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

Re: The News-Letter 125th anniversary project

By DAVID HAWK | May 17, 2021

david-hawk-image

FILE PHOTO

As a Managing Editor, Hawk often worked shifts that were 20 hours or longer.

The News-Letter emailed over 800 alumni to ask if they would be interested in contributing to this magazine issue. Many responded to simply say yes, they would, but David Hawk went above and beyond and replied with a 1350-word reflection about his time at the paper before we even asked him to write anything! What follows is his email to us, edited only for length and clarity, to preserve its enthusiasm, thoughtfulness and beautifully impromptu nature.

Dear Editors,

I worked on The News-Letter from September 1975 to May 1978, and it was one of the great transformative passions of my life. I started out as an eager sophomore with very short hair, doing off-campus delivery and dropping off bundles of The News-Letter in nearby shops, restaurants and apartment buildings, and I finished my tenure as Managing Editor, an overconfident graduating senior with very long hair. During that time, I worked on a total of 124 consecutive issues, and after every issue was printed and delivered, I took a copy home for posterity. 

Today those 124 issues sit in a box in my home in a safe place. I haven’t opened that box in over 20 years.

I am including my good friend Mike Deak on the CC line of this email. Mike and I became good friends during the first semester of freshman year, and we both wound up working for The News-Letter. Mike was Editor-in-Chief in the spring of 1978. He was a natural as a news reporter because he always knew what was happening on campus and with the Student Council, faculty and administration at Homewood. And since this was before the internet and cell phones, that was no easy feat. 

But beyond his nose for news, Mike was a talented features writer, and we always looked forward to the Friday editions when one of his long articles appeared on the fold. Mike was a great Editor-in-Chief because he knew how to manage people, edit articles, correct reporters without hurting their feelings, all the while maintaining a great sense of humor. He was a devotee of seminal television comedian and visual artist Ernie Kovacs, and I think Mike was able to infuse some of that comedic artistry into The News-Letter’s overall production style at the time.

On the other hand, though I started out writing a few articles in addition to handling delivery, I eventually became completely focused on the basic tasks which were necessary to turn a collection of ideas and draft articles into an issue of The News-Letter. The processes and technology were primitive by today’s standards. We operated out of the Gatehouse — the loft was generally reserved for editors and seniors; the main floor was the newsroom, with a business office off to one side; and the production took place in the basement. 

There was some sort of typesetting machine, and I or someone else would type articles, editorials and other materials into the machine, which would print everything in columns on special paper. My memory is a bit fuzzy, but as I recall, there was a separate machine for headlines. The issue would start out as large, blank newspaper-sized sheets in the main production room, where we used razors and some sort of heavy rubber cement glue to create pages of photo-ready material which once photographed, plated and printed would be pages in the forthcoming issues.

At the beginning of my tenure, The News-Letter was published twice a week, but by the time I graduated it only came out on Fridays. In any case, the production day would start early on the afternoon before, with reporters and other staff gradually drifting in, along with the occasional Hopkins student who just wanted to catch a glimpse of how a newspaper was produced. 

As the hours passed and editing was wrapped up, and final decisions were made regarding front page articles, editorials, headlines and masthead, the pace became more focused and frenetic. There was the rattle of equipment, the ongoing buzz of jokes and conversation as staff members wielded their razors and glue guns and carefully placed the articles on the sheets under the director of the editors, who usually handled the headlines. At the time, Hopkins had some sort of campus in Bologna, Italy, and as I recall, one of the more infamous headlines was “Students to Bologna: Baloney!” 

As the night turned into early morning, the crowd thinned out, and a dedicated few continued working to address production problems and finish pasteup, while the editors finalized placement of the negatives that the photographers had provided earlier.

At the time, The News-Letter was printed at Centaur Press in Westminster, Md., and so a long drive was in store once the issue was completed. All of the sheets, photographs and other materials were carefully placed in a large flat box for transport to the printer, where the pages would be shot (photographed) and stripped (I don’t really remember what that involved), and metal plates were created which were then fastened to large overhead presses.

Since I was often the one driving up to Westminster, it was of great personal interest to me whether we finished up at 3 a.m., which was early, or 7 or 8 a.m., which was a disaster, in terms of our getting the printed copies back to campus on Friday before everyone left for the weekend, and also in terms of me needing to stay awake for the drive up and back, as well as for delivery of 7,000 copies. 

To this day, I am still amazed that I managed to navigate those dark winding country roads and return safely, issue after issue. For me, the production of The News-Letter was often a 20-hour shift by the time the last bundle was dropped off and I headed back to my apartment on North Calvert Street to fall exhausted into bed.

The News-Letter was a diverse collection of colorful characters during my years there, and there were a lot of hilarious moments and dark laments about slipping grade point averages, along with a few bitter disputes and some minor scandals that were hushed up — like when the football team showed up in force at a Sports Editor’s apartment late one night to express their displeasure with his article, which had reported that the team was, uh, not very good at all. 

We had an ongoing feud with the Student Council, and as I recall, at one point they tried to defund and shut us down entirely — nevertheless, we survived. The Hopkins Centennial issue in 1976 was a really special one, and we pulled out all of the stops. I worked a 24-hour shift on that one, and then went to my apartment to sleep for 22 straight hours — still a personal record.

Many talented and capable people worked on The News-Letter during the mid- to late 1970s, and I’m sure that their perspectives might differ greatly from mine. All I know for sure is that I loved The News-Letter with all my heart, as I have loved few other things, and I poured all of my waking energy into it. That was a lifetime ago, and yet it seems like only yesterday we toiled late at night in that production room while the radio blasted David Bowie, “All the young dudes carry the news...”

In any case, here I sit on an overcast Sunday afternoon 43 years later, looking over at my box containing 124 consecutive issues of The News-Letter and living it all over again.

Regards,

Dave

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