• Fear & Loathing in J-School, or how I began as an ink-stained wretch.
• Denied course credit for independent study, I curse the dean
• Decades later, I produce a CNN hagiography of Dr. Thompson
Cigarette holder, sunglasses, weird patterned shirt. It had to be him. Tall, thin, balding, wending his way through the crowded hallway surrounding a convention center in Miami in 1972. Trailed by acolytes, shaggy-haired underground press reporters, political trouble-makers and suspiciously credentialed media types drawn there by the Democratic National Convention. It was Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. My hero.
With me was Mike, another recent Bowling Green grad and aspiring photographer who had driven the two of us down to Florida in his GTO. “Mike! Get a photo of me with him!” Mike and Dr. Thompson obliged.
I can remember where I was when I opened an issue of Rolling Stone and started reading Dr. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” a book first serialized in the magazine. (The self-awarded honorific, meant, if anything, he was a “doctor” of gonzo journalism, as he called it.) His coverage of the 1972 presidential campaign in Rolling Stone was an inspiration to this novice freelancer already captivated by Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Terry Southern and other bright lights of the New Journalism. (I wouldn’t copy gonzo, his drug-and booze-fueled style of reporter-centric journalism, but I was attracted to his no-such-thing-as-objectivity, anything-goes candor.)
How I wound up studying journalism is detailed in the Forward to this exercise in nostalgia. This story is how I put classroom learning to work immediately.
My transition from rah-rah frat boy to anti-war hippie was complete about two thirds of the way through college and I had fallen in with a group of campus activists who adopted the “sex, drugs and rock & roll” politics espoused by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, founders of the Youth International Party (Yippie!).
A friend, Charlie Cohn, and I (known as “Wally” – that’s a story for another time) became known in some quarters as “the Abbie and Jerry of BG.” “Charlie and Wally” were always causing trouble. Other political types on campus did the real work of student activism; speaking for myself, we just had a knack for winding up in the spotlight (again, a story to be told later).
Our band of radicals actually applied for and received the status of a university-approved student group called the Yippies, in order to use the ancient Men’s Gymnasium for rock concerts we promoted.
Finding ourselves with a small amount of revenue from the couple bucks of admission we had charged, we held a meeting to decide what to do with the money. The choices were narrowed down to opening an organic food collective or starting an alternative newspaper. The latter carried the vote and The Crystal City News was born in the basement of one of our hippie pads.
(The name we chose just might have been a drug-fueled or-addled decision in and of itself: somehow, we got the idea that Crystal City had once been the nickname of the town of Bowling Green. Later, it seems, some research showed that wasn’t the case. Google would’ve been handy.)
The paper was an 8-page single-color offset press creation. We laid out the pages by hand, gluing blocks of type-written text, drawings and photographs to create the “paste-up.”
Every two weeks we would take a stack of eight paste-ups to a printing company an hour away in Sandusky, Ohio. There they would be photographed, metal plates made from each page and clamped onto a giant printing press of the sort you see in “stop the presses!”-type movies. It was very cool, I thought, watching the presses start to roll and being handed one of the first copies – hot off the press – by an ink-stained pressman clearly bemused by us long-haired freaks and our radical “underground” newspaper.
We sold the paper around campus for 25 cents.
In May of 1970, after the Kent State shooting, the university’s nervous administrators mollified restless student anti-war activists with liberalized course credit schemes. “Independent Study” flourished; you could literally take a semester off to hitchhike to California, keep a journal, come back and turn it in for a number of credits toward graduation. I went to see the chairman of the journalism school, Joseph Del Porto, and told him quite honestly and excitedly that I was having an optimal learning experience. I was sitting in a class in the morning studying newspaper layout design, returning to our basement newsroom in the afternoon and telling my fellow amateur newshounds, “Hey, here’s a trick I just learned in class today.” I asked the professor, “May I perhaps get some independent study course credit for producing this alternative newspaper?” He said flatly, “No.” I was stunned. Then angry.
I hadn’t figured on two things: 1) DelPorto, as chair of the J-school, was in charge of the official student newspaper – the one we considered too moderate in its editorial views and news judgement and were competing with, and 2) he was not an opponent of the Vietnam war. I learned some years later from one of my journalism professors that I wasn’t the only one who had had a problem with Del Porto. A rebellious faculty with whom he had a fractious relationship eventually forced him out of his position.
In the ‘90s, I did a CNN piece on the 25th anniversary of “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas,” for which I interviewed Hunter Thompson in the NY offices of Rolling Stone. He autographed the photo of us. He might have, but didn’t, write, “You should’ve trashed that dean’s office!”
Watch that whole CNN piece here.