By Marty Dobrow
In the so-called real world, there are a vast number of writers who are better than I am. But over the years, I have been fortunate to wedge my byline onto the actual or virtual pages of some well-regarded newspapers and magazines.
The publication I am most proud to be associated with, however, is The Springfield Student. For just shy of 20 years, I have been connected to this publication as, depending upon your point of view, “advisor,” “adviser,” or “albatross.”
I am not retiring from Springfield College, but I am passing the precious baton to an incoming faculty member, Aimee Crawford, who I know will be terrific. She has skills that I lack, an amazing background in journalism, and a perspective that is both fresh and student-centered, so I am confident that she will help move the paper forward and leave it better than she found it.
In that regard, frankly, I was incredibly lucky. No shred of disrespect intended for those who played this role before me (one of whom, the unforgettable Dennis Gildea, taught me a lot), but I was the beneficiary of taking the baton just as the school’s Communications/Sports Journalism major was gaining traction. I had a growing and improving “labor force,” so raising the bar was not exactly like outlifting John Cena in the gym.
The students who have come through the Springfield Student in the last generation have been an inspiration. They have bought in to the mission of journalism. They have bought in to the commitment that excellence requires. As I have inexorably aged, hitting 60 this year (just a number, sure, but pretty daunting as numbers go), they have done the impossible: they have kept me young—at least in the most important sense.
What I mean by that is they have given me hope.
And they have done so at a time when the world needs them. It has been a time when journalism has been under siege, facing financial pressures and getting demonized by people in power who have derided journalists as “enemies of the people” and purveyors of “fake news.”
That has not been the case at Springfield College where journalism remains a thriving pastime. The biggest reasons for the success of The Springfield Student are, quite clearly, the Springfield students.
They have taught me a ton about modern journalism, ushering me out of the old school into the digital age. Occasionally, they humor me by parroting back “Marty mantras” like “work from abundance” and “start from the heart.” But any educator worth the paycheck knows that learning is not a pouring in, but a drawing out. Their success has flowed from what they have summoned.
Year after year, they have been willing to commit: to seeking the truth and reporting it, to minimizing harm, to plugging into the hard work of story.
Springfield College is just a speck of the planet, but it’s an important speck. It is very much the real world. These students have had to tell hard stories over the years. Stories about death and suicide, about scandal, about sexual assault. They have had to write stories that some people on campus would have greatly preferred them not to write.
Hard stuff happens here, because life—all lives—are hard. As the poet Rainer Maria Rilke said, we must “cling to the difficult.”
I love the way the student newspaper opens up conversations about ethics and empathy in real—not abstract—ways.
Mostly what I have loved has been the Wednesday nights in the outcast office of the Springfield Student, the production evening still known in a digital era as “paste-up.” I remember late Wednesdays in the old BC with the leaky roof, climbing breathlessly to the top floor of Judd, and for the last many years descending the lucky 13 steps into the basement of Abbey. It’s often way too hot there, or way too cold. At times, the place has been a mess: strewn with old pizza boxes from Red Rose or Frankie and Johnnie’s, piled with yellowing copies of long-ago newspapers. Once, when he was a puppy, dear William peed on the floor.
But the office has also been an absolute sanctuary. It has been the grand stage for rollicking laughter, many late nights, some great journalism, and a million memories.
Etched onto the drafting table from the old actual paste-up days (conjure the still-vivid smell of rubber cement, and the yawning drive with a couple of editors to deliver the pages to Turley Publications) are dozens of on-the-way-out-the-door farewells Sharpeed into posterity. Some use language not suitable for the print edition. Many speak to the heart of the enterprise. As just one example:
To making each paper better than the last and finishing the next one a little faster. You guys are the best. Keep working hard & loving it. Julian McKinley.
Many Student alums have gone on to big things in journalism: bylines in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Atlantic; recognition in “The Best American Sports Writing”; winners of regional and national journalism contests. Every bit as great in my book are those who have toiled under the radar at community journalism, connecting people to themselves, to each other, to their hometowns.
It has been an amazing ride, and I’m so grateful for it. My wife, Missy-Marie Montgomery, is an extraordinary professor of English who pours her heart into her students in ways that are invisible to most but inspiring to me. She sometimes laments that she typically sees students for just one year. But while she’s all John Calipari “one and done,” I get the full four like Naomi Graves or Charlie Brock. Often the full four leads to many more. I am proud to be friends with some Student editors who have recently turned, or who are about to turn, 40. It’s just a number, folks.
The students at The Student do not get paid. Most of them never get a single academic credit for their work. They put in the long hours because they believe in what they are doing. And for good reason, they like each other. Maybe I’m biased, but they tend to be pretty amazing people.
To all the alums who have come through the Springfield Student, I salute you on running your leg of the relay race so well. It has been a great honor to work with you.
And to this year’s crew, please take a bow and enjoy all that you have just accomplished. Under the most challenging of circumstances, you delivered excellence time after time. Even when some of you were leveled by Covid, deprived of a sense of smell and taste, you delivered without complaint. Many of you came here primarily to cover sports, and with no sports to cover, you leaned in, rather than out. You provided phenomenal coverage of an unprecedented year of social justice activities on campus. You rose to the occasion of covering a fraught and difficult election. Most of all, you did what great newspapers do: you became the connective tissue of the entire community. And you did so when we needed it most, when everyone was facing so much isolation.
For the first time, you sent in entries to the Society of Professional Journalists competition, and you cleaned up.
It hurt my heart that I couldn’t join you on those Wednesday nights, confining most of our conversations to Zoom. But as I have often said, the paper is best when you need me least. You proved that so beautifully this year.
As you can see from this photo, I did take a solo trip down memory lane this week. I love what you’ve done with the place.
Thank you, Danny and Jack, Irene and Joe. It was one heavy lift, but somehow you raised the bar.
I just know you could outlift John Cena.