Learning Journalism in the 1950’s

by Steed Dropout
Feb. 24, 2014


“If you want freedom of the press,” our journalism professors told us,”own your own paper.” That alone was worth the price of admission and admission was cheap.

Soon they were requiring mastering the letter-press, and the Speed Graphlex larger-than-a-bread-box view camera. They offered a course in smoke signals and tom-tom telegraphy, but those were optional.

A fellow journ student distinguished himself by eating toilet paper, then regurgitating the pulp and making news print. Our professors’ idea was to force us back to Franklin, if not Neanderthals and cold meat.

These profs were among the nobodies who didn’t see the internet coming. Self-publishing newspapers from your bed-room, as does one well-known Berkeley publisher…that was sci-fi.

People still saw movies in theaters and film photographs took hours to transmit and were developed in chemical baths.

Newspaper lino-typists composed in molten-hot type.

Our journalism professors went about their grim tasks of indenture with a ramrod morality. Joe Sutton provided comic relief, however, in his news editing and headline-writing class with his collection of ambiguous headlines, like “Directors Vote Dividends to Screw Co. Stockholders.”

There were no courses in journalism ethics but a Hunter S. Thompson was unimaginable, except by Nellie Bly.

I might have gone mad, but for transferring to magazine journalism. I used my experience with dummies (a mock magazine) in the Navy. Our dean, Ted Peterson had written the definitive history of magazine journalism and hung out with Hugh Hefner.

Roger Ebert would follow me by two years. We reported for rival Champaign-Urbana newspapers. Champagne-Urbana, (100,000 readers) was a three newspaper town. Ebert became the editor of the Daily Illini. I founded a humor magazine, the Illi-Greek, where I could rid myself of the constraints of journalism and write like I do now for Berkeley Times.

Assistant Dean, John Schatz was always trying to get me to take Political Science and I stalled him right up to graduation, which I skipped. When I faltered in print, attempting political analysis of Berkeley’s last election, I remembered my mis-guided victory over my advisor.


Roger Ebert became a household name and I became homeless briefly in the 1980s.

Now I’m back from a thirty-five year hiatus, taking up where I left off with my last journalism course in 1961. And, oh yeah, I took my professors’ advice. I own Berkeley Reporter. I bought the name and everything.

When I write my headlines, I always try to screw somebody, like in my favorite headline from journ school.

These views do not reflect those of publications in which my work appears.

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