By Gary Kimsey
Good messages of the past can stick like glue all the way into the present.
In the early days of the fall semester of 2012, with America still struggling from the long-lasting economic recession that started four years earlier, the Rocky Mountain Collegian, Colorado State University’s daily student-run newspaper, took a look at employment prospects of students and how the issue might impact the youth vote in the upcoming general election.
What the newsaper found in that and other election stories were messages still applicable in 2016: job prospects are tough, the youth vote counts and, regardless of how much faith we have in a candidate, problems won’t be solved without personal vigilance and dedication.
In late August of 2012, editor-in-chief Allison Sytle and content managing editor Matt Miller reported grim statistics in an article: 51 percent of 2011 CSU graduates were unemployed at graduation. Nationwide, the unemployment rate for 20 to 24 year olds was 13.5 percent, compared to 8.3 percent for the general population.
Sylte and Miller humanized the stats by starting their article with the focus on a student who graduated in May:
“Kayla Haigh spent four years training to be a journalist. But right now, she’s a lifeguard and swim instructor, living with her parents while she pounds the pavement for a job in her field.
“’I’ve sent out a few different resumes and resume reels and cover letters, and haven’t heard anything, haven’t gotten any kind of response,’ Haigh said. ‘…While I’m grateful for my job right now as a swim instructor, it’s just not what I want to do, and not where I want to be.”
The writers transitioned into a look at how CSU and University of Colorado political researchers believed college students may react in the coming election. They wrote: “As student unemployment continues to rise proportionately above the national average…the student vote could play a statistically significant role in the coming election.”
As it turned out, the observation was correct. Post-election analysis showed the youth vote was decisive, particularly for Barack Obama. Following the election, the Collegian reported on a survey taken by a CSU statistics class that found CSU students favored Obama two to one over Mitt Romney. As well, young voters in Colorado helped in the victory of a historic ballot measure that legalized marijuana.
Remarkable fairness: The Collegian offered extremely balanced coverage on the news pages to the many issues and candidates in the general election. The opinion page was filled with columns and letters to the editor expressing widely diverse views. For a college newspaper—for that matter, for any media outlet anywhere—the high level of fairness was remarkable.
The newspaper gave extensive front-page coverage to a campaign visit by President Obama two months before the general election. More than 13,000 students and community members attended the event on Monfort Quad.
In an article by political reporter Kate Winkle, with accompanying photographs by photo editor Hunter Thompson, the newspaper reported on how some students showed up hours early to ensure they had a good viewing advantage.
“About 17 hours before Obama was to speak at CSU, sophomore hospitality management major Nick Hunter and his friends arrived on campus anticipating a long line for the event,” wrote Winkle, who would become the Collegian editor in chief two years later.
“They were somewhat disappointed: By 9 a.m., only 40 people were in line. Hunter said he and his friends wanted to see Obama because it is a unique experience.
“’It’s the president of the United States, and a once-in-a lifetime opportunity,’ Hunter said.”
13,000 cell phones: In the Collegian on the day after Obama’s visit, the newspaper’s editorial, titled “13,000 smartphones in attendance,” expressed an insightful look at how readers should reflect upon the visit:
“When the police had gone, the yellow tape was removed and the last vestiges of Obama’s words encouraging us to work for the future and preserve our environment had faded—all that remained were thousands of plastic bottles heaped lazily around a recycling bin.
“As Obama’s speech becomes a distant memory in the next few months before election day, it is important to commit yourself to those same ideals we cheered for on Monfort Quad.
“The entire event was inspiring and easy to get caught up in the moment, though many participants’ attention was on capturing the president on their smartphones or tablet rather than giving the Commander in Chief their full attention.
“It was a moment to unplug and engage with the president’s vision, a vision that will help determine the fate of our nation—and many students missed the mark.
“While it is important to come out on election day, the future of the country will not be predicated alone on the results of the 2012 election.
“Fixing the problems in this country will take nothing less than the constant monitoring of our government and the legislation they pass every day, which receives little more than a mention on the televised mainstream media—save the sensationalized bills that occasionally make an appearance.
“Our bureaucratic machine grinds slowly and is easily derailed and obstructed by the powers that be. Real change will be incremental and will take our wholehearted attention, devotion and patience.”
Purpose of an opinion page: Unlike the Collegian during previous elections when endorsements were readily forthcoming on almost every issue and candidate, the newspaper kept its editorial endorsement to a minimum—Obama—largely out of skepticism about the effectiveness of endorsements.
In a column printed on the opinion page the day before the election, editor-in-chief Sylte explained: “I firmly believe that no one is going to vote for Obama because the Collegian Editorial Board endorsed him. And I don’t think that The New York Times’ endorsement is going to be a game-changer either.
“However, our endorsement will promote (what I hope) is a civil, healthy discussion in our community surrounding the candidate’s positions during the final two days of this election season. I want to see people disagree and defend their positions, be it in support of or opposition to our decision today.
“That’s the purpose of an opinion page.”
This blog’s author, Gary Kimsey, is updating a history book about the Rocky Mountain Collegian that he edited when the college newspaper celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1991. Now, in 2016, it’s the 125th anniversary. Gary was the editor in chief of the Collegian in the 1971-72 school year.