card tab says it all.

Thank you to all Penn State professors who see the backward logic of instituting an attendance policy for their classes. Higher education has become more and more about showing up and less and less about learning. Penn State education sans attendance policies, and I’d have a 4.0. Professors who understand I paid for this class and don’t deserve a grade deduction because I chose to catch a few z’s, thank you.

On to the sappy shout-outs:

Thank you to my Friday night poker buddies (Terry, Doran, Travis, Alex, Nate, etc.). You let a girl play – and win, once. I needed a weekend activity that didn’t involve alcohol, and you all kept me sober for longer than I thought possible.

Thank you to Dan Freel. There is no other pain in the ass I would rather have as my photo editor. After more than two years of stress, cigarettes, more stress and more cigarettes, I count you among my friends.

Thank you to Sirage Yassin. You hold me to a higher standard, and sometimes I need that.

Thank you to Sarah Goldfarb and Chris Weeden. I look at the two of you and it reassures me that I have something to look forward to. Your happiness is contagious.

Thank you to Halle Stockton. For two years we were inseperable, and because of that you will always be a part of me.

Thank you to Drew Curley, whose selflessness humbles me. You are the definition of a friend.

Thank you to Terry Casey and Andy Staub. You are two of my best friends, and it doesn’t even bother me that you’re dudes. It seems that guys usually break me down, but you two build me up.

Thank you to Kayur Patel. Time spent with you is time that I’ll never forget. Thanks for always making me laugh.

Thank you to Krystle Kopacz, without whom this year would likely have been disastrous. Any credit I’m given for the success of this year, I pass on to you. Your talent as the Collegian’s managing editor is surpassed only by your compassion as a friend.

Thank you to Lizz Paris, the one and only, true, non-Collegian friend I’ve retained since my time at Penn State. You’re the only roommate I’ve actually enjoyed living with, and the fact that we’ve remained friends is a tribute to you alone. No matter how many times I say we’ll hang out and then cancel because “something came up at the Collegian,” you never get angry. I absolutely adore you.

Thank you to Kathleen Haughney, the best friend the world has ever known. We both know I am not a religious person, but some higher power brought the two of us together almost four years ago. When times are tough (when aren’t they?), you are the first person I look to for support. And you’ve never let me down.

Thank you to John Harvey, the Collegian’s news adviser. Besides guiding me in the right direction and steering me away from mistakes, you were honest with me. You told me when I messed up, and you told me when I did things right. Your office may not be in the newsroom, but you’re as much a part of this News Division as the students. Thanks for the support.

Thank you to my sister, Ally. We don’t talk as much as we should, and that’s my fault. But you’ve always been there for me, and I’m looking forward to spending more time with you again.

Thank you to my parents. It is because of you that I got through this year. You gave me the tools I needed to take on this position, and you provided me with strength when I thought I’d lost it all. My accomplishments belong to you. We all learned this year that I am far from invincible, but you never stopped being proud of me. No one will ever convince me there have been parents greater than you.

Finally, thank you to Grammy and Poppop. It is because of you that the word “family” means anything to me. I am truly grateful for the wisdom you have shared with me. You have taught me the meaning of unconditional love.


Poppop died May 9 of last year.

I saw him one last time in April, soon after I was elected as the Collegian’s next editor in chief.

He was weak, and we knew his time with us would soon come to an end.

But he was proud of me. And that has made all of this worth it.

I was wearing my bracelet when Poppop died.

For whatever reason, I began to associate it with him. For that reason, I couldn’t take it off.

Now, I wear this bracelet on my wrist because it reminds me of him. And that makes it the most valuable piece of jewelry I own.

As long as it stays on my wrist, it’s my ongoing shout-out to Poppop.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Cub Scout invasion

In 20 minutes, the newsroom will be invaded by a pack of Cub Scouts.

Nine- and ten-year-old boys and their parents are coming to the Collegian, and it is my job to entertain/inform them for 45 minutes.

Generally, when I give tours of the Collegian the tourists are prospective high school students or long-lost Collegian alumni returning to visit the newspaper they’ve been away from for 20-plus years.

This tour, I’m guessing, will be different.

Short-attention spans are going to be a challenge. Excessive laughter is practically a guarantee.

And I’m more than a little worried about what some of the parents will think of a college student’s sense of humor – appropriately displayed all over the the newsroom walls.

While I’d imagine these boys would rather be visiting a baseball game or the zoo, I’m going to do my best to explain why being a journalist is the coolest job in the world.

There’s sports, music and crime. There’s adrenaline, emotion and competition. And sometimes there’s enough action to keep even fourth-grade boys entertained.

I’m a little nervous about this tour, though.

These are going to the most honest tour-takers I’ve ever had.

If I’m not funny, they won’t laugh.

If I’m not interesting, they won’t listen.

But there’s one reason why I’m actually really excited for this entourage to invade the office.

The questions are guaranteed to be a hoot.

Maybe there will be a future journalist among the bunch.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A sad day in Happy Valley

At the time I wrote this, the Associated Press was reporting that the death toll was up to 30 people killed at Virginia Tech yesterday.

My gut tells me that number will be higher tomorrow.

When I walked into the newsroom Monday and found out so many had died in a Virginia Tech classroom and dormitory, my mind immediately started racing through the names of my high school graduating class.

I was desperate to know who from the South Western Class of 2003 chose to attend Virginia Tech.

One name immediately popped into my mind – a friend/acquaintance I attended elementary, middle and high school with.

I found out this afternoon that he’s fine; in fact, a Collegian reporter had the opportunity to speak to him for a localization story.

But even though Virginia Tech is two states away, the worst shooting in U.S. history hit home.

I don’t think I’m alone at Penn State when I wondered if something like this could happen in Happy Valley.

How likely is it that one student out of 40,000 could become so mentally unstable that a shooting rampage sounds like a good idea?

Is it even possible for university officials or local police to prevent such an occurrence?

My mind catapulted back to 1999, when I was in eighth grade and two students went on a similar rampage at Columbine High School.

The same thoughts crossed our minds then. Could this happen in central Pennsylvania?

Now I'm a senior in college, and it's like I've been through this before.

But a university campus is so much different than a high school, where the exits and entrances are clearly marked.

There are so many more buildings at a university like Penn State to protect, so much more potential for something to go wrong.

A story in the Collegian Tuesday will say that Penn State officials met after the shooting incident to discuss security measures at our university.

I was glad to know that, at the very least, a discussion had begun to address these issues.

And I’m as anxious as anyone to know what, if anything, can be done to prevent this from happening again.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Collegian: The Movie

When I was a sophomore cops reporter in the spring of 2005, I was frequently followed by two men with cameras.

They followed me to cops briefings at the municipal building, to protests at Schwab Auditorium and through the newsroom while I was making calls about a fire.

And they must have been especially fascinated by my hair-twirling abilities because that’s about the only appearance I make in The Paper, a documentary about the Collegian’s News Division that debuted at this weekend’s Philadelphia Film Festival.

The film, directed by local filmmaker Aaron Matthews, chronicles the Collegian’s successes, failures and everything in between from fall 2004 to spring 2005.

Those of us currently working for the Collegian got to see the film a few weeks ago before its public showing.

And since then, I’ve came to terms with my lack of star quality.

In fact, I think I’m grateful I’m not much more than an “extra” in The Paper.

Truth is, the film’s not that flattering. It is, however, fair.

Drinking games aside (every time the word “circulation” is said), the opportunity to watch a 90-minute documentary about the operation I currently head was of immeasurable value.

This film was a mirror for many of us, albeit a two-year-old view.

What I saw reflected in this film more than anything else was a struggle to achieve objectivity when the subjects of a story differ somehow from the “average” Penn State student.

In one part of the film, then-editor in chief Jimmy Young clearly states that diversity training is not an endeavor the Collegian is willing to undertake.

I saw a collective cringe go through the room when he said that.

And so, The Paper is video evidence of why we have to take that step.

We’ve got some work to do, and I intend to get us started.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Give us a break....and a cigarette

We talk about alcohol a lot in the Collegian newsroom.

There’s drunk driving incidents on the front page, letters to the editor about the drinking culture on the opinion page and drink specials on the arts and entertainment page.

We cover alcohol-related legislation at the borough, state and federal level.

We figure that many, if not most, of our readers drink alcohol and are at least vaguely interested in reading about it.

Long story short, alcohol makes its way into the news pages quite frequently.

See Feb. 5 blog entry: Booze is news.

But it turns out some scholars think our culture’s affinity for substance abuse permeates the news media in other ways as well.

A Columbia Journalism Review blog recently published an entry dedicated to the history of drinking and drugging in the journalism world.

The winter 2007 volume of Journalism History, according to the CJR blog, includes an article titled “Depression, Drink and Dissipation,” which claims that more than a third of the 187 most famous journalists were “titanic drunks, pill-poppers, or opium-addicts.”

The periodical also claims that more than half of these figures were plagued by “depression, serious anxiety, or bipolar disorder.”

The article was written by Doug Underwood, a professor at the University of Washington.

In this space, we’ll refer to him as Captain Obvious.

I can attest to some of what Captain Obvious is trying to say with his research.

In fact, Captain Obvious is not that off base in his assertion that self-destructive behavior and/or mental instability often coincide with a choice of career in journalism.

I know a lot of journalists. I am one myself.

And health freaks we are not.

I realize I’m over generalizing here, but herein lies my point.

What career path (other than the blatantly obvious like personal trainer or professional athlete) allows its followers the luxury of health consciousness?

Where’s the profession in which no one stops at the bar on the way home to have a beer and light up a cigarette once in a while?

I just think we journalists get a bad rap.

Even if it is true that journalists engage in more self-destructive behavior or suffer from more mental illness than the rest of the population, how could you really blame us?

We deal with death and destruction.

We work crappy hours and are always on call.

It’s kinda like doctors – without the six-figure salary.

Monday, March 26, 2007

You be the editor....

Last week, The Daily Collegian broke a story that one of my editors so brilliantly pointed out was “ESPN ticker-worthy.”

I’m not sure if the story ever did actually grace’s ticker, but anytime the word “hazing” pops up in the context of collegiate athletics it’s pretty much a guarantee that the national media will pay attention.

The decision to run a story about Penn State wrestlers and hockey players allegedly involved in two hazing rituals was an easy one.

The decision of whether or not to run the photos allegedly depicting the hazing was not nearly as easy.

Here’s the facts:

The “whistleblower” of this story was an anti-hazing activist from Georgia who found the photos on Webshots and sent them to The Daily Collegian, wrestling head coach Troy Sunderland and

Sunderland responded immediately to Collegian reporters and said he was “very upset” and intended to look into the incident.

Meanwhile, at least three student athletes have denied the allegations that the incidents were hazing.

Then, Penn State released a statement saying that an investigation into the wrestling allegations has been launched and that the hockey investigation was completed last year.

The dilemma of the situation is this: Should The Daily Collegian publish the photographs in question?

If you were the editor in chief, what would you do?

Run the photos in the interest of disclosing all information available so that readers can reach their own conclusion?

Or do you choose not to run the photos so as not to further embarrass fellow students?

I chose not to run the photos.

My rationale?

In my understanding of hazing, the practice inherently creates victims. Just like someone wouldn’t want to be beaten or raped, someone would not want to be hazed and forced to do things they would otherwise not do.

It’s possible that these events were not hazing at all, and that the photos depict nothing more than a crazy party and some bad decisions.

In that case, what’s the potential public good in publishing the photos?

And finally, if this is really a case of hazing, how is it fair to further victimize people who are already victims of hazing by publishing and distributing evidence of the incident?

That’s why I chose not to publish the photographs.

What would you have done?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Drive safely, Penn State

Eight and a half hours.

That’s how long it took me to travel from my hometown of Hanover, Pa. to State College on Friday.

I witnessed one accident, sat in at least three traffic jams and survived on Arby’s curly fries all to get back to Penn State in time for my 9 a.m. continuing education class on Saturday.

A couple things went through my mind during the trip.

One, thank God for curly fries.

Two, what would I do if the windshield wipers gave up?

Three, please please please don’t let too many Penn State students decide to jump in a car and race up to State College to make it back for a 7 a.m. start to the drinking fest of St. Patrick’s Day.

Maybe it’s the treacherous mountains of Route 322 or the likeliness of snow or rain during the trip. It could even be a college student’s thrill of being behind the wheel for the first time in weeks that causes so many students to die in car crashes on their way back to school.

Every winter or spring break I brace myself for news of the Penn State student or students who didn’t make it this time.

With 40,000 students traveling home and back by car, bus, plane and train, odds are someone will pay the ultimate price. Add alcohol to the mix, and I figured things could only get worse.

When I was a cops reporter, the worst part of the job by far was calling the families of students who died in car or other accidents. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be on the other side of the phone receiver.

So during my eight-and-a-half-hour journey, my news radar was up and all I could think about was the students whose mug shots would accompany their obituary on the Collegian’s front page this week.

Thankfully, this time, we didn't have this kind of news.