For those unfamiliar, please peruse this PDF of the first (and only) issue of the publication in question. Feel free to right-click and “save as” on that file so that you end up reading both it and my review. If you’ve used the internet before, you probably already have Adobe Reader installed, but if you don’t, you’ll need to download it here.
The year was 1999. It was sometime in early Winter. It was also just about the end of the “good old days,” and arguably, our little foray into journalism accompanied the starting of what are now known as “the bad old days.” Similar to what kicked off this very site, I (and the “others”) were feeling very opinionated and somehow disenfranchised for disenfranchisement’s sake. We were fed up with our high school’s policies and felt like we were getting the short end of the stick. We also had free time. Lots of free time.
Being that we have now conquered all media (similar to the “King of all Media,” Howard Stern), it’s important to remember that there was a time when the only conquered medium had been VHS tape. And by conquered, I mean “Let’s write a review entitled, ’13 and Oblivious: The 8th Grade To Kill a Mockingbird Video’.” Anyway, 1999. I said, “Why don’t we make an underground newspaper?” Yeah, no one’s done that gem of teenaged rebellion before.
We rounded up a crack team of writers and gave them free reign on topics. As always, the topics seemed wonderfully, well, topical for the time, but needless to say, they haven’t aged well and bare a striking resemblance to the articles found in any “underground” high school newsletter. Topics ranged from complaining about the (then new) ID policy, complaining about the prospects of having to do a High School Graduation project (that’s basically just what it sounds like), complaining about the cafeteria foods (way to go, me. very original), complaining about obnoxious teachers/security guards on “lunch duty,” and finally one senior student complaining about his fellow gifted/honors classmates.
As you can see, none of these are pressing issues; in fact most none of them are particularly, well, anything. The issue would be that we really thought we were getting something done. As if the principal would read it, and say, “ahh, so that’s the pulse of the students.” In fact, we thought it/we would be/were so important that we devised pseudonyms, for, you know, “just in case.” Hindsight makes it obvious that not only were our points of contention of the “tough sh*t” category, some were just complaining for the sake of complaining, any remaining legitimacy lost due to the “editor in chief’s” name being Jarvis P. Fundlebottom. My (er, Jarvis’) take on school lunches is probably the worst offender if only because it’s a topic that’s been beaten to death since the invention of the tray/plate combo. What makes it worse is that I wrote pretty much the same article when I was in 5th grade, except in 5th grade I didn’t bring up Chaos Theory incorrectly (read the article in the PDF to see me butcher Jurassic Park).
Little of the “expected” controversy manifested itself with the “publishing” and distribution: keeping in mind that we used fake names (though we were so proud of our accomplishment that we gladly told everyone and anyone, teacher or student, of our involvement, usually at great detail) and, again, to anyone that would care about what we thought was “controversial,” what we wrote about was simply inconsequential. BUT, what did cause some controversy (according to the word on the 1999 street) was the opening article, titled, “Skip the IQ Test, We’re All Dumb Anyway.” Ian Cofre (under the “Spike Spiegel” alias) wrote the article, but I’ll very much take credit for the headline.
Now, at the time (and in very different way, now) comparing the intelligence of the student body to that of a fictional canine boarding school in Wisconsin was hilarious. I’d hate to think of myself as being “politically correct,” but I would think twice about “publishing” something with all of my accumulated maturity. I don’t mean to speak for Ian (and I’m sure that he hasn’t put much thought to it since then– heck I only re-read the whole issue because I recently re-discovered it on one of my backup CD-Rs), but I’d assume that he (or anyone, really) might think twice about the content. In his article, aside from the references to the MCOS (Milwaukee Canine Obedience School), he very much and very directly called out his classmates. Granted he was probably right, but (again, 1999 word on the street), it didn’t go over well with said classmates. Obviously it’s beyond water over the bridge for everyone at this point, and even then, it probably wasn’t a big deal. The significance is that as sort of “editor” of the whole thing, I didn’t think twice about why that might not be the best sort of thing to include in a “publication” we really thought was going to “make a difference.” I didn’t even think in terms of “most of our articles our less than five paragraphs; that doesn’t sound like in depth, hard-hitting commentary.”
Nate, as “Martin Stephenson,” wrote two features, one of which detailed the (then new) graduation project process and actually did contain some disturbing facts about how different school districts and even schools within districts interpreted the “state-wide” guidelines differently. Nothing wrong with including that article, but it’s just funny that back then, we really thought it would affect something. Now we look at it and say, “of course it didn’t, why would it?” but they call it hindsight for a reason. In classic move common to inconsequential journalism, his second article about cafeteria “issues” managed to highlight the supposed unfairness in having students and teachers follow different codes of conduct (namely: a student yells, he gets in trouble; a teacher makes a lot of noise, no big deal). Again (more of that “hindsight” stuff), of course this is the case, but back then, we thought we wouldn’t stand for it. No, I’m not calling out the Junior Staff’s article; if I remember correctly, we had jointly brainstormed ideas for that article, and I definitely didn’t see any issue in that very immature/uneducated/etc. line of thinking; maybe it was even my (bad) idea, and I’d think that Nate would agree that the “angle” of the story was merely a product of being a subjugate in an high school environment.
Wrapping up the articles discussion, Josh Shaffer (spelling?) wrote a well-organized, very coherent (click on the link on his name to understand why I’m including that adjective) take on having to wear ID’s while in school that pretty much covered all of the issues, and showed how ridiculous and reactionary the policy was. Naturally, my 10th grade self decided that was by far the most boring of the articles, while it would be the first one I’d hand to someone if I said I was involved in an “underground newspaper” in high school.
The first issue of The Husky’s Bite was also the last issue though we promised future issues and even future years of it by including not only “issue number” but “volume” on the header. The last page of the issue included a call for submissions, which generated one actual article the very same day we distributed copies and one promise of an article about the Jr. ROTC program. Needless to say, the publishing of something about Jr. ROTC probably wouldn’t have been a good idea (and we were never given an article anyway), and the first/only article submitted was a vulgarity-filled and particularly detailed rant about how all the cheerleaders were sluts. Needless to say, the author (hey, we respect our promise of anonymity!) had been wronged (in his opinion) recently by his cheerleader (ex)girlfriend. I can’t remember the details of the letter, but I do think it included this gem: “All [the cheerleaders] are good at is spreading there [sic] legs and yelling ‘Yeah!'” No, that wasn’t going to make it into issue two.
Of course, there was no issue two. Not long after distributing the copies of the first issue and the “buzz” had left, we realized that we were basically just looking for something to complain about, and we hit pretty much all of the big, non-complicated, non-nuanced ones in that first issue. I don’t remember if we even got to the point of discussing details of what would be in the second one after we realized we didn’t have anything easy to complain about anymore and recognized how much work putting together an issue was. Sure, a lot of that work was waiting for the “writers” to be done writing their articles, but having been tasked to put the issue together, that was a “not wanting to have to do this again” amount of work. Not that it’s the most demanding program in the world, especially in its Office 97 form, but I learned to use Microsoft Publisher while I was laying out the issue, and as we’ve learned, some companies don’t like to hear that you’ve learned to use a program by teaching yourself as you’ve worked on a project. Making the charts (well, chart), headlines, etc. all took considerable effort (check out the barfing stick figure on page 3!), so made me understand that future issues would not be released in any short, regular length of time.
When Your Reach Exceeds Your Grasp (aka “The Husky’s Bite“) receives two stars due to the ridiculousness of the content that made it into the debut issue: whether the use of pseudonyms, general concept of the articles, or the “just plain dumb in hindsight” highfalutin attitude we had about it. (To be fair, we got past that within a school week or two of distributing it.) Much of my current opinion on the newsletter can be attributed to hindsight, but that doesn’t mean it’s unfair. Part of the whole “reach exceeding your grasp” thing is that you don’t realize it until after the fact. With that in mind, the font selection is uninspired (there’s an obscene number of different fonts throughout it). When I couldn’t figure out formatting, I just let it go. Check out the sexy horizontal rules that just plain cover-up some lines. All that isn’t to say that we didn’t finish it or that we didn’t have some measure of fun while doing it. It’s what we use as our “newspaper example” when we call ourselves “Kings of All Media.” Simply, it was once. It was fun. It was done.