The Tartan celebrates 100 years of reporting campus news

“Wednesday, October 24, 1906 is a momentous date, one that should be memorized by every freshman and which should be engraved in gold or at least brass in the heart of every Techite.”

So wrote an anonymous Tartan editor in a front-page article on February 12, 1946, using the week after a newspaper-wide redesign to comment on the organization’s first issue.

This week, The Tartan celebrates the 100th anniversary of that inaugural publication.

The Tartan has undergone many changes in the past century. It began as an eight-page weekly promising “to place before the student body not only those events which have happened but newsy items of events to come,” supplemented by occasional essays from faculty members. The paper was originally organized by Frederic E. Foster, who became the first editor-in-chief before graduating from the Carnegie Technical Schools in 1908 with a degree in metallurgical engineering.
The focus of the paper has varied widely, even from its early years.

Foster’s first issue included a recap of two Carnegie Tech football games, an outlook for the rest of the season, and a number of news items about meetings and class elections. News from the Margaret Morrison Carnegie School for Women — including an update on the construction of the school’s new building, now Margaret Morrison Carnegie Hall — appeared on a separate page.

Gossip columns; movie reviews; and city, national, and international news have made appearances at different times in The Tartan depending on the campus environment.

“During the thirties when Tech was a big football school and there was more spirit, campus politics and organization news made the front page fairly regularly.... At that time there was a greater demand for a women’s page, and coverage of city news,” stated an October 30, 1956, article on the occasion of The Tartan’s 50th anniversary. “During the war, however, the paper was necessarily smaller, lacked funds and staff, and was beset with the problem of keeping news light when the word was anxious and saddened.”

The number of staff members has also affected the paper’s size and content. “It was a very small staff,” said Janyce Hedetniemi, The Tartan’s co-editor for the 1960–61 school year. “We were always searching for things to write about.” At the time, Hedetniemi said, the paper carried mostly campus news instead of world news or commentary.

Colt Foutz, a 2000 graduate, started a sports commentary column during his senior year. “I’d been writing e-mails to friends riffing on sports,” he said, and he ended up forwarding some of them to The Tartan’s sports editor.

At times, the newspaper’s content brought it into conflict with the university administration or other parts of the campus community.

Susan Klein, who worked on The Tartan’s entertainment section between 1972 and 1976, remembers controversy over students critically reviewing theatrical productions produced by other students. She also recalled a restaurant review for an eatery called “Farmer Dave’s” that a staff member turned in after deadline. The restaurant was imaginary.

Hedetniemi recalled an anonymous letter to the editor containing unsubstantiated allegations against the Carnegie Tech administration that nearly got her and her co-editor, Bill Pence, expelled from school. The letter was printed in The Tartan by mistake, and University President Jake Warner called her and Pence before him to explain.

Tartan staff members have also seen significant changes in the newspaper’s production process and the way they interact with content.

At one time, finished pages had to be transported to the printer’s office downtown. “We would put the paper together ... and then none of us had cars,” Hedetniemi said. “We were dependent on whoever we could grab.... We were always scrambling at the last minute. You couldn’t get downtown where we were going on the streetcar or bus.”

Before the staff used computers for production, editors manually pasted blocks of copy, photos, and headlines onto layout sheets to be photographed for an offset press. During the mid-1970s, text was printed from a Compugraphic typesetting machine on sheets of paper that had to be hung up to dry before being used, Klein said. Editors then sprayed the pages with a fixative and ran them through a waxing machine before pasting them into a layout.

Foutz said he wrote his columns at home and e-mailed them to his editor. “I had a lot of freedom, and he had a lot of reading,” he said.

Over the century, the Tartan staff has been shifted, as the physical location of The Tartan’s production moved around campus. The first office was in Porter, the only building on campus when The Tartan was founded, before moving to the south mezzanine of the College of Fine Arts building. In the 1950s, the newspaper had space on the top floor of the Union, a converted mansion that stood on the present site of Doherty Apartments. In 1961, the newspaper office moved into the newly opened Skibo student center and remained there until 1994, when student organizations were moved to the Old Student Center, known then as the Navy building. Skibo was demolished to make way for today’s University Center, and The Tartan moved into its current third-floor office in the UC in 1996.

Not only has The Tartan changed in the last century, the entire medium of newspapers has as well. To keep up with the rapid technological advances of the 21st century, The Tartan is fostering relationships with the Carnegie Mellon television station, cmuTV. In doing so, The Tartan staff will broadcast news in the coming months via the airwaves and stream up-to-date video on the paper’s website,

From the pages of The Tartan to the professional world, some newspaper alumni have gone on to careers in journalism and professional writing.

Klein went from writing arts and entertainment pieces for The Tartan to a 10-year career doing freelance music reviews for such publications as Rolling Stone and the San Francisco Chronicle.

“I merely have The Tartan to thank for my career and marriage and first book,” Foutz wrote in an e-mail. Interested in a journalism career after writing for The Tartan, Foutz worked at the daily Sandusky Register in Ohio, where he met his wife, and The Naperville Sun in Illinois before turning to non-fiction writing earlier this year.

“The Tartan experience showed me that I could do it every week,” he said. “I think that senior year experience of writing the sports column showed that my ideas were legitimate.”