Executive Privilege

In 1906, thousands of workers were moving earth to create the Panama Canal, the world’s first feature-length film was released, and the founding members of the nation’s first African-American fraternity were preparing to officially found Alpha Phi Alpha. Here in Pittsburgh, in October of that year, The Tartan published its first issue.

Next week, The Tartan will officially turn 100 years old. In the last century, hundreds of students have dedicated hundreds of thousands of hours to publishing this newspaper for the students of Carnegie Mellon University. That’s never meant more to me than it does now after this past Homecoming.
To mark our centennial, current and former members of The Tartan gathered this past weekend to celebrate and reflect. The occasion was not only an opportunity to proudly look back, but also a chance to find our place in the lineage of Tartan editors. Tartan alumni from as long ago as 1941 joined us Saturday, and even more sent letters documenting their memories.

To meet the people who performed our jobs before we were born puts our work in perspective. It’s hard to believe that a hundred or more people held our roles before us.

In meeting the many Tartan alumni who returned, I expected to learn about eras in our publication’s history that would seem totally foreign to me. In the days before our gathering, I wondered about how different it would have been to work at this newspaper 20, 35, or 40 years ago.

In fact, even graduates from as recently as 10 years ago gape at the sight of our current office, which is laden with pixels instead of paper.

After hearing stories of former staff members, Marshall Roy, our Forum editor, noted that in our current process, no part of the newspaper is actually on paper until it is in the final stages of copy editing. The work done in our computerized office presents a great contrast to the labors of our predecessors.

The Tartan has been created by means of linotype machines creating molds from molten lead, by pasting columns of text (reprinted and re-pasted with each correction) and photographs onto pasteboards to be photographed and chemically etched onto metal plates used to transfer ink to paper, and now by modern desktop publishing.

While we all marveled at the technological differences, I was surprised — though, in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been — to find that technology is where the major distinctions ended.

We’d all faced the same challenges and triumphs: chasing down the big stories, butting heads with “the administration,” finding and keeping a dedicated staff of workers, goofing up and pulling issues off the stands. We found great kinship in our experiences.

While I’ve known that The Tartan would affect the course of my life, I was impressed by the extent to which that’s true for many other members of The Tartan’s staff. In one e-mail, a former Tartan columnist wrote, “I merely have The Tartan to thank for my career and marriage and first book.”

Meeting so many wonderful and impressive alumni of The Tartan makes me prouder than I’ve ever been to be a part of this organization. Not only do I feel that we are living up to a great tradition, but I see that we’re contributing to one that will change the lives of many Tartan staff members yet to come.

As I listened to the stories of our guests, I felt that I was listening to different translations of a single story. It is clear to me now that today’s Tartan stands on the shoulders of its history.

To every member of The Tartan’s staff, past and present, thank you.