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Opinion

Brief history of student papers

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September 29, 2006

Experts tend to generalize the history of communication into these categories: oral, written, print and electronic. Depending on how you look at it, newspapers either started around 59 B.C. with the Roman Acta Diurna, according to the World Association of Newspapers, or with the birth of the printed newspaper 401 years ago.

The oldest newspaper still in circulation is a Swedish paper, Post och Inrikes Tidningar, in print since 1645. In doing a search for college newspapers on the Internet, there were a few that claimed to be “the oldest continuously running weekly college newspaper in the United States.” All started in the 1870s.

Here in 1895, a newspaper called the Normal Badger was started by the Athletic Society to raise funds for their activities. The Normal Badger was published monthly at a cost of 5 cents per copy or 50 cents per year in advance, but according to the book “Centennial History: the University of Wisconsin-River Falls” by James T. King and Walker D. Wyman, got most of its revenue from selling ad space. In 1899 it became the newspaper, doubling as yearbook.

In an 1895 Badger, there was an interesting article, a reprint from the North American Review, titled “Harnessing the Sun.”

“When we sit in front of a coal fire…do we realize that the heat and light of the burning coal are really sunshine that has been stored up…Our system of power production depends upon this presence of energy. But coal is a wasteful source of energy…Can we not find some more economical way of using the sun’s energy?”

Expand coal to include all fossil fuels, and it sounds familiar.

According to King and Wyman, the Badger’s financial situation was a bit tenuous. Then, in 1899 an article was printed that the town found insulting because it referred to their places of business as “loafing places”. In response, “several long-running advertisements were missing from the next issue of the paper,” wrote King and Wyman. Publication of the Badger lapsed from spring 1900 to fall 1906, and King and Wyman say that the reasons aren’t clear. In 1912, the Badger became the Meletean, based on the Latin word for badger, an annual that was in existence until 1969.

The Student Voice was started in 1916. King and Wyman say that there is disagreement as to how it came about.

In 1959, Dr. Wayne Wolfe, the Meletean’s advisor, came up with the idea of adding sound to the annual by attaching a 33-1/3 record to it — an early example of multimedia.

It was common during most of the 20th century for different college groups to start their own newspapers. Now, with the electronic forums for communicating, students don’t seem to feel the need to print alternative newspapers.

This makes me wonder how historians and curious people like myself are going to be able to go back and read primary source material in the future.

Being technologically-challenged, I’m not adapting to the electronic world quickly. I think it might have been easier for me to adjust from the horse-and-buggy era to automobiles, especially because I’m allergic to horses.

Julia Martin is a student at UW-River Falls.