Jack Lipkin was a production assistant, Copy Editor, Managing Editor and Editor-in-Chief for The News-Letter from 1989 to 1992. He now works in a communications role at Novartis.
Mira Vayda Edelman was a Copy Editor, Features Editor, News Editor and Editor-in-Chief for The News-Letter from 1989 to 1992. She is now a lawyer at Dish Network in Denver.
The News-Letter: What was The News-Letter like for you both? What were your roles at the paper?
Mira Vayda Edelman: While we were there, it was very old school. It was like a family. It was a full-time job on top of school, but it was a lot of fun. I probably didn’t sleep Thursday nights for three years because that was the push for production.
I was a Copy Editor my sophomore year and a Features Editor junior year. First semester senior year, I was a News Editor. News Editor was my sweet spot. I think that if I envisioned myself having a career in journalism, I would have gone there. But I enjoyed all the other opportunities to write different kinds of articles. My last semester at Hopkins I joined Jack as co-Editor-in-Chief.
Jack Lipkin: I started as a production assistant, and shortly thereafter I was Copy Editor. Then, in my sophomore year, I was Managing Editor. In my junior year, I was Editor-in-Chief.
I think I spent up to 30 hours a week at the Gatehouse. My father used to joke that he was spending money to send his son to run a student newspaper — not to get an education at Hopkins — because I was always working on the paper. There were no cell phones. My folks used to call me at the Gatehouse if they wanted to reach me because I was never home.
ME: We were living there.
JL: We were there all the time.
ME: And the students at Hopkins, they couldn’t wait till The News-Letter dropped.
JL: They didn’t have internet access; there was no internet access from your dorm. So the newspaper was your lifeline to information. Unlike today when you can just Google it — there was nothing like that. People actually went to a library to look at books.
ME: Yeah, very different from today. But that was satisfying to know, “The fact that I got no sleep last night and skipped my Friday classes was worth it.”
N-L: What was The News-Letter’s coverage like at the time? What are some of your favorite or most interesting stories?
JL: Mira and I really took passion in not holding the University to task but holding them accountable for being transparent. Sometimes they were not transparent about their decisions or actions.
There was an issue with Hopkins Security potentially underreporting or seemingly misrepresenting crime rates on campus, specifically around major crimes and burglaries. I was Managing Editor at the time and wasn’t really doing a lot of article writing. But the Editor-in-Chief said to me, “I want you to cover this story, and I want you to go into it deeply.”
I called the Baltimore Police Department. They gave us some information on the record. I had an anonymous source, and I obtained statistics that the University was not going to release, and we played “higher or lower” with the police. “So here’s the number of burglaries that they’re telling us,” and they’re like, “Oh, no, it’s way higher than that.” So we were able to do that and write an article about the truth. And the administration was livid. They didn’t want this information getting out.
We had staffers that would go on scene when a crime was being reported via walkie-talkie radios, and we used to get there and time how long it took Hopkins Security to show up because they were known for being slow back then. There was one issue when The Charles had just been renovated, and students were living there. The new building got flooded. I think somebody awakened from his sleep and banged his head into a sprinkler. So we were in that building with a foot of water and walking around. I remember one of the security guards saying, “You know, your job is to make us look stupid.” And I said, “No, our job is to report the facts. If you’d show up sooner and address the issues, then we would report that.”
ME: We did try to focus on Hopkins news and news about the University as a whole. But we also tried to focus on the community. A story that resonates with me, still, started when we heard about a person on the roof of The Charles, the same apartment building Jack referenced above. That person on the roof was allegedly threatening to commit suicide — to jump.
JL: You were on the shuttle home. And you asked the shuttle to turn around. And they brought you back to the Gatehouse.
ME: I was like, “Grab a camera!”
JL: I remember I was downstairs in the darkroom hanging out with the Photo Editor. And I heard you come in. And I heard the door slam and you said, “There's somebody on the roof of The Charles, and he’s about to jump.”
ME: We were there before local reporters — this would have been a big deal locally. There were emergency personnel there. And I remember telling Jack, “I’m gonna get to the roof.”
JL: You got up pretty far.
ME: Yeah, I was probably on the top floor in the stairwell. And part of being a good journalist is to be watching and listening. You’re observing, you’re putting the pieces together, you’re hearing things. I’m hearing emergency personnel live. I’m hearing radio transmissions. And I’m starting to put a story together. I’m like, “Okay, well, this is going to be a news article, no matter the outcome.” And it wasn’t that we were being callous about the situation. We are not emergency personnel. We’re there to cover what happened.
Ultimately, the guy did not jump — it was fine. It wasn’t a Hopkins student, but we didn’t know that at the time. It was experiences like this that were making me think this might be a career that I want to pursue. There’s just so much adrenaline.
JL: The other part of this was I had a planned breakfast meeting with the Dean of Students and her boss the next day. I got there, and I looked like a wreck. I said to them, “Sorry, I didn’t sleep. I was up all night. I’m sure you heard about the incident.” And they said, “No.” I said “Oh?” I remember telling them, “You’ll read about it later today.”
Immediately the boss excused himself, left me with the Dean of Students, who disliked me intensely. So he left, had to make a phone call — remember, no cell phones — came back to the table. And he said, “It's all good, it wasn’t one of ours.” Then he said, “That came out wrong. The person’s okay. But we found out that the incident did not involve a Hopkins student.”
ME: But to us, this was a story of interest to the Hopkins community. And that reflects why we wanted to be independent because [those mindsets from the administration] were not the same mindsets that we had as burgeoning journalists.
JL: What we were taught by the people before us was to challenge everything, to fight the good fight, not to take a side but always to ask questions and try to get answers. And when you weren’t getting answers, it gave the perception that people were hiding the truth. So find the truth and report the truth. And that’s where the administration felt that they wanted to control our narrative.
ME: We were keen on being objective. We also felt an obligation to push the conversation forward, not to be activists and not to take sides, but to engage in conversation. Not to be gratuitous, but to move the discussion forward into the future. That’s a journalist’s role.
JL: We were running our own show, and you had these very educated, high-level administrators and the faculty pressuring you to do and say what they wanted. By today’s standards it could be considered bullying. Back then it was acceptable, but we didn’t cave into it — not once — to the point where, I guess this is a funny story, right, Mira?
So, we got called into the Dean of Students’ office because she didn’t like something we printed. She was on one side of her desk, and Mira and I were on the other. She wanted to know why we ran a piece that we ran. We kept giving her the same answer. After the fourth time, I turned to Mira and said to her, “Should we just come up with a pat statement like everybody else does around here and tell her what she wants to hear?”
And then she literally stood up from her desk and shouted, “Jack, I’m tired of your shit! I can’t take it anymore! You can’t talk to me like that!” And then she stormed out of her own office. So then I said to Mira, “I don’t think we can leave the office until we’re allowed because we were summoned here.” So Mira said, “Shut up — I’m reading.”
ME: I was busily reading whatever I could upside down on the desk, looking for whatever the next newsworthy item was.
JL: Obviously, we would have to get the information on the record. But if you came across the information she left on her desk, and you weren’t allowed to leave, it was fair game.
ME: Yeah, and that’s what I was talking about earlier related to the incident at The Charles. Journalism is about being perceptive, observing, listening. Maybe information gleaned while we were alone in the Dean’s office in itself is not newsworthy, but it might put you onto something that you could then follow up on in an appropriate way. And I will also say, Jack was not at all being snarky in this conversation.
JL: Oh, she was bullying us at that point. She wanted to get the answer she wanted. She kept us there. We weren’t allowed to leave.
ME: And that was the attitude overall. “Bullying” is a decent term. But it’s also just this idea that you could treat college students who are emerging into adulthood, like children. That the administration could [say], “Because I said so,” the bad parenting answer. And that was an approach at Hopkins. And that was why we tried to be so independent.
N-L: Neither of you wound up pursuing journalism as a career after college. How did you each end up in different fields? And how much did you ever really consider pursuing journalism as a career while you were at The News-Letter?
ME: I was very seriously considering journalism. Hopkins didn’t have a journalism major. But ultimately I appreciated that because, as a Writing Seminars major, I could create my own path and take classes focusing on different kinds of writing and then put it to use at The News-Letter.
I really didn’t know what I wanted to do at the time I graduated. Do I go get an advanced degree, a master’s? Do I try to get on the staff of some local paper or become a stringer? Or do I go to law school, which I was also considering. So I ended up taking two years off between college and, ultimately, law school. I worked for a Baltimore law firm. I also worked for a couple of publishers writing and editing legislative guidebooks and memoirs. Ultimately, I decided if I didn’t get a law degree now, I would never do it. And I could always come back to journalism.
I haven’t yet come back to journalism, but I still write all the time. I write in my job, I write outside my job, I write for pleasure. Maybe there’s a book in my future.
The foundational skills I learned at The News-Letter have served me well because so much of my work is writing and communicating and also managing people. The law is also very much about deadlines. So I don’t regret anything. In fact, I value everything I learned at the Gatehouse. And, who knows, maybe there’s journalism when I retire — my third career when I’m a recovering lawyer.
JL: I started with sort of a similar path. I really wanted to go into journalism. It was a very difficult field. There was none of this social media, online, none of that. Imagine life without all of that. So your options are newspaper, magazine, television. I wanted to go to journalism school; I was going to pursue it...
Shortly after graduating from Hopkins, I managed to get into a management consulting firm that had clients in lots of different industries. I started as a copy editor of all things, so it was history repeating itself. Within a four-year time frame, I went from copy editor to managing editor and then to the head of their creative services group. I was managing editors, technical writers, desktop publishers, graphic artists — very similar to The News-Letter but in corporate.
Ten years ago during a reorganization at Novartis I had the opportunity to move into a communications role. So you can find your way back, like Mira says. And people interestingly said to me when I moved into this role, “Oh, you know, you really found your calling.” And I said, “No, I found my way back to my calling because this is always what I wanted to be doing.”