NSU student newspaper marks centennial - KALB-TV News Channel 5 & CBS 2

NSU student newspaper marks centennial

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NATCHITOCHES, La. (KALB News Channel 5) – An independent voice for students whose coverage evolved in tandem with cultural shifts and advances in technology will mark its centennial in 2014. 

Former editors of Northwestern State University's student newspaper, The Current Sauce, will commemorate the anniversary this spring with reflections on how reporting news and producing a student newspaper changed – and remained the same -- through the years and how their work at the Sauce provided a foundation for careers in news and other fields.
 
"Anytime you have good student media you should have diverse and creative students," said Tommy Whitehead, retired professor of journalism and former advisor to both The Current Sauce and the Potpourri.  "This was always the greatest satisfaction of working with publications: the students. Sure they were frustrating, but the energy and productivity were stimulating and made all the commotions and problems recede. The good moments overshadow the headaches and confusion." 
 
"The Current Sauce at 100" celebration will take place at the Natchitoches Events Center on March 8 beginning with a cocktail reception at 6:30 p.m. followed by a banquet at 8 p.m. All former editors and staff are invited. 
 
Several generations of writers, photographers and journalists cut their newsgathering teeth working for The Current Sauce, often their first experience in creating contacts, tracking down leads, reaching sources for quotes and crafting a coherent article.
 
Kaleb Breaux, editor from 2002-03, joined the staff as a freshman sports reporter with no knowledge of how a newspaper worked and no experience reporting.
 
"On one of my first assignments, a sports story about our soccer team, I had written something in there about ‘quarters.' Soccer matches don't have quarters; they have halves. That's how much I knew exactly," Breaux said.  "I stuck with it and adapted. I have taken that idea or quality, the willingness and ability to adapt to any situation, and applied it to life today.  That skill, cultivated in the inner workings of The Current Sauce and the NSU Journalism Department, has made me a better employee, husband and father. I am so thankful for that and the folks there, both students and professors, who were a part of that experience."

Breaux was managing editor under editor Rondray Hill on Sept. 11, 2001, an indelible experience for him and his classmates.  

"I remember, so vividly, getting the call from Rondray to get to the newsroom as quickly as I could," he said.  "We spent hours watching the story unfold.  There was so much false information out there when it first happened.  I guess so many media outlets were trying to be the first to report new news that they forgot about journalistic integrity. We all just sat in the newsroom helpless.  We really didn't know what to do.  One of our reporters, Elona Boggs Weston, finally had enough and got up to go interview students to get their reactions about the day's events."

A year later, Breaux and a group of journalism students visited the site of the World Trade Center.
 
"We stood outside the FOX studios when President Bush made the announcement to go to war in the Middle East," he said. 
 
"My first real exposure to Northwestern came from reading The Current Sauce in the library at Jonesboro-Hodge High School in the mid-70s," said Doug Ireland, editor from 1979-80 and NSU's current Sports Information Director. "I could see a student body that was engaged in campus issues and the topics of the day, and a campus scene that was lively and fun.  Our staff was committed to informing the students about campus issues, news, events and providing a vibrant opinions page. We aggressively covered student government and we folded in coverage of local and state government and politics that related to NSU. We tried to uphold and enrich the tradition of quality student journalism at Northwestern and we did it with a diverse staff."
 
"I worked with some of the most intelligent and creative kids in the five years I advised the paper," said Dr. Steve Horton, dean of the College of Arts, Letters, Graduate Studies and Research.  "Many of those can tout successful careers in journalism and mass communication.  I've maintained several friendships with those students since they graduated."
 
According to a history written by 1984-86 editor John Ramsey, The Current Sauce began as a biweekly tabloid newsletter for the Contemporary Life Club, an academic-social club at Louisiana Normal. The name of the paper may refer to the current news or buzz on campus, referenced in a 1915 gossip column that asked "What's the latest sauce?"  In 1918, The Current Sauce broadened its scope to include the Alumni Association and student body. Coverage became more organized with designated sections for news, sports and entertainment.  

Through the decades, the paper followed prominent social issues beginning with coverage of the burgeoning feminist movement in 1915 to life on the home front during World War II, the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and America's post-9/11 landscape. It became the official journal of the NSC Student Government Association in 1961, a relationship that, as with many news/government organizations, could be strained.  And like other long-running publications, the Current Sauce embraced technological advances in printing, from Linotype in the early 20th century to phototypesetting to digital desktop publishing and an online edition at nsucurrentsauce.com. 
 
"I was here when the first computer came into our lives, the Apple Macintosh," Whitehead said.  "The media had a professional typesetting computer that made lots of noise and slowly cranked out set type but nothing like the speed and ease of operation the Mac brought to Student Publications. Within several years we were all Mac and entered the age of desktop publishing. The technology was driving content and layout like never before."
 
Although the independence of the student editorial staff was a point of pride for the Current Sauce, it was not always without controversy.
 
"There were some incidents where irresponsible decisions on behalf of the students caused me some stressful moments but there were so many more positive moments, many humorous, that made those difficult days insignificant," Horton said.  "I've been called on the carpet by those who were affected by stories reported by my students.  Many did not then and still do not understand the role of a free student press on today's college campuses.  I will admit, though, that college campuses 15 years ago were very different than those today, so many of those controversial stories from years ago aren't given a second thought in today's society."
 
There were low times, too, when the university faced financial uncertainties and interest in student publications waned.  Joe Cunningham Jr., editor from 1981-83, cobbled together a staff that gathered most of its hard news from the university's News Bureau, but did cover sports, SGA and announcements.  There was talk that The Current Sauce might fold, but within two years the paper was running in the black again.
 
"We used big box computers and we cut out our stories with X-acto knives and pasted the paper together at The Natchitoches Times.  We would work until 2 or 3 in the morning," said Cunningham, whose father, Joe Cunningham Sr., worked on the Sauce as a student, and whose son Joseph Cunningham was editor in 2009-2010.
 
Cunningham was pasting an edition together late one night when he learned that Caldwell Hall was burning. He was soon at the scene and, because of the timing, the first to cover the fire.
 
"I was able to get close.  I wrote the story and put out The Sauce the next morning, so students were reading about Caldwell Hall and it was still smoking. That was the coolest thing we did."
 
Almost all students who worked on The Current Sauce reference a strong sense of camaraderie among the staff and the value of the experience, whether they pursued a career in journalism or not. After graduation, Breaux worked in news and public relations but today is an election services specialist in Dallas.  He considered the staff at the Sauce his fraternity.
 
"I sometimes still use the editor-in-chief on my resume," he said.  "It actually helped launch me into my current career. When I interviewed for an election coordinator position with a county in southeast Texas in 2006 the county clerk saw it on my resume and thought that I would do okay with designing election ballots."
 
"The greatest pleasure has been seeing students who worked with us who have gone onto successful carriers, many in media but others in fields where happiness was not being a journalist," Whitehead said.  "The experiences of working with the production of the newspaper and yearbook expanded the classroom contact into a much more satisfying remembrance of the years I spent working there."
 
"We had a supportive university administration and journalism faculty that maintained a dialog with us but never tried to exert undue influence even when we were aggressive covering campus issues or critical of university departments and personnel," Ireland said. "We worked long hours and we laughed all the way through it. We had a blast."
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