MacDowell encouraged Highlander changes

Ellen Hoffman, Editor-in-Chief

Dr. Michael MacDowell has built a foundation for the school community during his 15 years as university president, and one important component is The Highlander.

MacDowell strongly supported The Highlander staff for the last seven years when communications department chairperson Dr. Melissa Sgroi joined the faculty.

“I had tremendous support for the newspaper from my very first day on campus,” she said.

Sgroi’s first job as the newspaper’s advisor was to embrace the Internet, and she worked with a staff of student editors to “create an online presence” for the newspaper and grow readership.

After transforming The Highlander into thehighlandernews.org, she and her staff worked to redesign the print edition, most noticeably changing from a tabloid style to a broadsheet design.

“One of the most elegant ways of presenting a newspaper is, I believe, in broadsheet format,” she said. “And of course that’s a more expensive way to print than a tabloid, which is why when you go around to different schools, what you’re most often going to see is the tabloid size, but a more elegant and probably a more functional layout is in the broadsheet. It’s also more classic.”

She requested school administrators’ support of her plans – which included a full color print edition –  and received everything she needed.

“Well, I believe that if you hire someone to do a job, like professor Sgroi who came in here as a professor of communications who had a lot of both electronic as well as print media experience that you should let them do the job,” MacDowell said. “If she says this has to be done, we do it. It doesn’t do much good to hire someone who is an expert and then tell them what to do.”

Sgroi thanks MacDowell and the administration for giving students the freedom to learn and practice journalism, even when stories address sensitive topics.

“Sometimes journalists can uncover things that could make people uncomfortable. That’s the nature of the business,” she said. “We have always had support for student learning on the newspaper. No one has ever said that we need to change what we’re doing in any way. In fact, the kind of feedback we get pretty regularly is that the students are doing a wonderful job.”

While the communications department works to prepare students for the real world professional media environment, it is sometimes difficult when the publisher is also the  story in the headlines.

“Sometimes people who have not worked in the professional mass media seem to think that going out of your way to bash the person who pays your bills or the institution that pays your bills, in other words your publisher, is what we do in the real world. That’s disconnected from the professional mass media,” Sgroi said.

Sgroi said that while it may be tough at times, her newspaper staff covers controversial topics, even if they might not be what the publisher will want to see on the front page. She has to draw a line between pleasing administrators and teaching student journalists.

“It’s not saying you’re not covering negative things,” she said, “but our philosophy is not ‘let’s bring down the man,’ the man being the institution that supports you. That would be disconnected from real world journalism.”

MacDowell feels a student publication like The Highlander is a vital part of the campus life. He knows times are changing and information is moving at a faster rate online, but he feels a newspaper is something that will live forever.

“I’m still tactile,” he said of reading a print version of a newspaper. “I like to read The New York Times. I like to get print on my thumbs, and I like a paper. I am constantly at home ripping out articles to send to people. I mean I use the Internet. I go online to read the local papers, but I think it’s indispensable.”

He understands that many students use social media sites as information sources, but he knows that The Highlander provides students with the information they need. “The paper is an integral part of the communications system around here.”

MacDowell credits the success of the publication to the media professionals.

“I think Dr. Sgroi and Professor Kimbrough have done an excellent job, and they are responsible for our success, not me – they and you, the students.”

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