History Through a Paper: Over 40 years of journalism that helped shape a university

by   Posted on May 3rd, 2010 in Opinion

By William Curtis, Opinion Editor

It was with a comical obituary notice and a cover letter that read more like a call to arms in the October 06, 1969 issue that The Gunston Ledger became the paper we all read now, Broadside. Mason was nothing more than another college in Virginia; university status was only a dream at the time, but even some back in 1969 knew where the college was destined. In an article entitled “GMC’s Growth to Mushroom,” James Clarke, the director of Planning at Mason at the time said: “GMC would eventually become a cluster of colleges within a college. Each individual college would have its own student union building and administrative offices.” He went on to also say, “Eventually, George Mason would become one of the largest, if not the largest, colleges in the Washington area.” Little did anyone know that this assumption made by Clark in 1969 would be a reality 40 years later. And for all of this — the burning of draft cards, the changing of names, the construction of new and innovative measures for the campus — Broadside was there, doing what it has done and will continue to do even after I leave this office as this issue is printed: bringing the truth to the students of George Mason College and University.

When I first began working for Broadside, I was informed of the history of its name. The story I was told was that the name was changed to Broadside because of the size of paper we used for each issue, which is called “broadside.” While I understood the context for this name, most readers would never. Then I read the cover of the issue in which George Mason’s newspaper The Gunston Ledger became Broadside. The staff of the newly named newspaper publication made their decision to rename the paper very apparent with, “The George Mason College Newspaper staff has decided that the title of our publication [The Gunston Ledger] no longer represents the things which we want it to stand for.” For those who didn’t understand the meaning or importance of the change, the staff even decided to include the definition of “broadside” from the Dictionary of American History, which stated: “In 17th century America, broadsides were used for poetical effusions, news items and political propaganda.” The renamed staff included such historical facts to continue to give evidence and reason for the name change. They explained that this name was used for works that were handed out faster and in larger circulation before the revolution. Also, that they were important for the sole purpose of getting pertinent information for the foundation of democracy in America.

“We feel that in these important times, the name Broadside not only symbolizes the effort on our part to reach the students with the news, but also continues the tie with the history of this country that our school maintains. Thus to us, the new name will also become a new pledge to keep the students of George Mason informed with the truth.” And with these final words, the newly named Broadside gave way to a new generation and method for the delivery of its news.

This pledge has stood the test of time. As editors and staff came and went, Broadside maintained its pledge to the dispersal of the truth regarding George Mason. Even during times of war, the staff of Broadside was there to record history in the making.

Broadside was present when the draft cards of the 1969 Selective Services involuntary draft were burned. In fact, during the year of 1969, Broadside printed many different articles regarding this subject. In the September 23, 1969 issue of The Gunston Ledger, a philosophy professor, James M. Shea, was being charged with being an “accessory after the fact” in a case involving a student who was AWOL and who had stolen a car because he was told that a felony charge would keep him from being eligible to be drafted into the Vietnam War. When the student showed up at Shea’s house with the car, Shea informed him that this act would not keep him from being drafted. The only reason Shea was charged was because he never reported the student’s name in regards to the stolen car.

In an article in the same September issue, “Draft Cards Burn as Resistance Mounts,” teachers and students alike came together to show their disapproval of the war in Vietnam, and like many others around the country at the time, they burned cards to show their disdain for the direction the country was taking. Four professors made their claims of disapproval of this war, and Broadside was there to record and print in their pages the opinions of each of the five professors who opposed the war that day.

Not much has changed since then, and Broadside continues to follow the original creed of bringing the truth to its readership. And while we may use computers and technology to write our stories now, we still manage to make typos, we still forget things and we even still miss deadlines — some things will always transcend the barriers of time. The accurate and truthful news that is printed here still holds the message and motives that the trail blazers of yesteryear believed in. They felt that George Mason’s newspaper needed more than just a name; it needed a purpose.

Broadside has shown us a glimpse into the past, a portrait not many will ever notice or care about. Almost as if it was a time capsule, it has shared with us the thoughts and desires of Mason’s past students who came here for the same ideals we are here for now, yet they experienced different things. They viewed the world through acid rain drops and rose-colored glasses. They saw a more violent world then we can ever imagine. Working for Broadside has brought this world alive in my eyes, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity to be the voice of Mason’s opinions. It has been a wonderful experience that has taught me multitudes of life lessons, and has helped shape me into a more humble and compassionate person, as well as a skilled editor and writer.

Fortunately, while the art form that is printed journalism slowly comes to its death in the very near future, we can still see a more vivid past because of what Broadside has done in previous issues and what it will continue to do in the future. This recognition, this acknowledgment of what life was like for college students back then, may help current students in their pursuit for a better education at Mason today. The clichéd expression of being doomed to repeat history because its lessons were never learned is more than appropriate in this context. These historical volumes tell us what George Mason used to be like, what its dreams and goals for growth were back when it was freshly titled as a university and how a small college became an amazing university . . . with the help of one newspaper.

My final words to the student body as your opinion editor: Keep growing and learning from not only your college education, but from the lessons you learn in life. Looking back on your past experiences are what will guide you in the right direction in life and keep you from making mistakes in the future.

And one last thing: When referring to our paper, it’s not “The” Broadside, it’s just Broadside.

William Curtis
Opinion Editor
March 2009 – May 2010

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