Jamie Helmsworth '13 adjusts his glasses and omits a needless word from the cover story headline. It's 2 a.m. He and his fellow staffers were supposed to have finished this issue of the Grape, "Oberlin's alternative magazine," a couple of nights ago. Now, in their newspaper's windowless office beneath Burton Hall, opposite the offices of the newspaper to which they see themselves as the alternative, they are faced with the prospect of tedious layout touch-ups — not to mention 9:00 classes in the morning. The coffee is cold. The pizza is also cold, but edible. After wolfing it down, they grind onward and finally complete the September 27, 2012, issue in the small hours of the night, exhausted but satisfied.
Tagline: Oberlin's oldest literary and arts magazine
Look and feel: Sophisticated, arty.
Claim to fame: Two of its alumni have won Pulitzer Prizes for poetry (Franz Wright '77, in 2004, and 2002 winner Carl Dennis, who transferred).
Three days after Lily's twelfth birthday, Lily did something she never told anyone about. There was a pineapple in the fridge, and she went to grab the carton of milk, pushing the pineapple aside with her palm. The needles pricked her and a baby bullet of blood slithered down her wrist. She watched it ski down the inside of her arm, dispersing to either side at the crease of her elbow.
From the story "Clot"
by Charlotte Istel '14, Spring 2012
Tagline:Oberlin College's Science Magazine
Look and Feel:Geeky in a good way.
Claim to Fame: Making science accessible.
"Science has made us gods even before we are worthy of being men."
Jean Rostand, a French biologist, expressed this fear nearly 70 years ago. Today, science has advanced to a state where there is more convergence between scientific research and ethical concerns than ever before. At the core of this convergence between philosophical anxieties, progress, knowledge, creativity, hubris, and imagination, lies neuroscience—the magnum opus of the life sciences....Recent advances in memory research have enabled scientists to target and erase specific memories in live animals. Ironically, if Rostand were still alive today, his fears of scientific progress could soon be targeted and erased, without affecting any of his other mental capabilities.
From the article "500 Milligrams for Arachnophobia, 1000 for the Ex-Wife: The Science of Memory Erasure," by Elie Goldberg '14, February/March 2012
Tagline:Oberlin's alternative student magazine.
Look and Feel: Village Voice plus Mad Magazine minus spelling and grammar check.
Claim to Fame: Centerfold spreads featuring students often clad only in irony.
In middle school, where childhood is murdered, I tried taking charge of my life. I grabbed it by the reins and when Halloween came along, wore one of those "This is my costume" shirts. I didn't nail it, and I was scorned. Why couldn't I get it right? There seemed to be a small number of acceptable costumes, the majority of which—in middle school—included mutilated rappers and poodle skirt-wearing babes. I don't know what it is about mutilated people that's so scary and clever. I find it cumbersome.
From "Don't Make Me Be a Safety Pin, Dad," by Piper Stull-Lane '13, October 18, 2012
Tagline:Oberlin College's magazine for creative nonfiction and long-form journalism.
Look and Feel: Thoughtful, in-depth, not in any sort of a hurry, New Yorkery
Claim to Fame: Also launched Wilder Press, which published Philomela a collection of work by three Oberlin poets, and Anthology: 1, a collection of work first published in Wilder Voice.
Germans have a deep-seated obsession with the Old West that traces all the way back to the settlement of the American frontier. In the 1860s, German, or rather, Prussian Mennonites immigrated to take advantage of the Homestead Act and claimed giant swaths of the Great Plains for themselves. What we think of today as the Wild West was indeed made up of cowboys, Indians, and conservative nut jobs in sod houses à la Laura Ingalls Wilder. It was the perfect breeding ground for lawless mayhem....and polka. These immigrants brought two invaluable gifts on their travels to the New World, which immediately spread throughout the Southwest: beer and the accordion. Not only did these contributions influence Mexican culture, but polka's own "oom-paa-paa" beat even infiltrated some Native American folk dances.
From the article "Country Osten," by Eliza Grace Martin '13 Fall 2011
Tagline:Oberlin's comic collective.
Look and Feel: R. Crumb in college.
Claim to Fame: There's a photo of Alison Bechdel '81 reading Jerk! on the collective's facebook page.
Tagline:Oberlin's environmental magazine.
Look and Feel: Knowledgeable and committed.
Claim to Fame: One of its cofounders, Erika Zarowin '11, was arrested for protesting mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia.
So many of the environmental issues that threaten us today seem to exist on a scale so overwhelming it is often challenging to imagine how individual action can create recognizable impacts. The work that has been done to protect the Black River Watershed is an encouraging example of how community and individual action can be transformative. The impact is hardly small: The Black River watershed spans 466 square miles, an area that is home to nearly 300,000 residents, 43 percent of whom live in Elyria or Lorain. Oberlin's drinking water originates from the west branch of the Black River. Additionally, because the Black River drains to Lake Erie, contamination finds its way into Lake Erie, which provides drinking water, and a place for residents to work, play, fish, and survive. The way people live on the surrounding land directly affects the well being of the Black River and its watershed, and the watershed's health is tied closely with that of its residents.
From the article "Black River in Trouble," by Sarah Sawtelle '12, December 2011
Helmsworth is one of many students at Oberlin who sacrifice their time and energy (and occasionally their grades and sanity) to do what is decidedly "old-school": produce a publication in print. There's still the Oberlin Review and, since 1964, the Plum Creek Review. Joining them on shelves and racks in hallways and buildings all over campus and town are recent additions Headwaters, the Synapse, Comics Collective, and Wilder Voice. Each one offers a unique perspective, but they all have common ambitions: to inform students, staff, and community about campus issues and ideas; to serve as a mode for passionate self-expression; and, nowadays, to show the world that print publications are still relevant in an increasingly digital world.
The Oberlin Review began in 1874 as a weekly newsletter. It hasn't stopped printing since. By 1890 it had a financial manager and three students on the editorial board: C.B. Firestone '91, I.C. Chase '91, and Frank Wilder '92. These students were the Review: no bylines, no photos, no writers.
"With this issue of the Review, the new Editorial Board makes its bow to the public," begins the September 23, 1890, edition. "It is the aim of the editors not merely to 'chronicle the small beer' of college life, but to make the Review thoroughly representative…[of] the best thought among the students."
For today's students, a question (other than what is "small beer"?) immediately arises: How did three editors manage to represent the campus without the help of, say, telephones, or the Internet, or texting, or a horde of staff writers? The solution came in the form of a box, posted in Peters Hall, where students or community members could drop off "items of interest." The editors then would collect these notes, synthesize them, and print them in 16 pages of double-columned text. Part of this text appeared as an extended letter, but other parts included bullet-pointed updates in an almost Twitter-like fashion:
The carpet on the Chapel platform is a great improvement. It both adds to the building and to the looks of the faculty feet.
The Senior mustaches disappeared before September 16th, like dew before the morning Sun.
Verdict of the vacation's experience—nowhere do you find better boys than in Oberlin College, and nowhere are the girls equaled.
The Review's archives allow us to read through Oberlin's history and gain a sense of prevailing politics and sentiments, not just from its text, but its context. There is information embedded in its layout and style, headline size, the kinds of paper used, and the many small details that reveal more about a place and a time.
But just past the dawn of the 21st century, the Internet has changed periodical publishing. Newspapers are hemorrhaging jobs, trimming pages, and cutting back on publication days. Venerable magazines have folded. In recent months, Newsweek announced a shift from print to entirely online. "Media" today means iPads and Kindles instead of books, Yahoo! News instead of the New York Times, blogs instead of long-form journalism.
Despite this change, print publications at Oberlin have remained relatively constant. Certainly, some have come and gone since the late 1800s: The Naughty-Two Tooter (1899, 1916-1917, 1927), Gazoo (1980-1986), Below the Belt (circa 1988-1995), and Freak 'Zine (1992) are among those relegated to archives. But the old have been replaced by the new. In the past couple of years alone, magazines devoted to science, environmental studies, and comic strips have emerged, bringing the total number of print publications on campus to 10, with more in the works.
"At this age, we like to express ourselves," says Francis Lawrence '14, a neuroscience major and cofounder and coeditor-in-chief of the Synapse , the new science magazine on campus. "Whether it's proving to our parents that we're smart and mature, or whether it's proving that to the world that we're about to enter, we want people to understand us."
A college student's explosive self-expression is a timeless tradition; what's surprising, though, is the Oberlin student body's active resistance to digitalization of publications. Only one news outlet, Fearless and Loathing , is based purely online, and it has had mixed success.
"I've been very surprised by how slowly online journalism has emerged on this campus," says Jan Cooper, John C. Reid Associate Professor of Rhetoric & Composition and English who has taught in the department for 28 years and is currently in charge of the Practicum in Journalism class. "My students say it's because they really like paper, it feels more permanent—which seems backwards to me, because it's more permanent to have something online."
One reason for print's persistence on campus is the apparent preference for the old-fashioned and antiquated, just as thrift-store flannels prevail over J. Crew sweaters and clunker Schwinns are prized above 24-speed racers. "I think at Oberlin you have such an emphasis on the romantic," says Piper Stull-Lane '13, copy editor of the environmental science magazine Headwaters and coeditor-in-chief of the Grape . "People love the idea of what's rustic and vintage, and print publications are kind of a nostalgic thing."
Caroline Mills '14, editor-in-chief of Headwaters , agrees. "Not that we're so far removed, but I think there is a certain level of nostalgia for print publications," she says. Plus, "There's something really nice about being able to sit down with a piece of printed material and engage, and not be distracted by 10 other things. It's much more satisfying."
Reading articles online can feel like a never-ending process, with dozens — and eventually thousands — of links just a click or two away. "There's a whole sea of knowledge out there on the Internet," says Lawrence. "You can get lost in it. I don't feel the same sense of accomplishment after reading something online as I do when I read through a magazine. I can say, 'I've read this issue of the Synapse ' — but online, there's no ending point."
It can also be much more stimulating to read something in your hands. "It's such a tactile experience, holding a print publication," says Emily Wilson '13, coeditor-in-chief of the Plum Creek Review , Oberlin's longest-standing literary arts magazine (founded in 1964). "It's really sensory. You get to turn the pages, write in the margin, smell the paper....There's value to that."
Rustic, satisfying, tactile—these are all positive things, but not enough to keep an industry alive. Perhaps the biggest distinction between online and print news is the level of detail and overall quality that often goes into print.
"As painstaking and tedious and frustrating as it is when you have 2,000 other things to be doing," says Stull-Lane, "having that print publication to show people—a tangible, real thing—makes you feel really good about the product."
Oberlin's print journalists also worry that online journalism's rush to get the news out the quickest has had a negative impact on the field. "It's exciting to get to invent the new world of journalism," says Douglass Dowty '05, who revamped the Review when it nearly went extinct in the early 2000s and now works at the Post-Standard in Syracuse, New York. "But I'm worried that we will sacrifice quality in the name of efficiency and speed."
Will Rubenstein '13, coeditor-in-chief of the Review, agrees. "Don't get me started about how the quality of journalism has already gone down monumentally," he laments. As for print's future, he's not sure there really is one: "I don't think anyone's kidding themselves that in a couple decades they'll be working for a [print] newspaper."
Rubenstein isn't the only one who has been discouraged. "I got this awesome opportunity in high school to meet [Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist] Thomas Friedman, and I asked him about the future of the journalism industry," recalls Mills. "He told me, 'Don't go into journalism.' A famous, really respected journalist said, 'Don't go into journalism.'
"Everyone [there] was like, 'Did he just say that? What will the world come to?'"
But Mills doesn't buy it.
"I do think there's a future for print media," she says. "I mean, you're not going to get rich in the industry, or have media tycoons that sit in the newsroom and chomp on cigars. But I think people love the form of print media enough to keep making it." That might mean a new approach to publishing, such as nonprofit support. "It's not the product that's messed up — it's the business model."
Print advocates say publications leave a snapshot of the moment they were created and of the people who create them, a snapshot that's harder to discern in the digital realm. With the current crop of new print publications, today's Oberlin students are making their own mark, making — and writing — their own history. •