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Samuel Autman reads The DePauw in the newsroom

First Person by Samuel Autman

First Person

is a regular feature of DePauw Magazine, which is published three times a year.

From spring 2003 and periodically until 2017 I had the pleasure and social treacheries of serving as the faculty adviser for The DePauw. The student journalists could listen to or ignore my input. University colleagues didn’t want me eavesdropping, knowing the content of their conversations could land in the newspaper. It’s a tightrope walk only student media advisers understand.

My fondest memories are of the musty, grimy newsroom in the Pulliam Center for Contemporary Media, where piles of newspapers created a fire hazard. Each day I passed a mini shrine to Bernard Kilgore, the famed managing editor of The Wall Street Journal who got his start at The DePauw, and through a doorway that provided an entry to a new university life for me, as I stepped away from the world of daily journalism.

Lili Wright, now emerita English professor, and I had been colleagues at The Salt Lake Tribune. Upon learning I had resigned from The San Diego Union-Tribune, she invited me to serve as a visiting consultant to The DePauw in fall 2002. When she was on sabbatical, I substituted for what was to be one semester, spring 2003.

As a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, I was amazed by what hungry DePauw student journalists accomplished without the structures of a traditional journalism program. Students could take newswriting or advanced reporting through the English Department, but those courses were not prerequisites for writing for The DePauw. Any student could learn by doing.

I wrote about binge drinking on college campuses when I was a higher education reporter in San Diego. Then, when I was The DePauw’s new adviser, the Board of Trustees expressed concerns about DePauw’s boozy culture.

Andrew Tangel, a senior in the Class of 2003, got a hold of the board’s one-night drinking tab at a local bar: nearly $1,000 in less than two hours. To underscore his reportage, The DePauw ran a photo of the receipt. The board was not happy, but I call that good journalism. Andrew’s reporting won a first-place investigative award from the Indiana Collegiate Press Association and shaped the team coverage that won a first-place Society of Professional Journalists “Mark of Excellence” Region 5 award for in-depth reporting. Andrew now is a reporter for The Wall Street Journal.

After that semester concluded, President Robert Bottoms asked me to return to DePauw as a visiting instructor, teaching newswriting and advance reporting. Wright and I alternately advised The DePauw.

I suggested a student reporter and photographer do a ride-along with the Indiana Excise Police at Purdue University to document the aggressive tactics the state was using but not run into the students’ DePauw friends. Jennifer Anderson ’06 and Adie Verla ’04 won a first-place feature award from the Society of Professional Journalists for the work, and Michael Morris ’07, now an investigative journalist for the Houston Chronicle, also won a top sportswriting award that year.

While I figured out advising as I went, I saw scores of students become journalists. Ellen Kobe ’13 is at CNN+. Her brother, David Kobe ’17, went to Fox News and later got a master’s in cultural affairs reporting from New York University. Brooks Hepp ’19 became a staff writer for theBattle Creek Enquirer. Brock E.W. Turner ’17 became a reporter for WFIU, Indiana Public Media in Bloomington.

In 2009, Margaret Sutherlin, a quiet student I had in class who had written for The DePauw,asked if I’d write a recommendation for her to submit an entry for the Indiana Collegiate Press contest.

When Margaret made the top 10 and invited me to the awards dinner in Indianapolis, of course I went. Student journalists and advisers from big journalism programs were at our table. I thought they were going to mop it up.

When the announcer said, “and the winner of the first-place prize is Margaret Sutherlin from DePauw University,” Margaret put her hand over her heart. I looked at her and said, “Holy s---, Margaret, you won!” Now she works at Bloomberg News.

It wasn’t about the awards, but the awards indicated that we were doing something right at DePauw University and The DePauw.

Still, as I became absorbed into the campus culture and got tenure, the stories that made it into the newspaper often were about colleagues I saw daily. It was, in a lot of ways, thornier than any of my professional newspaper days.

I stepped off The DePauw tightrope after more than a decade, but I’m grateful to have been an adviser for Indiana’s oldest college newspaper. It provided the doorway to my new life in higher education, and I got to touch scores of student journalists along the way.

Autman is an associate professor of English.

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