When I asked him what The Echo was like in that era, he said it went through an interesting phase while he was the managing editor in 1969. John Wheeler, a student reporter and columnist (whose colorful journey as “Cadillac Dave” was recently chronicled in The Pulse) remains a friend of Griscom and wrote a column for The Echo at that time that wasn’t afraid to use off-color language.
“It was showing you could use four letter words, including the f-word, just because you could do it,” Griscom said. “Rather than having any real rationale, it was sort of just, ‘We’re going to test that boundary.’”
Personally, Griscom said he questioned that. He said he didn’t see it as a free-speech issue but rather, “All it was, was to say, ‘We can do this, and we challenge you the administration to say we can’t.’ In my mind, it was really a question for us as students and the people involved with newspapers to ask ourselves: What are we trying to do, why are we doing this and what is our purpose?”
When I asked him about the paper’s direct influence within the community or on campus at the time, Griscom said that even though they covered what was going on, he was uncertain that The Echo shaped reactions or opinions. He attributed that fact to the inexperience of the staff and their struggle to put the times in context.
“I’m not sure we all knew how to do it,” he said. “Keep in mind that we were a group of students who, with few exceptions, were unpaid who got involved with this newspaper. It was ours to run, and we did it as we went.
“The Echo and the university today has an opportunity to say, ‘If you really want to know about what is going on in our community and how it’s impacting students there is only one place to find it,’” Griscom said.
A different perspective comes from the closed-knit community of Collegedale, home to Southern Adventist University, just 30 minutes from downtown Chattanooga but miles apart from the atmosphere at UTC.
Jaime Jacobson, with advice from journalism professor and faculty advisor Andy Nash, edits The Southern Accent, the student-run newspaper and the largest publication on campus with 2,500 copies distributed every week.
“It’s got the atmosphere that it’s our home,” said Jacobson of the university, who described the relationship between the administration and the newspaper as a “parent-child” relationship.
Supported and funded by the university, Jacobson said that being a Christian-based campus there is oversight of the paper’s content and even the topics it covers.
Jacobson is in her third year on the staff at The Southern Accent and in her first year as editor. She was previously managing editor.
“I wouldn’t say they [the administration] tell us what we can and cannot print,” she said. “It’s more suggestions and requests in the form of how it’s reported. There are times that certain things are left out, but we make those [final] decisions in the office.”
Jacobson said she and her staff have to tread softly because fear of offending anyone and because it is such a small community, but also to reflect the the Christian campus in the “proper light.”
“I want to say ‘monitor,’ not ‘control’ specifically, because they do give us free reign and it is student-run and that is a big deal,” Jacobson said, adding that the administration does trust and respect the student journalists—but that relationship can get a very touchy at times, she added.
Advisor Nash said most stories follow the routine of events and profiles. But sometimes, he said, breaking news and opinion pieces require a more thorough review.