Lehigh wasn’t even 30 years old when its first president, Henry Coppee, heard whispers of students starting a newspaper.
Coppee summoned William C. Anderson, Class of 1894, to his office in Packer Hall and asked about the rumors regarding the student publication. Anderson, who would eventually become the paper’s first editor in chief, confirmed their intentions. He told Coppee they never realized they should ask for permission from university officials.
“Coppee, to his credit, probably could have stopped the newspaper if he wanted to, but he didn’t,” says Jack Lule, professor and chair of the department of journalism and communication.
“In response to a general feeling, that has existed for some time, that Lehigh could support—and really should have—a publication appearing at least twice a week, if not daily, The Brown and White in its initial number, now greets you,” Vol. 1, No. 1 reads. “It will continue to make its appearance every Tuesday and Friday throughout the college years.”
And it has. Since 1894, The Brown and White has never ceased publication, only cutting back to once per week during World War I to conserve paper.
A yearly subscription was $2, according to the initial issue of The Brown and White, although the first two editions of the paper were distributed to everyone on campus for free. Since the paper began printing in January, the rest of the 1894 term came at a special price of $1.25.
Stories were drawn from across the Lehigh campus, including a “holiday tour of the musical organizations” on campus and a statement from President Coppee urging more attention to the Absence System.
First produced by a newsroom full of what would have likely been only white men, Lule says, the publication noted the first newsroom had 15 students on the board of editors—six seniors, five juniors and four sophomores.
Celebrating 125 years in January, The Brown and White’s newsroom looks drastically different than it did in 1894. A lot has changed but much has remained the same.
Today, not only is the newsroom much more diverse in both ethnicity and gender, the tools used to tell important stories, and break news around the clock, have greatly increased. There is social media—including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Vimeo—but that’s not all. Drones, augmented reality, virtual reality and high definition DSLR cameras are all at the disposal of today’s journalists and those working on The Brown and White use it all to stay ahead of the curve.
And though the newspaper still is printed Tuesday and Friday, The Brown and White is published 24/7 in all these various digital formats.
Since Matt Veto, professor of practice in journalism and communication and faculty adviser to The Brown and White, joined the university in January 2014, he has overseen the development of a full-fledged multimedia operation.
Another feature that Veto has brought to the newspaper is data analytics. The Brown and White entered into a partnership with Parse.ly, a web analytics firm. This fall marks the seventh semester Parse.ly is helping The Brown and White’s data and information graphics department constantly evaluate their online content.
Data from the partnership allows The Brown and White staff to see which stories are getting traction online and decide if they should be spending more time on a particular story that is doing well on the web. Veto makes it clear that even in a digital world, the numbers aren’t the only focus and the newspaper shouldn’t sensationalize stories in order to obtain a larger audience.
“There are still things that maybe don’t get the high readership but are still important to the idea of promoting democracy,” Veto says. “We’re not going to stop reporting that stuff and we’re not just going to write about nonsense because people like to click it.”
Students also learn how to tell stories with data.
Professor Haiyan Jia was hired two years ago to teach data journalism as part of the university’s Data X initiative. She now helps advise the newspaper’s data and graphics team.
“You can imagine how rare it is that a student newspaper has a data team,” Lule says. “Students recognize how lucky they are to have Haiyan with us.”
Technology, of course, is always changing and Lule hopes that Lehigh students continually stay ahead of that curve.
“I’d like to get to the point—we’re pretty close—where we’re playing with technology before it gets out into traditional journalism so our students are the experts when they leave here,” Lule says. “Already I think their multimedia skills are as good as some of the people out there right now.”
Lule notes the demands placed on journalism education today. As technology evolves, the curriculum must expand, but the basics—like ethics and how to write, report, edit and interview—must always remain.
That balancing act takes place every day as students produce journalism throughout the day on digital media and still meet to produce the twice-weekly newspaper.
“I think balancing the two has not only prepared us to be a jack-of-all-trades going into the industry, but it’s also an important responsibility working at a newspaper at an institution that so heavily values tradition,” says Jessica Hicks ’19, the fall 2018 editor in chief of The Brown and White.
Hicks believes it’s important to serve the needs of the paper’s entire audience, ranging from students, who rely heavily on the online version, to alumni, who favor print.
Just as with many daily newspapers, the day will likely come when the actual print edition of The Brown and White ceases to exist. But, Lule says, he only wants the printing of a physical newspaper at Lehigh to end for pedagogic reasons.
“Right now, the balance of digital and print still is a really good teaching vehicle,” Lule says. “Print is still a very effective tool and our students need to know how to do it. When and if we stop publishing the paper version, I want it to be because it’s no longer a good teaching tool.”
The Brown and White has a growing staff in excess of 150. The number is impressive, but even more so is the number of non-journalism majors, close to 100, from all three undergraduate colleges, who sign up every semester.
As exciting as it is that The Brown and White is open to all students, regardless of major, it’s also one of the biggest challenges for advising and serving as an editor, according to Lule. Often, students learn to write their very first news stories at Lehigh.
“It’s very fruitful in the end because it gives us such diversity on our staff,” Hicks says. “We have so many different perspectives and ideas coming in. It can be difficult at times but in the end it’s so worth it because it contributes to the diversity and forward-thinking of our staff because we’re not all journalism majors, we’re all coming from different backgrounds, we all have different interests and that kind of contributes to the vibrancy and how colorful our content is sometimes.”
Veto realizes that likely less than half of the students working on The Brown and White will enter the journalism industry once they graduate, but he loves that the program can affect students from across the university.
“We have students coming who may never step in a newsroom but are learning tools and communication skills that can help them in any field,” Veto says. “I think that’s really, really important. People who work in technical fields—biology, engineering—can now talk about what they do to anybody and that’s super powerful. If you can communicate your message to someone who might not understand the technical aspects of your field, you’ve won.”
Alumni like Marty Baron ‘76, executive editor at The Washington Post, Joe Morgenstern ’53, film critic at The Wall Street Journal and a Pulitzer Prize winner, and Stephanie Ruhle ’97, MSNBC anchor and NBC News correspondent, all stayed with journalism after their time at The Brown and White. But even those who decided not to pursue journalism have made major impacts, like Ann Lewnes '83, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Adobe.
And then there’s C.J. McCollum '13, whose main job isn’t in the field of journalism, but he still uses what he learned at Lehigh. A guard for the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, McCollum also hosts a podcast "Pull Up with CJ McCollum," which gives listeners a unique view of the NBA.
Working on The Brown and White is no small commitment.
Hicks often jokes with her friends and family that it’s a full-time job. It basically is, given that Hicks estimates she dedicated a minimum of 40 hours per week to the paper last semester as news editor.
“It’s not because of anything that we tell them to do, it’s because they love it,” Veto says. “And that’s the kind of thing that I can’t teach. We talk about how journalism is important, and I talk about my passion for this field, and they absorb that. And I think in some regard they take it much further than I ever dreamed they could and it makes me really happy.”
As an editor, Hicks’ time includes editorial meetings and office hours that upper-level editors offer to assist new reporters, teaching them AP style or how to interview. There are also press nights. On Wednesdays the fun begins at 4 p.m., with the staff hoping to meet a midnight deadline. Sundays start at noon, as students don’t have class.
“It’s worth it because it prepares us for going out into the real work and also teaches us time management now with our classes and everything else we have going on as college students,” Hicks says.
The paper is student-run, which Lule notes is “particularly important.” He says, “the responsibility is a large part of the learning process. Not many schools allow students such freedom.”
The students decide what stories to cover, how to cover them and how to tell the stories, Veto says. When each story is finished, Veto gives them guidance and critiques their coverage.
“It’s a privilege and I think it’s also our right to be able to have that check on power, to openly report on what is going on without someone over our shoulder censoring what we do or what we say,” Hicks says.
It’s not something students take for granted either. Near the end of last semester, students celebrated Save Student Newsrooms, Hicks says, recognizing what The Brown and White meant to them or why student newsrooms are important. The nationwide campaign included editorials and social media posts educating people about challenges facing student-run newsrooms.
The fact that The Brown and White is run by students makes it a voice for not only the students, Hicks says, but also the community by reporting on what readers find important.
For The Brown and White, the community is the future.
The paper has devoted added focus to coverage beyond campus in the surrounding South Side community. In support of that, the department made a full-time tenure track faculty hire last year under the rubric of "community journalism." Professor Mariana De Maio, who has experience in community journalism, especially with Latino communities, was another important hire, Lule says.
Lule hopes that The Brown and White can put in place a model beginning to emerge in some communities around the country. As local media outlets have shed jobs, making it harder for them to get out in their communities and fully serve their readership, some have partnered with the journalism programs at local universities.
“Our students already work as interns in many of these local media, “ Lule says. “We can take that one step further. One of the things that I hope will come from this is the ability of The Brown and White to not just cover Lehigh but begin to cover its community even better.”
But challenges remain. The number of newspaper jobs available are seemingly shrinking by the minute. There’s also an onslaught of negative rhetoric against the press and physical attacks on newspapers like the tragedy at the Capital Gazette in June.
Lule acknowledges that hostility toward journalism has increased in recent years and hopes it’s temporary.
“The press has always played an adversarial role, at least in the United States,” Lule says. “That is part of the job. I like a phrase that our own Marty Baron has used. He says something like, ‘We’re not at war with the administration. We’re at work. We’re doing our jobs.’”
Though uncertainty surrounds the industry, instead of seeing student interest wane, The Brown and White is experiencing the exact opposite. Veto says he’s never had more students sign up for the program’s intro-level reporting course than he did in fall 2018.
“The students are optimistic,” Lule says. “They feel like they can do this. They’re going to be the generation to turn this around. As a professor, you kind of thrive on the optimism and energy that they bring.”
With 48 editors last semester, Veto says The Brown and White set a record for most editors on the masthead. They’ve exceeded that number with 52 this semester. Veto believes anybody empowered by or interested in a free press is going to join the paper to learn how to practice journalism.
“As much as the press is assailed these days, I really feel like those that are adhering to a standard code of ethics and are practicing sound journalism, are going to withstand the test of this trying time,” Veto says. “Our students are going through that, too. They’re running up against some of the same challenges and the perceptions of their job, but I remind them that their first obligation is to the truth, their first loyalty is to the citizens, their goal is to promote the democracy and do good, sound, principled and ethical journalism.”
Those first two principles Veto pulls from The Elements of Journalism, by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel. Veto says it’s an essential read for anyone who wishes to understand the principles and goals of the press.
And while newspaper jobs are disappearing, Veto and Lule note that journalism as a whole isn’t dying.
"I think you need a press that makes clear to students and faculty and administrators that there should be an independent voice, an independent check and help people understand the role of the press in our society. The reality is that there is no democracy without a free press and there never has been and there never will be. It’s absolutely essential."
“Journalism is always going to survive as long as there is a story to tell,” Veto says. “What journalism is going through is a renaissance.”
Lule says, “The Brown and White has served Lehigh and journalism well for 125 years. We are going to make sure that tradition continues.”
A digital archive of The Brown and White, which includes searchable images and PDFs of every print edition of the newspaper since its inception in 1894, is available at https://thebrownandwhite.com/archives. This has been made possible through the Special Collections' digital library projects and with funding from the Vice Provost of Library and Technology Services' office.