Executive Privilege

On April 10, 2004, I walked home to Neville Street with one ear to a cell phone, my old suitemate Bradford on the other end in Boston. Two years beforehand, we had both started shooting photos for The Tartan. After Brad had taken a year off to study in Nepal and Tibet, and after both of us had served stints as the paper’s photo editor, I was filling Brad in on the events that had happened over the last 10 Natrat-filled days — what went wrong, what followed, and what we could do to fix it.

Just as I passed the WQED building and made my way across Fifth Avenue, I remember half-joking: “We’re going to be the ones to turn this newspaper around, aren’t we?”

Okay, it was melodramatic. But come on, I needed to cheer up somehow.

We weren’t far off, though. And with the help of a new cadre of editors — and a few old ones tenacious enough to stick around — we all began the slow process of forcing our train back onto its tracks. It wasn’t easy, either: Wading through the mess, we found a paper that had been financially mismanaged for 10 years. We had a total staff of around 65, while a year and a half later, we’re closer to 200. And we had to fundamentally change the way this paper approached both its work, and its ties to campus.
I’m not going to turn this column into a flagrantly self-congratulatory fluff piece. But I will say, while I can, that my work here has been my defining experience here at CMU — and through it, I can only hope that we’ve given back to a community that’s done so much for us.

Carnegie Mellon has changed a lot since I first drove here my freshman year in a rented van from San Francisco. When my dad was a Ph.D. student here in 1970, Carnegie Mellon was a far cry from the Ivy League competitor that it is today. There’s a lot more academic breadth now, too: my dad studied nuclear engineering, when left-brained majors were the school’s focus. I can’t even touch a calculator without feeling shivers, but broadened design and professional writing departments have given me much better options.

This newspaper has grown up a bit, too. In the ’60s, The Tartan was so ruled by Greek life that front pages announced fraternity elections more often than student body elections. The ’80s were dull for us, with little to offer the campus; and in the ’90s, we were just starting to creep toward a bit of professionalism.

By the spring of ’04, we had fallen backwards, and were teetering on the brink of collapse. This year, we were finalists for a national collegiate newspaper award. More than anything, though, this shift is a direct reflection of the quality of students that we’ve attracted to CMU in recent years — and I can only hope that the trend will continue.

Rebuilding this paper has meant fixing an obvious oversight we rarely ever corrected: pulling from the resources around us. Our business manager Brittany Smith, for example, is a business student. Funny how that works. With her, Brad, and honest-to-God business and advertising staffs on board now, we actually stand to make a profit for the first time in over a decade.

There’s more to our growth than money. When I first started frequenting this office, each section editor laid out his or her own section alone. Chemistry majors, engineering majors, it didn’t matter. And it didn’t make sense, either. With considerable help, last December we created a dedicated layout staff — a good deal of which is made up of design majors. When your design school is one of the top 10 in the country, that makes sense.

We’re still not where we need to be, but we’re steadily getting there. And with the new Pillbox redesign we’re implementing in this issue after two months of work, we’re one step closer.

Thanks, CMU, for helping us move towards what we’ve always wanted to be: a reflection of the school we represent.