104 years of underground campus newspapers
by Tony Moore
October 1, 2012
In 1849, as James Polk was sitting for the first-ever presidential photograph and Minnesota was hitting the map as a U.S. territory, students at Dickinson were launching the school's first serial publication, the Collegiate. The periodical lasted only six issues, but it was a serious publication that set the bar high for what would become The Dickinsonian. First appearing in print in 1872, The Dickinsonian came together in an effort, as the paper put it, to advance the "interests of the institution." Although initially run by faculty and alumni, students soon began playing a larger role in the writing and management of the then-monthly paper. Today, the venerable Dickinsonian is a campus fixture and weekly source for all things Dickinson.
But sometimes, "all the news that's fit to print" just isn't enough, and with a jab at The New York Times' motto (which had debuted just 12 years earlier) and likely taking another at The Dickinsonian, students launched The Onion in 1908 under the motto "We print ALL THE NEWS, fit or unfit, with preference to the latter." And for the next 104 years, from The Minced Onion to The Right Stuff, the college's "underground" papers came and went—each with its own angle on the revolution.
The collection of alternative Dickinson newspapers, likely incomplete, is packed into an archival box in Archives & Special Collections, and despite the 104-year stretch since The Onion made its appearance, the entire collection fits into a box the size of a desk drawer. Within their pages is both a history of Dickinson and a history of (chiefly) the 20th century, carbon-copied, printed out on a dot-matrix printer and slickly produced on modern computers—the evolution of student thought, underground publishing and our times on full display.
(March to July 1849)
"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (the paper's motto, originally in Latin). Abolitionist and author Moncure D. Conway, class of 1849, appears in the masthead. One article date-stamps itself in a particularly droll way: "There are few periods in history which deserve more close and careful study than the times of Gregory the Seventh."
Layout mimics that of The New York Times, and content includes gems such as "On saintly pulpit or sinful platform talk as if you had something to say; not as if you had to say something" (paraphrasing Plato).
(July 17, 1944)
Generally newsy and mainstream, the paper proclaimed, "A new fad is sweeping the nation. Women are now smoking." The article pleads with Dickinson administrators to install smoking lounges for female students in Metzger Hall and beyond.
A "magazine of thought and opinion," Collages aimed to "fill the gap between the Belles Lettres Review [a campus literary publication] and The Dickinsonian." Fourteen names appear in the masthead, each with an original signature scrawled next to it in pen. Issue 2 quotes the Selective Service Board as saying Dickinson was a "central Pennsylvania hotbed of sedition."
The Minced Onion
Six possible alternative titles for the paper are suggested on page 1 of issue 1 (e.g., Fried Shoes, Hairy Abdomen). The paper is a mix of stories, poetry and reprinted material. In issue 3, the editors acknowledge that the paper is "an above ground, pseudo-underground ego trip that will publish anything you send."
(December 1977 to March 1978)
Carbon copy in which the capital M doesn't fully strike the page in the initial issue ( organ News). Issue 1 sets forth the mission of the paper: "We publish what might seem a little off-beat and unexpected," while addressing such items as needing brighter light bulbs in residence halls, how Adams Hall got its name and the "RA of the Week."
Out of Hand
"All the News that Didn't Fit." Carbon copy. A contrarian political paper whose sole issue contains an excoriating piece on Dickinson's food-services shortcomings, with a promise "to take a closer look at the cafeteria problem" in later issues. A piece from the Faculty Fashion Review column on one professor's "Dutch look" says, "Jeans, clogs, and a priest's collar makes one feel like plugging a leak in a dike."
All the News Unfit to Print
(May 3, 1984)
The New York Times' motto strikes again. Issue contains three stories: one condemning campus renovations, one condemning a new campus alcohol policy and another insulting both the college and its students via a fabricated conversation between the Rolling Stones and the campus Concert Committee.
Globe of Frogs
(1989 to spring 1990)
Title inspired by the Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians album of the same name released in 1988. The first two issues were published anonymously via dot-matrix printer; in issue 3, Michael Daecher '91 and Patrick Charles Lamb '90 emerged as the culprits. "Pat and I started the paper to poke people in the eye," says co-founder Daecher. "The frat culture at the time was pretty overwhelming, with very few alternative voices heard around campus. Globe of Frogs was an attempt to shake things up and get people talking." Its examination of the CD vs. vinyl debate sides with vinyl and concludes, "Corporate America is throwing us a bone and we are biting."
(1990 to May 1992)
"A Magazine," published anonymously. Purview is nearly exclusively short fiction and poetry. One of the few nonfiction pieces is about the failure of laissez-faire economics in the 1980s. The Dining Hall is again mentioned unfavorably, and poetry takes over completely by the final issues.
Whistling in the Dark
Published anonymously, it is the first alternative publication to have advertising throughout, some of which was for now-defunct Carlisle businesses: Herb Merchant, Victorian Lace, Prodejas Music. By issue 5, the ads are gone. Also weighing in on the Dining Hall, Whistling says, "Many things have been said about our groovy new cafeteria, but I think that most of it makes less sense than [George H.W.] Bush running for president."
Free Time Press
The masthead is populated with pseudonyms, despite the paper's mostly mainstream content: "Speech and Debate wins state honors," "Communist leader Zyuganov wows crowded ATS" and "Campus cable: A blessing or a curse?" First campus alternative publication to mention e-mail.
(October 2004 to present)
First alternative paper to have a Web site. In the first issue, Editor-in-Chief Pete Backof '07 says the square wants to "fill up your calendars and your mind," providing entertainment listings for central Pa., Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
"I looked around and saw a diverse campus with a lot of talented people who didn't really have an outlet for alternative forms of writing," Backof now says. "I felt pretty confident that we could produce something good and make a significant contribution to the community."
Facebook—which launched in February 2004, had fewer than one million users and became available in Pennsylvania only a month before—warrants two small pieces in issue 2: one (earnest) about how people should give it a try and another (satirical and quick to the punch) about how Facebook killed the author's baby. Of this, Backof says, "Spoofing it early on was just a way of acknowledging that people shouldn't get too carried away with this shiny new thing."
A letter to the editor from Associate Professor of Art & Art History Crispin Sartwell appears in issue 2: "The Square is a valuable addition to discourse and entertainment at Dickinson. Keep it comin'!" Keep it comin' they did, and the square remains the sole survivor in the battle of the alternative presses to this day. "I'm proud that we were able to build something that's become an institution on campus," Backof says.
The Right Stuff
(April and May 2006)
Editors-in-Chief Jeff Dzuranin '07 and Betsy Nelsen '08 take a stance on the right side of the political aisle. First issue sets out to uncover liberal bias on campus with what was to be a monthly poll: "Do You Think …?" Nelsen says the paper was founded "to get views out there that weren't being represented, the alternative viewpoint," noting that the publication was greeted with both praise and condemnation. When funding issues arose, and when content submissions grew heavy with editorializing, The Right Stuff closed its offices (borrowed from The Dickinsonian).
"Standard newspapers carry a set of expectations about style and content that I don't think can capture the full spectrum of what people are interested in on a college campus," says Backof. Dickinson has a 104-year history of student publishers, writers and editors who have agreed, putting in print their spin on what the student body wants to read again and again.