All the news that fits, they print
Rigorous, lighthearted, ideological, or feisty — student publications thrive
| 22 October 2003
Rock en español. Sparrow mutations. Muslim supplications to use when studying. Top 10 signs your boyfriend is a Borg. Prison budgets. Worm composting. Critiques of — you name it — campus faculty members, the California Monthly, Cruz Bustamante, the chancellor, the Graduate Assembly, the ASUC. A history of urine drinking. Memoirs of life under Stalin. Whatever it is, you’ll read about it first in La Voz, Berkeley Scientific Review, Al-Bayan, The Heuristic Squelch, The Onyx Express, About Face, Berkeley Jewish Journal, California Patriot, Issues, Clio’s Scroll. Points of light, all, in the crowded universe of Berkeley student magazines and journals.
On Sproul Plaza in mid-semester, you’re likely to come by fresh-off-the-press copies of the popular campus humor magazine, The Heuristic Squelch, or the well-funded and politically conservative California Patriot. Both have high print runs. But in the absence of a visible central distribution point for campus publications, and with many journals having a narrowly defined audience or a small budget, it’s difficult to fully appreciate the vitality of the campus’s student-publication scene. At last count, Berkeley students, working from the ASUC Student Publications Center in the bowels of Eshleman Hall (and makeshift production centers on and off campus) turn out more than 60 titles yearly.
A plethora of print
Student-affairs officer Hal Reynolds, who serves on the Student Publications Committee — a campuswide group that distributes $10,000 a year to established and up-and-coming student periodicals — thinks the Balkanization of the campus into ethnic, ideological, and departmental subcultures may account, in part, for this plethora of print. “A lot of people want a voice that goes beyond daily news and isn’t as confining as an academic or departmental publication,” he surmises.
Nearly half, however, are academic or departmental — among them Berkeley Science Review (named best overall graduate-student publication at a campus ceremony this May), Berkeley Women’s Law Journal, California Engineer, and Concrete (an architecture journal). Many of these aspire to reach an educated lay audience, and for their publishers, turning contributors’ academese into accessible prose is one of the challenges.
“A lot of scientists haven’t worked in a journalistic style,” says Berkeley Science Review editor-in-chief Carol Hunter, a journalism grad student with an environmental-science background. Six to eight grad students form the core editorial group, and each submission is typically assigned two readers — one of whom is not intimately acquainted with the science subspecialty addressed. “You can’t be afraid to ask stupid questions” in that role, Hunter says.
A long tradition
Berkeley’s tradition of collegiate journalism dates back more than 130 years, to the first edition of The College Echo, a student newspaper first published in 1871; and the Neolaean Literary Society’s Neolaean Review, launched in 1873. A year later, the two merged as The Berkeleyan, which became The Californian and then, in 1897, the Daily Californian. In the heyday of Berkeley student publishing — three decades starting in the early 1930s — five publications (the Daily Cal, the Blue & Gold yearbook, Occident, the Pelican, and Cal Engineer) were the core of a thriving system of student publications owned and managed by the ASUC, with an entire building, today’s Moses Hall, devoted to their offices. According to Reynolds, it was in the ’30s that student publications started “to take a more critical position vis-à-vis the university and to demand more freedom to publish their opinions, as well as material that was often deemed obscene or excessively risqué by the administration.”
Today, ethnically identified publications like La Voz (Chicano/Latino), The Onyx Express (African American), hardboiled (Asian Pacific), and Maganda (Filipino American), as well as a Muslim newspaper, Al-Bayan, figure prominently in the mix. A recent collaboration among several of these journals, X, won the Independent Press Association’s 2002 Campus Alternative Journalism Award for “best coverage of race and racism,” while hardboiled won for “best commentary” in 2003. Berkeley Fiction Review, named best Berkeley literary publication earlier this year, is one of several devoted to poetry or prose. Politically oriented publications cover the right-left spectrum.
For publishers of the relatively new, left-leaning Berkeley Mic, funding has proved a main concern. “We wanted to commit ourselves to eco-friendly printing methods as well as supporting unionized labor,” says one of its publishers, Marc de Giere. “That comes at a cost.”
Laughs without typos
With or without expensive convictions, money is a common source of headaches for student publications, as is change of personnel. One of the more long-lived and popular is The Heuristic Squelch, a descendent of the renowned Pelican. “Making our comeback since 1991,” as it says in its staff box, Squelch is still going strong, with 11,000-copy print runs at least six times a year. In its pages you’ll find 250-word fake news flashes (“Emeryville IKEA Declares Independence” or “Bush Concedes to Worldwide Protesters”), religious and political satire, pop-culture spoofs, humorous guides to life on and off campus, and computer-altered photos and graphics.
“Nothing is too extreme as long as there is substance to the comedy,” says Squelch editor David Duman. “We’re not out to offend for the sake of offending, we’re out to make a point. Usually anyway.” The staff prides itself not only on the quality of content but also on production values. “We try as hard as we can to avoid typos and other signs of sloppiness.”
The goal, Duman says, is to put out “the best college humor magazine in the country.” Based on unscientific, “random” feedback from across the U.S., it ranks, he claims, “among the top five.” Squelch editors tend to be “on the liberal side of the political spectrum,” he reckons, “but also definitely see the absurdity of the far left and far right, especially at Cal.” Campus Republicans “are some of our most vocal fans.”
The latter claim, at least, is verifiable. California Patriot, in its A-Z glossary for freshmen (“You say People’s Park…we say People’s Parking”), describes Tele-BEARS, the campus course-registration system, as “the only place to get more class conflict than the October Revolution” and The Heuristic Squelch as “Cal’s usually funny humor magazine.
Many Berkeley student publications can be found online at www.ocf.berkeley.edu, or in hard copy in the Heller Lounge, on the main floor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Union, room 2F.