In most every society there are institutions and traditions that are enshrined as necessary to assure the balance of justice against self-interest, generosity against greed and decency against exploitation. In America the court systems, police forces and churches are supposed to balance those dark impulses of our lesser selves. The daily newspaper is also such an institution. And even though newspapers are struggling to find a new business model in this digital age, they remain the backbone of in-depth, investigative coverage of the major issues of our day, uncovering and exposing corruption even within the institutions designed to uphold our nature’s best instincts.
Yet journalism itself has not always served as the independent watchdog that it should be. At the height of the newspaper wars in New York in 1890, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, the latter revered today for the prizes he funded in his 1911 will, waged a nefarious contest to sell newspapers. A cartoonist working for Pulitzer drew The Yellow Kid, which followed the exploits of its character’s life in the slums and became wildly popular in New York. To counter Pulitzer’s success at selling papers, Hearst offered the cartoonist, Richard Outcault, an outrageous sum to leave Pulitzer’s New York World and join Hearst’s paper, the New York Journal. Additionally, each newspaper sensationalized stories for the sole purpose of selling papers. Such stories were based on little research and much scandal. The term yellow journalism, which represents the worst of these scandal-ridden and fact-devoid pieces, actually springs from the yellow nightshirt worn by the Yellow Kid. Outcault’s defection to the Hearst Journal symbolized the lows to which the press would sink to sell its product.
Ironically, today’s Pulitzer Prize reflects the highest journalism standards of integrity, fact-based reporting, investigation and independence. And even though Joseph Pulitzer engaged in his rather dirty war with Hearst, he also pledged to expose injustice through his coverage of the news. He was innovative, too, hiring a woman, Nellie Bly, to write articles about poverty and labor conditions in New York. Working women in the late 1800s were still a rarity.
These are the standards that GHC students working on the Six Mile Post or taking Introduction to Mass Media are taught. Perhaps the SMP began with a more homespun voice, but the paper has evolved from very humble beginnings to become an impressive undertaking involving students, faculty and even occasionally staff. Indeed, it is an undertaking that has captured numerous awards from the Georgia College Press Association annually since the 1970s.
Like student newspapers at four-year universities, the Six Mile Post is printed on newsprint. And even though it is only distributed seven times during the academic year, it holds its own within its sector of student newspaper enterprises.
It wasn’t always so distinguished, however. The first issue was published on May 3, 1972, slightly less than two years after GHC, then Floyd College, began offering classes. Its masthead was hand drawn, and the final product was simply an 8.5 by 11-inch sheet of paper printed front and back. In fact, the first issue had no official name, so printed in a stylized drawing across the top of the page was simply “The First Issue.”
It consisted of very short stories such as the announcement of a graduation dance, a few paragraphs on Honors Day, something about the first 45 students to graduate from then-Floyd Junior College, an announcement of the new student government officers, an announcement about Old Red Kimono (which was just getting started) and a request from readers for a name for this new publication.
The second issue was similar, filling the masthead position with the words “FJC’s Summer ’72.” There was an announcement of the yearbook staff, and the suggestions of names for the new publication were listed under the headline Short Subjects. Proposed names included The Charger Review, The Tower and The Paris Gazette. There was no mention at all of the Six Mile Post. That name finally surfaced in the sixth issue on Nov. 2, 1972.
In keeping with the times – after all, the Vietnam War was still raging – there was a story on “You and the Draft” in a 1973 issue. There was also one on streaking in the March 1974 issue, which had expanded the paper to four pages. In May of that year, the masthead sported a spot color of red, and the name was actually in a specific typeface, not just something produced on a typewriter or by hand. August produced the first print version, and by October, the SMP had expanded to eight pages. But there was still no consistent masthead design. However, later that year and enduring through 1978, a consistent design at last appeared. It, too, was hand-drawn and depicted a reclining female figure on the left of the word mark Six Mile Post.
The archives are missing the next two years, but picks up again in 1980. By that year, the masthead had changed to one that is similar to the current version. It was also the year that Kristie Kemper, professor of English, took the role of advisor for the newspaper. She’s been in that role ever since, and has helped lead the students who work on the paper to any number of awards. She would be the first to say that she wasn’t alone in steering the SMP to glory. In fact, there have been numerous faculty members who have advised and nurtured the student journalists through the years. Cindy Wheeler, associate professor of English, has been an assistant advisor for the past several years, contributing her time and effort toward the end product as well.
Newspaper journalism has changed dramatically since 1980. When Kemper took on the advising role students were sharing one old typewriter. When all the stories were complete, they were taken to the College Relations department to be typeset and put into columns. A few years later – after all other offices had already been converted to computers – Kemper wrangled an old computer and printer from somewhere on campus. Software capability instantly made editing easier (no more retyping an entire story to move paragraphs around), but they were still doing paste-up before sending to the printer.
Paste-up is no doubt an alien concept to the current bunch of students in the SMP office who use a recent version of In-Design, a professional design program that produces polished results without the added, time-consuming process of waxing, one of the adhesive choices back in the day when designers were cutting lines of veloxed type onto blue-lined layout paper.
Even greater changes have taken place outside the design and production areas, however. The profession itself has changed. Reporting is immediate, 24 hours a day, in fact. So there’s more competition to get the story, even if all the facts aren’t yet available. A new term, advocacy journalism, has sprung up, encouraged by outlets such as Fox News and MSNBC. Old timers decry this kind of biased coverage as poor reporting, but it has established a strong foothold in American society.
Technology and the advent of social media have made news interactive. Even CNN uses iReports sent in by anyone, trained journalist or not, from the scene of breaking news. And all these changes have impacted more traditional media outlets, particularly newspapers, which now find themselves failing because they can’t keep up with the changes. Yes, they all have websites, but none thought the Internet would ever become a leading source of news, so they all offered content for free. Now some of the giants, like the New York Times, have begun charging for online content. It’s still an experiment, however, and the Times, as other daily newspapers and news magazines, are struggling to find a successful new business model. Some died before they could. Newsweek, for example, published its last print edition in December 2012.
What does this mean for the Six Mile Post? Well, the paper has followed the transition to online content, providing surveys and other news exclusively in an online format and updating information between issues. Their online address (www.sixmilepost.com) has been incorporated into the print masthead. It is also listed under the SMP listing on the college’s website.
Even though news reporting takes many different forms in today’s media, Kemper says she begins by teaching students the traditional method of news gathering: compiling facts, interviewing people from different sides of an issue, reporting impartially. She stresses the importance of accurate and balanced reporting. And she and Wheeler have been quite successful at it. Last year the paper won 17 awards at the Georgia College Press Association’s Press Institute, held in Athens last February.
Representatives from the paper also attend the Southern Regional Press Institute and the National College Media Convention. Kemper said of her students, “I’m proud of the students who sign up to be part of the Six Mile Post, because they are committed to serving other students at the college by providing accurate, timely and current information.”