Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 30, 2022

Good luck early on: Working with a talented team at The News-Letter

By PHILIP HEAGNEY | May 17, 2021

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COURTESY OF THE UNIVERSITY ARCHIVES — SHERIDAN LIBRARIES 

Pictured above is the front page of the December 13, 1968 issue, back when Heagney began writing for The News-Letter.

When I began college in the fall of 1966, I wanted to do well in some extracurricular activities. I tried out for the football team and lasted two practices. Then I ran cross country during my first two years. I worked on the speech team for a year. I was involved in a campus community service program for three years. 

In the end, writing for The News-Letter became my main activity outside of classroom work. I started writing some articles my sophomore year and put in more time the next school year writing and editing. I planned on giving more time to the paper; I wanted to work on writing stories during the week and on helping to lay out the newspaper on Thursday evenings.

I knew that a fellow senior, Bruce Drake, was the Editor-in-Chief of The News-Letter and that a junior named Richard “Dick” Cramer would be my immediate editor. What I didn’t know was the level of skill and dedication that each of them brought to their jobs. They were undergraduate students like me, but, above and beyond, Bruce and Dick were newspaper people. They wanted The News-Letter to be a real newspaper.

The first time I walked into The News-Letter office that fall, Bruce gave me several assignments. Each one was written on a separate paper in triplicate. I received a copy, my editor received a copy and the original went into Bruce’s file. He was serious. As the semester unfolded, I saw that this was one of a number of new arrangements that Bruce introduced to make the paper work more like a real paper.

Dick didn’t hand me triplicate assignment forms, but he edited my articles and he was serious about wanting them to be polished reports. I did a lot of rewriting of my newspaper articles my senior year. Only at times did I measure up to the standards that Bruce and Dick set for everyone on The News-Letter staff, but my writing improved. And I spent a lot of time editing articles and laying out the paper on Thursday evenings, often getting back to my apartment on St. Paul Street around midnight. Bruce and Dick taught me some things about newspaper writing and about newspapers over the course of that school year.

I got my undergraduate degree from Hopkins in May of 1970. I left Baltimore and went back home to St. Louis. Some time later, I learned that Bruce had become a lead editor/producer at National Public Radio. And, from time to time, I read reviews about books written by Dick. I realized that I had had the chance to work with some very talented people during my senior year on The News-Letter staff. I felt grateful to have had this chance. I never saw Bruce or Dick again, but I am glad I got to work with each of them and to learn some lessons that I have valued ever since.

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