Upstream: What a half-century of student media means

Published by Robin Bailey on

 The current Newspaper "The Mainstream" is folded into a hat rests on top of the archive book. The page is opened to the "Splinters" , an old title of the newspaper
From “Splinters” in 1968 to “The Mainstream” in the modern day, student media has kept afloat through the hard work and dedication of its student staff. Photo illustration by Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

Editor’s Note: Our print editor, who copiously studied 57 years of UCC student media for this article, shares important lessons he learned from reviewing UCC’s student newspaper history in this second part of our four-part anniversary series. See the first part here.

I’ve spent days poring over our student media’s archives. And for what?

Well, for a lot — unsurprising to anyone who knows even a mote of this school’s 60 years of history, speckled with drama, intrigue and genuine tragedy. But to what end? What do these 57 years of student newspapers make of “The Mainstream”?

If you’ll forgive my sentimentality, we’ve been through so much. Keeping on keeping on for half a century wasn’t easy for student media, but somehow, throughout those years, “The Mainstream” has just kept swimming.

For instance, in 2015, when campus alert systems failed, “The Mainstream” staff were first to break the news of gun violence happening on campus through posts on our Facebook page, “sending out active shooter alerts” within minutes of the incident, according to senior reporter Vaughn Kness in a printed retrospective on our coverage just one month later: “Writing About Trauma is its Own Trauma.”

The college’s public relations team was on lockdown just one door down in the very building where the violence occurred, and UCC’s website shut down from the increased traffic, so “The Mainstream” “turned into an important outlet for public information,” with staff all at once trying to “reach friends… on campus, answer a barrage of phone calls and texts and posts, listen to police scanners detailing the classrooms affected and the numbers injured while trying to write coherent warnings and notices,” Kness wrote.

“And they were still in shock.”

When our tragedy left larger media’s news cycles, “The Mainstream” was still here, bruised but not beaten. “Along with my team of broken and terrified students,” previous managing editor Alicia Graves said, “and our strong but equally tired advisor, Melinda Benton, we waded through misery and shouldered the task of helping rebuild our community.”

Oh, we’ve raked more than our share of muck around here.

Our advocacy-centered coverage has spanned issues like trans rights, safe spaces and inaccessibility of gender neutral bathrooms on campus; the startling lack of access to menstrual products, prompting an evaluation from facilities and actual change; inadequate internet connections in buildings old and new; any and all issues with financial aid (a long list); and so much more I haven’t the room to write.

We are the student’s voice. From a student’s-eye-view, we’ve kept a fair, critical gaze of the college and try our best to serve as the final, fourth pillar of democracy: media.

So many students involved in “The Mainstream” go on to credit it as foundational for their later careers, whether or not they pursue journalism.

A sound muffler faces towards the camera on the left hand side. On the right is a chair with a brown cushion. The chair holds 5 archive books with the name and year of the student media.
The Mainstream’s print newspaper archive, which dates back to 1968, has a lot to say. Photo illustration by Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

Graves went on to work with “an award-winning retro videogame magazine and an internationally recognized anime hub” before opening their own media outlet, Nevermore Niche, in 2023.

Joey Sprinkle, former student reporter and current sports editor for “The Cowley CourierTraveler,” went from writing his Kid’z Korner column here to an assistant sports editing position for another publication straight after graduation, where his column and feature writing won first place in two categories of the 1998 annual Society of Professional Journalists contest.

Sprinkle wrote to us for our fiftieth anniversary: “(W)inning those awards really springboarded me to a future in newspapers. The confidence I gained was invaluable, as it allowed me to open up — I’m actually very shy, weird for a reporter, I know — and challenge myself.”

“None of this would be possible without… The Mainstream,” Graves wrote. “The experience and skills students gain through the dedicated instruction and hands on classroom is beyond measure.… The Mainstream gives us the wings to fly.”

Similarly, UCC digital content technologist Chase Gilley said through Messenger, “(W)ithout a doubt… there is a direct line from where I am today that goes back to my time in ‘The Mainstream.’”

Today, Gilley produces award-winning promotional videos for the college, like their sixtieth anniversary video, composed of old photos they first started to collect together and painstakingly archive in their spare time. Sound familiar?

Gilley’s video work actually began at UCC with production of two videos for “The Mainstream” — the first a joint production between “The Mainstream” and the Debate Club, which Gilley held leadership in; and the second a human interest piece on “The Mainstream” couch.

Sadly, this historic piece of furniture only exists now in the digital world; those who wish to nap in today’s lab must resort to seeking comfort from desk chairs. (Definitely not speaking from several personal experiences).

A page of newspaper is folded into a tent shape. A student peers through these pages facing the camera. He is wearing prescription gasses and has red hair.
Robin Bailey, print editor, peers through a half-century of student media history. Photo illustration by Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

Reporting forces you to get out there and, like, do stuff.

It gives you a reason to tap that someone-or-other on the shoulder and say, “Hi! Who are you?” Social anxieties are lessened when you have this important reason to be wherever you might find yourself at UCC — at the next campus event, in a dean’s office or on the court dodging sportsballs — because you have a duty, a renewed sense of self.

For me, and like so many “Mainstream” staff before me, this publication and the people who’ve worked on it have been instrumental in helping me carve out a place for myself at UCC. I haven’t had the easiest time at this college — or even on this staff, at the start — so to truly feel at home required time, effort and change from all parties involved.

But time, effort and change is… pretty much all “The Mainstream” does. Working as a team on a constant deadline and very real responsibility to the public forces adaptation: you have to find a way to effectively communicate your ideas, whether through spoken or written word; visual, web and print design; or whatever other crazy medium you’re stumbling into next.

Somehow, we’ve managed to do all that for 57 years. That’s worth remembering.

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For more articles by Robin Bailey, please click here.