Life Follows Love and the NU News

(Margie’s writing is in Roman type; Gil’s is in italic )

     (MVP) So … (all good non-news stories start with “so,” don’t they?)  … so, there was my boyfriend (now husband of 53 years) who was a freshman at Northeastern University’s Burlington campus when, in the early spring of 1965, I received an acceptance letter from Northeastern. That was such a relief to me, because I did not want to go to my folks’ first choice for me, Wheaton College out in the boonies, and meet rich and smart boys from Brown. 

     I was happy with my boyfriend Gil, and with romantic visions of us holding hands while sitting together in a college American Lit class. I didn’t care much which college that was, just that he was there.  

     Whether this pre-feminist “wither thou goest, I will go” attitude was co-dependent or just smart planning on my part, the good news was that in addition to early acceptance to Northeastern, I was awarded a hefty scholarship and work-study package that made the then less-prestigious campus on Huntington Avenue very acceptable to my parents.

     In the fall of 1965, Gil, who was now a sophomore and in Division B, was working at his first co-op assignment. He said, being a newly minted journalism major, that when he returned for the winter semester, he was going to join the Northeastern News per the advice of his favorite teacher at Burlington, Professor Harvey Vetstein. If we wanted to spend more time together, Gil suggested, I, in my first term as a freshman, should get involved with the News before he returned to school. So, I followed his suggestion and went up to the office on the fourth floor of the spanking new Ell Center.

     There I met another female news reporter, Nina Hantzis, who took me under her wing and taught me how to write a news story — the five W’s and one H: who, what, where, when, why and how. By the time Division A went off to work and Division B came back to campus, I had had a couple of bylines on small stories.

     (GP) When I first set foot on the main campus in December 1965, Margie already was ensconced in the News office. After spending my first year at the then-new Burlington campus and the initial three months of my sophomore year as a co-op in The Boston Globe merchandising department (because I had told my co-op adviser I wanted to write jingles on Madison Avenue), I was ready to be A JOURNALIST.

     Problem was, I had little idea what a journalist was and no concept whatever about how to write a news story. Introducing myself to the editors as “Mr. Sports,” I was given my first assignment: an interview with the new director of intramurals, Jay Gillespie. I took copious notes during my talk with the affable young man, then ignored them all as I “authored” an opinion-laden, fairly nonsensical piece that didn’t contain a single quote. The only thing I recall vividly was my lead sentence:

“Northeastern, meet new Intramurals Director, Jay Gillespie, no relation to horn-tootin Dizzy, bearer of the same surname.”

     I also remember that the two assistant sports editors, Wayne Prophet and Dave Portney, spent hours rewriting that piece top to bottom. My contribution was to provide them some quotes from my interview, then to get the hell out of their way. I didn’t get a tongue-lashing from them, but I was schooled sternly on the basics of newspaper writing. I must admit I felt ashamed that my first byline ever appeared on top of a story I didn’t write.

     On the other hand, I still was arrogant. I mean, I believed these two rewrite guys had no sense of humor and didn’t know good writing when they read it. But I was willing to learn this new, strange style in order to fit in somewhere at this huge school.

     My next story was what I today would term as “less worse,” and each subsequent one moved me closer to a workable journalistic style.

     (MVP) By the time Gil arrived in the News office, Betty Roman and Steve Wallace, two other Division B staffers, were helping me, and I became a regular News reporter with weekly assignments and bylines.

     Over time, I became assistant news editor and then, near the end of my sophomore year, accepted the appointment to news editor for my middler year. I really did not want the responsibility of being an editor — if the administration wasn’t angry at us for what we wrote, then some student organization was — but I loved the perks of the position: namely, a half-term scholarship for my commitment and efforts.

     Those days as news editor turned out to be great fun and a lot of work, but they made me feel at home at Northeastern and gave me a school family. We had some wonderful adventures together, working to all hours putting the paper to bed or playing softball in the spring and summer (I was a pitcher), and wondering which administrator we’d aggravate with this week’s issue.

     Wednesday night was layout night, and I learned all about type sizes and headline writing and how to lay out a page so the headlines did not bump. I enjoyed many a raucous beer-and-fries-fueled dinner break at the old Windsor Tap Room with the rest of the editors, all paid for by the News budget. Thursday was press day, and we schlepped to East Boston to the Tarbi Brothers Press while they set our stories in hot type, and we proofed them by reading upside down and backward as the metal slugs were spit out of the linotype machines and laid into the page beds. (This ability to read upside down and backwards proved to be an excellent talent as I conducted interviews and met with executives over the years.)

     (GP) Margie’s rise through the news desk ranks was paralleled by my climb to assistant sports editor and then sports editor. My memory is that I was the only one in the class of ’69, Division B, on the sports desk, so my ascension was unimpeded by competition. Certainly, classroom studies were not getting in my way.

     (MVP) Lots of political and social action issues swirled around us in that period, 1966-’69: the Vietnam War, the unimpressive major-party presidential candidates in ’68, the expansion or encroachment of the university into the surrounding neighborhood, women wearing pants to school instead of skirts or dresses. I actually was hauled into President Asa Knowles’ office for wearing pants on a frigid winter day and was roundly scolded.

     Our marriage and our promotion to Editor in Chief (Gil) and Managing Editor (me) made The Boston Globe, as Bud Collins wrote an op-ed commentary declaring, “NU News Goes Family Style.” But that puff piece wasn’t our biggest coup. With the soul-sucking election of Richard M. Nixon (we had come out “reluctantly for Humphrey” a few weeks earlier), the entire News staff chose to express our deep mourning for America by draping every page of that week’s edition in a 3-point black box with an editorial explanation on Page 3.

     Our adviser, Professor Vetstein, whom we were calling Harvey by then, passed along the university’s “extreme displeasure” with our editorial statement while, as always, supporting us and the freedom of the press.

      (GP) (In a recent phone conversation with him, Harvey told us that his job was to endure Knowles’ four-letter-laced rants about the paper’s coverage every week, then calmly report back the president’s level of “displeasure” with us.)

     Knowles’ pique peaked at “extreme displeasure” several times, particularly over the way we supported the brief rise and fall of the unsanctioned alternative tabloid The Thorn, whose mission was to be a thorn in the side of the university’s administration. But we were wusses in comparison to our Division A counterpart, helmed fearlessly by Peter Accardi. It’s fair to say Knowles openly despised (journalese for HATED) that editorial board’s paper for its bold stance against the war and virtually every other conservative political issue. Somehow, our mildly liberal Division B crew survived our two terms in office.

     (MVP) Once the next regime assumed management of the paper in the spring of 1969, Gil took over the All Hail weekly column, while I stepped back from the News and concentrated on student teaching and my work-study job.

     (GP) I thank my lucky stars and the convoluted co-op system that my time as All Hail writer lasted only one term. I was no match for Division A’s brilliant and hilarious All Hail columnist, Kristen Kingsbury. 

     In fact, the best line in my tenure with the humor column was in a headline I didn’t even write. That came from then-Managing Editor and later Editor-in-Chief Joel Pliner, who had been the sports editor after me. In a rant I wrote bitching about our quarterly tuition being jacked up to $750 from $700 (wouldn’t we all kill for that amount today?), Joel fashioned the following head:

                     Up my tuition?

                        Up yours!

     In closing, I want to say that our years on the News staff provided Margie and me with an excellent foundation for our budding careers. We were honored to serve the paper all those years ago and are thrilled silly to reminisce about our time on the paper more than a half-century later.

     (MVP, GP) As a result of being asked to contribute to this reunion edition, we wound up making contact with a number of our former colleagues on the News, as well as with retired Dean, now-Dr. Harvey Vetstein. In fact, Harvey subsequently drove across the state of Florida to visit with us. While he was here, we showed him this article, which marked the first time in our long history together that he ever read (and edited) something we wrote prior to publication. It’s one of the main reasons we always have loved him!