NU News: An Experience that Nourished a Lifetime and a Career

I received my acceptance letter from Northeastern University in October 1968. I was congratulated on being accepted to its five-year nursing program starting in September 1969. 

However, I never intended to be a nurse. My parents, who grew up during the Depression, firmly believed there were two professions for women: teaching or nursing. If I wanted to go to college, especially away from our small town in New Jersey, these were the majors they would support.

After arriving on campus, I knew I wanted to become a journalist. During orientation week, I attended the campus organization fair. In high school, I had loved the newspaper and student council. I spoke to several members of the Northeastern News that day, and they quickly talked me out of majoring in journalism. They told me that the department was weak and that I would learn more by joining the News staff and taking classes in the areas I wanted to report on, such as politics and government.   

I followed their advice. After taking Intro to Political Science, American Constitutional Law and American Civil Liberties with professor Robert Cord, I was hooked on a political science major.

But the real and practical learning came from the time I spent in the office of the Northeastern News. As a freshman, I was thoroughly intimidated by the editorial staff. I had written a monthly column for my high school paper naming the Student of the Month. I had never interviewed anyone, covered a story as it happened, or been involved in the layout and design of a paper.  

When I started in the fall of 1969, the News staff was incredibly busy covering the Vietnam War, the Black Power movement and campus unrest, as well as regular campus news about courses and majors, administrative changes and general happenings in the Boston area.  

Despite all that, the staff was very, very patient and professional, imparting lessons and ideas about writing and newspapers that I continue to remember and use 50 years later, even though I never became a journalist.

Just before entering college in 1969, the United States saw the first moon landing, the gathering of thousands of music fans at Woodstock and a growing anger over the country’s role in  Vietnam. It has been called one of the most turbulent times in our history, and it sure seemed so to me as an 18-year-old freshman.

Looking back now, having recently turned 70, many of my memories of that time come in distinct fragments. Such as the October 1969 Boston Common demonstration against the war. I had promised my dad in September when he dropped me off at my dorm that I would not join an anti-war protest. He was in the Army Reserve and a federal government worker, and the last thing he needed was for me to be arrested. I broke that promise several weeks later, marching down Commonwealth Avenue with 100,000 other protesters as a skywriter made a huge puffy peace symbol against the clear, blue sky.

Sometime later, I found myself standing with several professors and Student Council members (I had been elected a freshman rep), circling the campus ROTC building to protect it as an angry mob gathered to throw stones they had brought with them in large Lord & Taylor shopping bags. I interviewed many protestors about their commitment to the antiwar movement and Black power, but they begged me not to use their names in articles for fear the university would revoke their scholarships.

On May 4, 1970, four unarmed students were killed and nine injured by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University. The shooting took place during a campus peace rally opposing the expansion of the Vietnam War by the United States military as well as the National Guard presence on campus. The incident marked the first time that a student had been killed in an antiwar gathering in United States history. 

Protests quickly erupted on college campuses throughout the country. A News editor assigned me to cover an antiwar rally and block party on Hemenway Street that, according to later reports, turned unto a police riot.  

I stood in the middle of the street with my camera. At one end was a rowdy group of protesters chanting antiwar slogans and at the other was a line of Boston officers in riot gear, batons and shields ready. As police moved down the street, clubbing protesters and bystanders alike, even pursuing people into apartment buildings, I snapped a few photos and, frightened, ran into a nearby dorm.

By the end of my freshman year, the News was coming out daily to cover protests, and many students across country were calling for colleges and universities to close after Kent State. The Student Council met in the auditorium to vote on shutting down Northeastern. I sat with the council at a long table in front of the room surrounded by hundreds of students as the vote was taken.  We voted to close the university.

The News staff was in high gear and ran the paper as a professional operation, covering our students and the protest movement across the city. I needed to learn, and learn quickly. I learned to prepare questions ahead of interviews, write a lead paragraph that would get the reader interested enough to read the whole article and to add descriptions that created the atmosphere and feeling of the times.  

I learned to use a real camera (instead of my Polaroid!), including film development and printing in the News darkroom.  I learned about placing articles and layout and design of a newspaper. On Thursday night, I joined the group at the printer,  even learning how to proofread type backwards.

It wasn’t all work. There were dinners at the Windsor Pub, weekend parties at a friend’s apartment, and even studying. It was getting to know my roommate, a Black woman from a Georgia peanut farm. I became friendly with a fellow News editor, and we married the week after I graduated (divorced about 10 years later, but still keep in touch through our son).

Over the next four years, I worked my way up in the Northeastern News: feature editor, news editor, managing editor and editor-in-chief my senior year. 

Memorable things kept happening at the News.  The administration did not like our running abortion ads (the procedure was not legal in those days, and the university administration threatened to remove distributed newspapers one Friday morning); the conservative Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader called our editorial board “brownshirts” because we opposed Attorney General John Mitchell’s arrival on campus; and I was personally called anti-Semitic by the campus Hillel for writing an editorial against the U.S. selling planes and war materials to Israel (I was raised in a Jewish household).

With each passing year, I became better at writing, interviewing and other newspaper skills, but also at managing staff, meeting deadlines, etc. Many of those I worked with on the paper had co-op assignments involving newspapers and writing. Because I was a political science major, I was offered a government job with the Social Security Administration. SSA began paying my tuition and books in my middle year, and I agreed to work for them for two years after graduation. 

I retired from the agency 36 years later.

Throughout the years, I used the skills I learned at the Northeastern News. I wrote and designed agency newsletters, wrote the national training on computer software as SSA introduced desktop computing in all its field offices, and later I became the webmaster for the Boston Region, using layout and design ideas from the News.

The Northeastern News provided me with valuable writing, photography and design skills, as well as providing a creative outlet during my college years. 

However, the best thing was the group of friends and co-workers that became family while I was a student, and for years later.