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Remembering the Days — Crowing for Carolina: The history of The Gamecock newspaper

Remembering the Days - episode 57

When The Gamecock student newspaper began publishing in 1908, there were only 300 students on campus to read it. Since then, the award-winning paper has published myriad stories about campus life and helped launch the careers of innumerable writers and journalists.

TRANSCRIPT

“USC’s enrollment tops 10,000 this fall”

“Co-eds wearing slacks arouse campus storm”

“Housing shortage greets freshmen”

For well over a century, headlines in the The Gamecock student newspaper have trumpeted what’s happening on the University of South Carolina campus.

Sometimes the headlines have veered toward the sensational:

“Panty raids generate feminine participation”

And sometimes they captured seminal moments in the history of the university:

“Arrests, violence plague campus after second building taken over”

I’m Chris Horn, your host for Remembering the Days, and today we’re flipping through the pages of The Gamecock, the student newspaper that began publishing in 1908. We’ll look back on how the newspaper got its start and remember some of the big and not-so-big stories the paper has tackled over more than a century.

Before we do that, though, here’s a quick trivia question. What do you think is the oldest college student newspaper in the country? The Gamecock is pretty old, having started in 1908, but there are plenty that began publishing in the late 1800s. If you’re thinking Ivy League, you’re on the right track because Dartmouth College takes the prize. Their student newspaper, The Dartmouth, got its start in 1799.

The Gamecock got going when a student, Robert Gonzalez, began campaigning for a campus newspaper back when USC had only about 300 students. Gonzalez was the son and nephew of the founders of The State newspaper in South Carolina, so it’s safe to say he had newspapering in his blood.

About half of Carolina’s students back then were members of either the Euphradian Society or the Clariosophic Society — those were popular debating clubs back in the day. Each member was required to chip in a dollar, and that provided the startup funding to crank out the first edition of the newspaper in January 1908.

Only three issues of The Gamecock were produced that first semester — money was an issue. To keep the paper going, The Gamecock staff hosted a dance and began to accept advertising. Fatima Cigarettes was one of their most reliable sponsors, with advertisements featuring preppy-looking college boys trying to get bigger allowances from their fathers by bribing them with Fatima Cigarettes. The irony is that editorial writers for The Gamecock invariably preached the value of working one’s way through college — not wheedling more allowance from dear old Dad.

The newspaper continued to operate under the auspices of the student literary societies until 1964 when the university administration created a board of student publications and placed The Gamecock under the board’s oversight. Apparently, university administrators didn’t like some of the opinions The Gamecock had published, including a rather critical assessment of Norman Smith, the university’s rather unpopular president from 1945 to 1952.

If you visit the online archive of The Gamecock newspaper, you’ll find every edition that was ever published and lots of stories about Gamecock sports, fraternity and sorority happenings, concerts and big dances and opinions about one thing and another. Like most campus newspapers, The Gamecock reads very much like a small town newspaper — a small town whose citizens are all young college students.

It was in those decades before the invention of the internet and social media and cell phones that The Gamecock established itself as one of the most important sources of campus information for students.

In the early ‘60s, a Gamecock reporter traveled to the University of Mississippi when students were rioting there over desegregation. That was a very touchy subject at Carolina back then, and the student reporter was dismissed from the staff. His intrepid reporting efforts were rewarded, however, by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, which gave him a $500 scholarship.

By the fall of 1964, just one year after USC had desegregated, The Gamecock had its first two Black reporters. As the decade progressed, the newspaper published stories about the rapidly growing campus and growing unrest among students. There were a number of stories and editorials in those turbulent years that sometimes landed The Gamecock in hot water with administrators.

Johnny Boggs was editor of The Gamecock in 1984 and covered a gamut of stories, including a breaking news event involving a highly disgruntled faculty member who took his own life in the university’s administration building. The weekly edition of The Gamecock had already gone to press, but Boggs wanted to get the story out however he could. This was before the internet, remember, so he wrote the story quickly and raced across campus to the Coliseum where students in the journalism school were putting the finishing touches on The Carolina Reporter, a senior semester newspaper.

Johnny Boggs: “So I ran all the way, sprinted all the way. I'm not not very fast, but I ran all the way. Got to the newsroom. And I remember the teaching assistant who was running the newsroom, “Oh, What did you do?”

I said, “I ran. I ran all the way …”

“Why did you run?”

“Well, I didn't know what the deadline was or anything. I just ran all the way.”

"Well, as typical 1980s journalists did, you know, he's chain smoking cigarettes and goes, ‘Johnnie, never run unless they're shooting at you.’ Best newspaper advice I ever got.”

Jackie Alexander was the editor of The Gamecock in 2008, the centennial year of the paper and a big year for stories about USC students.

Jackie Alexander: “Blake Mitchell, the quarterback, had gotten arrested in Five Points We also had our student body president was arrested in Five Points that year. The student body president was almost impeached that year. Unfortunately, it was also the year that the Ocean Isle beach fire happened. My staff and I worked on that story. I got a phone call from a North Carolina number and it was a reporter up there and said, ‘Hey, there's been an accident. We think these are your students.’ ”

The Ocean Isle beach house fire claimed the lives of seven students, six of them from USC, and stories in The Gamecock about the tragedy helped keep the student body informed. For Jackie, it was an emotional experience that confirmed her commitment to journalism. After graduation, she was a news reporter for several years and is now a student media adviser at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

Jackie Alexander: “For three out of my four years at Carolina, the Daily Gamecock was my entire life. My friends were there, my work was there. A lot of my, you know, a lot of my belongings were there. We talk about sense of belonging. The Daily Gamecock made Carolina home for me. And it really it did set me up for success moving into my internships.”

The Gamecock became The Daily Gamecock in 2006 when it began publishing five days a week. And from 2009 to 2014, the S.C. Press Association awarded the paper first place in general excellence.

As social and digital media grew increasingly popular, the role of the campus newspaper diminished. By 2018, the newspaper had gone back to printing just once per week. The COVID pandemic shut down publication altogether for a while, and now The Daily Gamecock has adopted a magazine format and is published a few times each academic year.

Despite the changes, the publication continues to provides an outlet for students who sometimes find their career passion there. Here’s Sarah Scarborough, USC’s student media adviser.

Sarah Scarborough: “The great thing about a student newspaper is that you don't have to have any experience. You don't have to have career ambitions. You know, if it's a hobby, this is a place for you to spend your time to make your friends. We get a lot of students who were maybe involved in their high school yearbook and they don't want to be a journalist, but they want to still be involved in that type of work.

"So it's a great mix of students. And over the past, maybe three to five years, we've had several really interesting stories where students came in with a totally different major. Erin Slowey is a recent editor in chief. She was a finance major. She came in as a freshman, worked her way through, ended up as the editor in chief. And by the time she was at that point, she had decided that she wanted to be a journalist. And so it changed her career trajectory.”

I should point out that The Gamecock has been the launch pad for many professional journalists and writers. Three of them, Win McNamee, Michael LaForgia and Josh Dawsey, all have won journalism’s highest honor — the Pulitzer Prize.

Here's hoping that The Gamecock keeps publishing online and in print for many generations to come. That’s all for this episode. On the next Remembering the Days, put on your dancing shoes and brush up on the two-step because we’re going to waltz our way through the history of dance on the university campus. Thanks for listening today. I’m Chris Horn. Forever to thee.

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