Reflecting on 40 years

It’s been a privilege to be the faculty advisor for Spectrum for the past 15 years. As often happens on a career path, my journey to this role began with a few steps and fortunate turns.

Connecting to Sacred Heart University began with six colleagues in a writers’ group who came together once a month. Each of us was working on our own news articles and books. We met to read our writing to one another, provide constructive criticism, share updates, and, of course, chat. One of the writers was Dr. Debbie Danowski, a professor at Sacred Heart, who was writing a book. I told Debbie that I was interested in teaching as well as continuing to write, and I asked her to let me know if she heard of anything.

She did. My next step was to meet with Dr. Jim Castonguay in one of the small offices in Melady Hall – was it even called Melady then? – the home of the media studies department. You could almost capture the history of Spectrum, indeed the whole university, by tracing the story of how the facilities on campus have changed during the past 40 years. Anyhow, Jim quickly ran through how to access “myshu” on the home page, what to put into a syllabus, and when to start teaching a 101 course.

On my first day of class, I got lost in the maze of corridors on the second floor of the HC wing and couldn’t find my room. When I finally did, the first person I saw was a student standing outside the door who said to me, “The course is full and I really need to take it. How can I get in?” I had no idea.

Things looked up from there and during the next few semesters I taught a number of 101 classes, along with the history of journalism and of broadcasting, and special topics like media and humor. Then a new opportunity came along. The instructor of the two news writing classes moved on to a full-time position at another university. Both of her courses and the Spectrum advising role opened up. For me, it was about being at the right place at the right time.

The experience of working with Spectrum over these many years has been deeply rewarding. Spectrum got bigger – more color, more editorial board roles, more web presence. And it also got smaller, going from 16 pages in the early 2000s to 12 pages to eight pages now. The pressures of publishing during the pandemic contributed to that decision. Many things can change over time with a weekly newspaper.

But some key things stay the same. Spectrum has never veered from being fully managed by students. As the advisor, I don’t pick the topics and I don’t see the final articles before they are published. There is, however, a strong feedback loop that entails a lot of discussion and planning between the editors and me.

There’s also the quirky relationship between Spectrum, an organization under CCO, and the news writing classes under the School of Communications. Staff writers in the classes write for Spectrum as they are learning the ropes. But they are on two separate tracks while working on an assignment – one for collaborating with student editors for publication, and another with me for class instruction and credit. It takes a little time to understand the process, but in the end it’s excellent training for professions where you are often accountable to more than one line of authority.

No retrospective is complete without mentioning the exceptional effort of the students who have been part of Spectrum for the past 40 years. I can verify 15 of those years firsthand. It continues to amaze me how much energy and heart students put into identifying topics, working one-on-one with writers, distinguishing between what is good journalism and what is not, and just getting the paper out on the racks and on the web unfailingly each week of publication. What’s more, while the paper is in production, you can often hear laughter and chatter from the office. Working on Spectrum is hard work, but it’s also a shared social and team-building experience. 

It’s not just the writing and reporting that matters. Spectrum requires photography, public relations, distribution, a website, advertising sales, financial management. And those areas aren’t even taught in the class. Students bring their own skills sets to make Spectrum run like the well-oiled machine it needs to be.

Much recognition belongs as well to the whole Sacred Heart community, especially to those who, from among the faculty, staff, administration, and student body, get a question posed to them from a reporter, perhaps one who is working on an article for the first time: “Are you willing to be interviewed?” So many have answered “yes.” And those voices are what enables Spectrum to be unique.

When it comes to ending an article, I always instruct my students that there are only two ways to do it: with facts or with quotes. I tried to find a fitting journalism quote online. But they were all too cynical or long-winded. So I’ll end with a couple of facts:

Time frame: 40 years and counting. Next issue: Nov. 1.

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Faculty Advisor

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