We came back to the first newspaper meeting of the 2005 spring semester with a renewed sense of energy. Members of the previous semester's leadership, Edtior-in-Chief Aleysha Asgar and Business Manager Ernie Horn, had both graduated in December, and now Mandy Sole was the Editor-in-Chief. That was all I knew walking into the meeting. I recognized most of the people in the room, but there were a few new staff writers. Mandy introduced the editors, then finally added, “And our News Editor, Chris Slater.” That was a shock to me. I guess she could tell by the look on my face. “Oh yeah, I meant to tell you that earlier.”
the meeting, she was talking to Jesse Call and myself. He and I were
obviously the two best staff writers, and if anybody was going to
take over News Editor after she became Editor-in-Chief, it was going
to be one of us. And it wound up being me. Mandy’s explanation
didn’t sit well with me. It just came off as she was implying that
Jesse was a stronger writer than I was, and she needed him to write
more and me to edit.
Editor came with it more responsibilities. I now had a key to the
office, and was free to be inside the room at any time. Mandy told me
I would be writing less articles, which I wasn’t a fan of. Instead,
I would be designing and laying out the pages on the big Mac computer
in the office. I had done page design work in high school, starting
with some graphic design stuff in ninth grade, advertisements in
tenth grade, then actual page design in eleventh and twelfth. We used
the same system and Mandy had me play around with it, and it all came
flooding back. I was also given the password to the key code system
outside of the Fine Arts Building, so that I could get inside after
the doors were locked. I am 95 percent sure it’s still the password
used today, or I would mention it. Don’t want any creeps getting
inside the building. I last used it in 2015, when I stayed over at a
house down the street from Concord and needed to use the bathroom
that next morning.
had already laid out issue one for that semester, so I was set to
work on issue two the following week. The way the paper worked, with
it being printed Wednesday, was that most of the design work happened
Monday evening and night, then the finishing touches were done
Tuesday morning. The whole newspaper was compressed into a zip file,
then put onto a CD and delivered to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph,
the next city over, where they printed it for us. This was still
fairly archaic, before technology allowed the emailing and/or cloud
sharing of files that large. That was eventually the case a couple
years after I left the staff, but until then it was always just
driving a CD to Bluefield.
Being News Editor
job was to design the news section, which was always the front page
and page two, and occasionally page three. If we had a six-page
edition, then I only had two pages; if we did eight pages, then I had
three. The first issue I designed, the front page, lead article was
about the push for Concord University to get a BB&T ATM machine
in the Student Center, written by Steven Davis. At the time, there
was only one for First Community Bank. Those two banks were both down
the street, but only one ATM was at Concord. And, we did eventually
get that ATM. I had a BB&T account, so I was happy.
first Monday night, the latest season two episode of the hottest show
on television was on, “Nip/Tuck,” the FX plastic surgeon drama.
My roommate Alex and I loved it, and watched every week. This was actually the
week before Mandy had given me the passcode to get into the building
after hours, so I came up with a solution to work and be able to
watch the show. I worked on designing the pages until 9:55, then I
went out a little-used side door and wedged it open with a rock. From
a distance, it looked closed and I knew nobody was going to be
looking. I went and watched the sexploits of Christian and Eric, then
back to the office. I was in there until probably about 2 a.m.
working on those pages. I felt pretty good about what I had done, and
came back Tuesday morning after class to check up on things. We had a
visitor in the office, as Aleysha was in there saying hi. I caught up
with her, and then asked Mandy about my pages. The only issue she had
with anything was that I didn’t continue any of the front page
articles onto page two. “Other than that, you’re doing a good
job, and I was impressed.” Hey, works for me.
thing I noticed after getting my keys and starting to stay in the
office late at night was that I would freak myself out walking back
to the dorm. It’s a very outdoors-y area, with a lot of trees and
forest off in the distance. It’s not uncommon to see deer and
rabbits wandering around campus on a quiet day – and once I saw a
deer walking down the sidewalk on Vermillion Street, right off
campus. Late at night, I would walk the several hundred feet from the
newspaper office to my dorm, and I would hold my keys between my
fingers, which I had read was an effective defense mechanism if
you’re attacked. And, looking back, I realize now that I was
working myself up and panicking during that walk over nothing.
One thing that really sticks
out about those early days is how well run and professional the
newspaper was. Yeah, there were some people who didn’t care much
and didn’t try hard, but for the most part those people were weeded
out and left. There really was a core group of awesome student
journalists on that staff who cared about getting the news out to the
students and faculty.
Apathy and Ignorance
I became News Editor, the first notable event that I was going to
cover was Concord’s annual event honoring Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr. I was 18 years old and thought this was some sort of crazy huge
deal. I’ve later learned that literally every single school does
pretty much the same thing every late January or February for MLK
and/or Black History Month.
was going to be a forum and the guest of honor was this author who
had written a couple books. He had been featured multiple times on
PBS interview shows, and had one time appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s
talk show. I was in awe. There was a huge guy coming to Concord. This
was going to be big.
asked Kelly if she wanted to come with me. She didn’t. My
13-year-old cousin Jackie called me right before I was going to
attend. She always bugged me when we talked on the phone back then. A
lot of the time I ignored her calls; this was before texting was
popular and I probably could have tolerated her texting me. She just
wouldn’t stop going on about nothing in particular. I wanted to get
off the phone and couldn’t find the right opportunity, so I simply
hung up. She called right back a minute later and I didn’t answer.
The voicemail was from my aunt, Jackie’s mother, and she was super
pissed off and yelling at me for some reason. I wondered if that was
going to turn into something, but it was never mentioned again by
went to the Fine Arts Building, where the event was going to be held.
This was going to be a huge, standing room only event in my mind, so
I went in the rear entrance to get backstage. I walked in expecting
hustle and bustle, maybe a frazzled woman walking around with a
clipboard yelling instructions. Instead, I looked there and saw
nothing. Nobody was backstage. Nothing was happening. I went over to
the curtain and peeked out. There was barely anybody sitting in the
auditorium, and I looked over and saw the famous author chilling in
the front row, with a couple Concord administrators sitting there
I went back out and took a seat around the middle edge of the
auditorium, over by myself.
was so confused about what was going on. Why was nobody here? This
was supposed to be a big deal. While the host was introducing the guest
speaker and explaining why all of this was happening, I looked around
and counted roughly 75 people in attendance.
had participated in a MLK scholarship essay contest at the end of the
previous semester. We went into the computer lab and they gave us
like five different scenarios to write about. I received a
participation certificate at the event. I had no idea they were going
to present me – and everybody else – with one. I was one of the
few people who showed up to get theirs. I put my certificate on the
top of my desk in my dorm, which was built into the wall. It wound up
sliding between a crack and being lost forever. So, my 2004 MLK
participation certificate might still be wedged between a desk and
wall in room 216 of Wooddell Hall.
As the fancy author was
speaking to an empty room about what MLK would think about today’s
world had he not been assassinated, I continued to study the room and
wonder why nobody bothered to show up to this free event. The
conclusion I came to became one of the defining catchphrases and buzz
words that I repeated over the years: apathy and ignorance. Students
didn’t know about things or they didn’t care. Over time, I
realized that it was my mission as a student journalist to fix that.
I needed to inform the audience – to fix the ignorance, and then I
also needed to give them a reason to care about things – to rid
them of their apathy.
How it shaped me
enjoyed being the News Editor. I liked the added responsibility.
Mandy needed to go out of town one weekend, and was gone that Friday
and all weekend. I was in charge of the newspaper. In reality, all I
did was handle one “What do I do?” call from Jesse. But, still, I
was happy to do it. The one thing I didn’t like was that I didn’t
get to write regularly. That never wound up being an issue in the
future, but that semester, we had a big enough and talented enough
staff that I was able to concentrate on my editing duties and didn’t
need to write a lot of articles. We had a Japanese kid on the staff.
His English wasn’t the greatest and I worked pretty extensively
with him to improve his articles. A couple times, I basically rewrote
them for him. But, such is the job of an editor sometimes.
was a typical worrier. She and Jesse once had the conversation about
who they wanted to offend least: Jesse chose students; Mandy,
administrators. I looked at them dumbfounded. If the facts are right
and it’s written correctly, it shouldn’t matter who you upset.
semester, we had a scandal come out: one of the professors had lied
about finishing his dissertation. He had acquired tenure and all the
good stuff that comes with it, but he technically wasn’t a doctor.
Mandy wrote the article and felt horrible about it the entire time.
We never addressed it again. That would have been good fodder for a
piece on the opinion section: they’re trying to teach us to be
honest, respectable people, and this professor is lying to everybody
and cheating the system.
the end of the semester, the final paper is a deluxe edition that
features a special “Year In Review” tab. It’s basically just a
collection of articles from the school year. I designed the news
section’s review. I felt the top article was the professor scandal.
I put that at the top of the page. I finished it and Mandy came in
right before deadline. She looked it over. She was shocked. “You
can’t put him in there!” Why not, it was news? “People don’t
want to look back and remember that!” She got on the computer and
took it off. What she should have done is make the whole thing over,
because I had an unofficial ranking system; the bigger stories of the
year were at the top. Instead, she grabbed a random story by Jared
Tice and put it in there. She also forgot to change the byline, so
she got credit for his article.
I was never a fan of doing stuff like that. Why would we hide
something just because it was bad news? I used that as a lesson to
never become that kind of journalist. I wanted to tell the truth and