One of the first extra-curricular activities I signed up for in the fall of 1979 was to write for the “Features” section of The Cowl. It was a great way to meet new people and be informed about all the activities and events taking place on campus. From art shows to drama productions to the annual sing-a-long with Jim Plunkett, covering the stories, interviewing fellow students and faculty, and taking pen to paper created vibrant memories of my four years at Providence College. I became the Features editor in the spring of my sophomore year. I learned to work with a team to brainstorm story ideas, and then delegate assignments and copy edit. I had the privilege of making friends with so many smart and dedicated fellow Friars, including a great mentor Marybeth Holland ’82, who took over as editor for the 1981-1982 season, Timmy Farrell, our business manager ’83, Kevin Burke ’83, our dedicated sports writer and editor, Jim Spellisey ’83, the Ad Man who helped us remain financially stable, and of course our infamous cartoonist Patrick Harrington ’85, who created a controversial weekly cartoon called “The Friar Zone.” There was also Vera Chwostyk ’84 who was an amazing layout dynamo, photographer, and writer who ultimately became my successor as Editor-in-Chief. There were oh-so-many others who were dedicated volunteers capturing memories of that special time in our lives. We spent every Sunday from about 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. pulling all the stories together on typewriters and word processors, manually configuring layouts, and making sure we had space for all the advertisements. It was old school, low-tech, and good old-fashioned fun.
I’ll never forget the crystal blue day in the spring of 1982. I spent my second semester of junior year abroad. The ice was starting to melt in the Alps outside my window and the promise of warmth was in the air when I received a knock on the door of my room at Le Hotel Terminu, in Fribourg, Switzerland. A telegram had arrived from Fr. John McMahon, O.P., assistant vice president of student services and director of Slavin Center. It stated that the administration of Providence College was pleased to appoint me as the Editor-in-Chief of Providence College’s newspaper, The Cowl. I felt a sense of both pride and anticipation because I knew that my senior year would be rewarding, challenging, and engaging, and I was truly honored to serve the PC community.
Leading the charge of memorializing the key highlights of the academic calendar year for all Friars was an important responsibility and one I did not take lightly. The Cowl was a storied newspaper publication that captured the pulse of the ’80s generation, our top athletes and academics, and the unique environment that Providence College offered. There were serious topics like the Tylenol scare, the invasion of Lebanon by Israeli forces, and the double digit unemployment that was disconcerting to job-searching seniors. Then there was the lighter side with our “Inquiring Photographer” question of the week, horoscopes, recipes and pictures that “say it all,” and of course the campus craze over the last M*A*S*H* episode. Preparations for those M*A*S*H* parties rivaled the most memorable of Super Bowls. Being Editor of The Cowl in 1982-1983 required an ability to balance and report on topics that college students considered both newsworthy and entertaining. The Office of Off-Campus Housing was created during my tenure at PC and was emerging as an important entity to bridge the tension gap between off-campus students and local neighbors. Fr. Thomas R. Peterson, O.P., was the true managerial and spiritual leader of the campus and was a very visible president, interacting with students on a daily basis. Our job was to cover the local PC stories and focus on campus challenges and culture, making sure we kept in touch with the world outside our PC enclave. It also involved interacting with other college newspaper editors to understand best practices and trends on other college campuses.
I was fortunate enough to attend a symposium of college newspaper editors held over a winter weekend at Colby College. It was hosted by Martin Nolan, journalist, editor, and Pulitzer prize winner most renowned for his work with the Boston Globe. There were other guest speakers and journalists in attendance as well as dozens of fellow college newspaper editors from across New England. I remember leaving that symposium feeling an even greater sense of responsibility to get it right and to be honest and forthright with everything that we published. Looking back, it would have been nice to have the wisdom, restraint, and maturity that I have gained over the years to make those issues a little more poignant and a little less frivolous. However, then they would not be genuine because they would not reveal who we were at the time and the stage of the journey we were on. Whether or not the Ratskellar would allow students under 21 in the doors with a wristband was an important issue at the time. The Reggae Band playing at the Last Resort was big news.
The skills learned at The Cowl were not only writing, editing, and layout, but also business management, financial oversight, and people dynamics. They were lifelong skills. Ultimately an editor needs to lead and guide, be careful not to bruise creative egos, make challenging decisions about priorities for the production of the weekly paper, and meet the budgeting requirements. It was fun, demanding, and highly rewarding and could never have been accomplished without the great team of writers, editors, photographers, cartoonists, and support staff. Thanks for the great memories I have in The Cowl office figuring out how to make a story fit in the space allotted, how to meet the budget and still print the pictures we wanted to tell the story, and how to prioritize all the facets of production to deliver a product that, back in the early ’80s, students would read and comment on regularly. Ahh, to be back there on a Sunday night with that crew…those were the days.