Different times, same topics. Why are student newspapers still writing about the same issues in 2019?

Sari Oppenheimer, Staff Writer

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Since its creation in 1916, The Evanstonian has been ETHS’s student led newspaper, highlighting issues that matter to students and the community at large. In addition to The Evanstonian, there was also once an underground newspaper: Gadfly.

Gadfly was a newspaper independent of The Evanstonian, and similarly, both newspapers were student led. Multiple saved copies of Gadfly newspapers from 1968, 1969 and 1970 show that the publication existed throughout the 1960s, meaning that The Evanstonian and Gadfly were simultaneously being published and distributed within ETHS. Because Gadfly was student led and there was no formal adviser, The Evanstonian was unable to determine exact starting and ending dates. 

Like the modern definition of a social gadfly, the mission statement of Gadfly was “An independent newspaper for and by the students at Evanston Township High School.” Another issue of Gadfly from 1969 has the message “A journal of student expression” written on the front page. These mission statements, along with notes from the 1969 editor and assistant editor, Adam Shinbrot and J. Feace, detail how Gadfly had a purpose to “present the other side of issues the school brings up, and to bring up issues the school ordinarily [wouldn’t].” 

The two front page headlines of an issue of Gadfly from December 1968 are “Drugs of ETHS” and “Creative Student Power.” Recent articles written for The Evanstonian have similar headlines. The front page of the September 2019 issue of The Evanstonian featured the headline “Vaping deaths spark controversy.” This raises the question: why are we still writing about the same issues almost 51 years after Gadfly was published?

“A lot of things stay the same in terms of conflict,” said adviser to The Evanstonian from 1961 to 1986, John Reque.   

“All good journalism thrives on conflict.” 

There is a reason greater than coincidence as to why the articles printed in both Gadfly and The Evanstonian cover the same issues. According to Reque, it is the conflict that has been maintained throughout Evanston that drives these similarities. 

Gadfly was an underground student newspaper which published articles separately from The Evanstonian. In 1968, The Evanstonian wrote articles on women’s liberation from the perspective of ETHS students, but Gadfly chose to explore other topics that were deemed too risky by administrators such as student activism and drug culture.

Published copies of Gadfly had a section dedicated to letters written by students at ETHS to include their opinions and perspectives.  One Gadfly from January 1968 contains a letter describing how the superintendent Scott Thomson claimed, “The school’s job is not to take sides, and to keep politics out of the school.” In response to this statement, Gadfly printed “A continued story of the politics discussed at ETHS surrounding the Vietnam War. 

These letters were meant to focus on the topics that were omitted from The Evanstonian, but the main ideas of the letters have since become highlighted on the front page of November copy of The Evanstonian: “ A ‘betrayal’ of Democracy: Evanstonians react to impeachment” on the front page. 

Over the course of the recent history of The Evanstonian, and of ETHS, politics has taken a front row seat. The political atmosphere in the late-1960s was dramatically different than that of the early-1970s, similarly to how the current political climate is more polarized than it was at the start of the 21st century. In response to this, both publications, Gadfly and The Evanstonian took the opportunity and responsibility to report on political events as they pertained to the Evanston community and the student body. The dramatic shifts in political climates may be one of the reasons that half a century later, The Evanstonian is writing about the same topics. 

“You don’t want to be controversial in your classroom,” Michael Mertz, former staff writer for The Evanstonian and ETHS alumni class of ‘77, said. Gadfly provided the space for students to speak out despite the possible controversial nature of their opinions. 

“Students should not be afraid to tackle any topic,” adviser to The Evanstonian from 1986 to 2017 Rodney Lowe said. 

The Evanstonian has changed considerably since the time when it was distributed alongside Gadfly. According to one of the current advisers, Patti Minegishi Delacruz, there are nearly twice the number of staff members now than there was two years ago, and these students shape the publication to what it is today. 

[The Evanstonian is] much more serious now,” Mertz said.             

While The Evanstonian has certainly shifted to covering broader political topics, Gadfly also acted in the same way for students in the late 1960s. With each adviser to The Evanstonian, there has been a particular guiding philosophy and presentation style. 

“My philosophy was that if we didn’t focus on the ETHS community, students, sports organizations, who else would?” said Lowe. 

The town of Evanston has seen some changes over the past 50 years, and The Evanstonian now mirrors an underground newspaper from the 1960s.  

“What has changed is the emphasis on certain sections of The Evanstonian,” Reque explained.  

The Evanstonian currently features many opinions and feature stories as opposed to news pieces. The shift in the focus on topics is perhaps the big connection between why Gadfly and The Evanstonian publish such similar stories. Gadfly was founded on student opinions, and The Evanstonian today attempts to capture  not only school events but the  perspectives of staff writers and guest writers. Despite the climate of ETHS and Evanston changing constantly, the one aspect that remains is that students strive to make their voices heard.