As the 109-year-old student newspaper moves into a new building on Baxter Street, staffers admit they'll miss their old Spartan quarters overlooking North Campus
B Y - V I V I A N - C A N E D O
or the past 22 years, 123 N. Jackson Street has been home to The Red & Black. The student newspaper's oddly configured offices overlooking North Campus were the first base of operations for the newly incorporated, independent Red & Black, which severed its journalismschool ties with the University in 1980. And to editors and reporters who put in 40-hour weeks in those dark and dilapidated wood-panelled offices, 123 Jackson Street was a second homealbeit a messy oneand a springboard to a career. A Washington Post writer got his start there, a Pulitzer Prize winner honed her skills there, and numerous couples fell in love there en route to the altarthe future Pulitzer winner included.
But all that is in the past, as UGA's fledgling journalists have recently moved into upscale digs.
Front page of first issue from new location on Baxter Street.
Top of page: Located across the street from Brumby Hall, the new 10,000-square-foot building has a conference room, parking for 34 cars, even his and her restrooms. What it lacks is the lived-in look and feel of the old placeplus the mock chalk outline of a dead reporter on the newsroom floor.
"We've been trying to save up enough money to build that building," says Brack, who helped oversee the $2 million construction project that broke ground in July 2001.
The new address on Baxter is one of many that the R&B has called home in its 109-year existence, including the old C-J Building (now Brooks Hall) on North Campus, the basement of the current journalism building, and even a brief stint on Milledge Ave.
With plenty of computer wiring, new office furniture, and storage spaceplus much-needed parking for 34 carsthe new facility is a joy for reporters, editors, and ad reps to work in, says Liz Wilson Thorington (ABJ '80), chair of the building committee.
"The new building offers such unbelievable amenities," she says. "It will really be an opportunity to operate as close to a real-life working situation as it gets."
At 10,000 square feet, the Baxter Street building offers about 30 percent more space than the old offices. More importantly, says Harry Montevideo, publisher of The Red & Black, the new floor plan makes the most of the space. On Jackson Street, the editorial department was crammed into three narrow rooms. Now, thanks to the help of an architecture and interior design firm from Atlanta, the newsroom will have an open floor plan, giving reporters more elbow room.
"What we've opted for is a very open environment," says Montevideo. "We're confident it will do nothing but improve the paper."
The multi-function space includes private offices, a conference room, a break room, and an interview room-library, plus standard amenities the Jackson Street building lacked, such as water fountains and separate his and her restrooms. An elevator makes the building handicapped accessible and more doorways make it easier to exit the building in case of an emergency.
"It's kind of cool," says summer editor Leah Newman (at right, with managing editor Lona Panter) because "we get to be the first ones to ruin the paint on the walls."
Nevertheless, staffers say they will miss Jackson Street.
"It's been my home away from home more than any dorm room or apartment, so I'm definitely going to miss it," says Samira Jafari, a former editor-in-chief. "It might look rundown to everyone else, but it's home to me."
Leah Newman, a staffer who helped The Red & Black move over the summer, admits the Baxter Street building may be a better working environment. The new filing system will mean students won't have to scour the newsroom looking for phone directories or AP style books. But she'll miss the lived-in look of the Jackson Street buildingincluding the mock chalk outline of a dead reporter that is the hallmark of the newsroom.
"In the new building, we're not going to have Abercrombie and Fitch boys and Lenny Kravitz on the wall of the newsroom," says Newman. "And we're not going to have a picture of Vince Dooley dressed up as Hamlet. So we're going to lose some things that have been here for generations of Red & Blackers . . . but it's kind of cool because we get to be the ones who start over. We get to be the first ones to ruin the paint on the new walls."
Though they were ever so humble, the old R&B offices were a second homeand an indispensable training groundfor the once-fledgling journalists quoted here
During the afternoons, it was incredibly loud in there, too. We were using typewriters then, and there were never enough to go around. I'd wait for my turn at this giant table in the news-room, then sit and type, shoulder to shoulder, with other reporters, all on deadline, trying to crank out that day's story. We were in such close quarters that one person's bad day became everyone's bad day. Someone always seemed to be ranting about something: Reporter Charles Aaron in a rage over an editor's changes; news editor Ed Legge arguing over space with editor Steve Goldberg; entertainment editor Chuck Reece throwing his hat into the ring just for the sport of it.
The AP machines made a lot of noise, too. Stories came off on narrow rolls of paper. We didn't always keep up with ripping the stories off the machines, so there always seemed to be a mess of paper in that area.
The noise actually helped me focus. It took the edge off of having to write stories with very little time and very little experienceand, often, with very
little sleep. All the energy in those three roomsthe ranting, the deadline pressures, the personality conflicts, the close quarters, the stress of getting a daily paper to bed, the afternoons that turned into late nights with the typesetter and the page proofer downstairsturned out to be perfect training I'd need for subsequent newsroom jobs.
We were too young to have any taste back then, but we all knew the building was a rathole. The floors creaked. The fixtures rattled. When heftier staff members walked through, the whole room would jiggle, and people writing stories would have to steady their typewriters.
Yes, we typed stories back then, on actual copy paper, using these old Underwoods that belonged in an antique shop. People would walk around with their fingers blackened from changing typewriter ribbons. The copy would be edited, re-typed, copy-edited, and then eventually rushed downstairs to the composing room in the old bank vault, which felt like the perfect locale for some kind of dark rite. I'm not sure we knew what an S&M dungeon was back then, but we'd joke about it as the highest and best use of our production room.
The defining fact about the office was that as production cranked up late in the day, it got unbelievably noisy. Besides the creaking and the jiggling, we'd have multiple editing sessions going on, meetings of various desks, story meetingsall in that little rabbit warren of a space upstairs. For some reason, we were all really high strung in those days and the quarters made it worseso we'd wind up, literally screaming at each other over minor changes in copy. Reporters would be trying to conduct phone interviews with this craziness going on in the background. It was just a madcap place.
In spite of all that, we loved it. Jackson Street symbolized our determination to extricate ourselves from the oversight of the university administration, which we felt would always be tempted to interfere in tough coverage of the school.
We didn't realize it at the time, but looking back, we were in the vanguard of urban revival. Downtown Athens then was a bit down at heel, not at all the hotspot it is today, but it sported quite a few restaurants. We could walk out the door and find something to eat in two minutes flat. We'd go to one of the lunch counters and start arguing over, say, whether a new band called R.E.M. was going to make it or not, and we'd finish eating and take that argument back up the stairs and into the newsroom, adding to the din.
The best day in the office was Friday, when there was no paper to put out, but people would show up anyway. We'd cross the street to lunch at Strickland's, which on Fridays in those days offered a fantastic dish of stewed goat. I can taste it now. I can also smell the musty carpet in that newsroom, and I can hear the clack-clacking of the typewriters. May the place live in memory.
It was not my idea of a romantic place. I remember a bunch of us marching from our old offices in the J-school across North Campus to Jackson Street. There was no air conditioning, and though the building had a heating system, it could get really cold and damp up there. Then, when spring came, we had to put reflective tape over the windows to cut the sunlight and the heat. It was hot as hell.
I remember the day we published our first review of a local band called R.E.M., followed by several more glowing reviews over the next couple of months . . . our editor eventually had to place a ban on R.E.M. reviews, we'd run so many.
That fall, I wrote the paper's first story about a running back named Herschel Walker, and a few months later I wrote the story about Georgia's National Championship in football.
I think the Jackson Street building had once been a bank (there was a vault on the ground floor, where the paper's morgue was located), and when we moved in the building had a sign on the second story that advertised a leather goods store. I think there was still some leather-working equipment in there when we first moved in.
I don't remember seeing anything close to a new piece of furniture in our office. I remember purchasing the first hanging file folders for the sports department's photo collection. The last time I visited (1993), there was still a poster of Herschel Walker over the sports desk that had been taped up when I was still at the paper. (It shocked me that there were actual computers on hand when I visited then, and it shocked me even more when Vince Dooley strolled in that day to toast the paper on the occasion of its 100th anniversary.)
All the stories in my day were written on old typewriters, edited by hand, then walked downstairs to production, where they were typeset and pasted up. In a triumph of architectural design, we had to walk outside to get from the upstairs office to the ground floor.
The food selection in downtown Athens was infinitely better than on campus. We'd had vending machines and maybe the old Bulldog Room in Memorial Hall to choose from when we were still at the J-school. On Jackson Street, we had Strickland's right across the street (goat barbeque on Friday!), and The Grill, where Howard Cosell once ate while we were upstairs putting out the paper (we got a photo and short interview).
All we did was put the paper out, Tuesday through Friday. It was as grueling a job as I've ever had. Plus, we had to show up for class. As sports editor, I was there many nights when our runner came to pick up the proofs and take them to Washington, Ga., where the paper was printed.
I'm happy for the students currently on the R&B staff. They deserve a nice, new building, and I look forward to visiting them there the next time I'm in Athens. Of course, I'll then head over to Jackson and Broad to pay my respects to that old building. What a great place to put out a paper!
Working on Jackson Street was the reason for my run-in with Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Wuhl. One night when Melanie Thomas and I ran down to get some hot chocolate, we spotted Jones leaving the shop. Giddy over the possibility of seeing a real actor in Athens, we decided we would track down why he was in town. Turns out that he and Wuhl were taping the movie, "Cobb," in Athens. The next day, we tracked Jones and Wuhl to a location off Prince Avenue and got interviews with the stars!
Probably the worst thing about the Jackson Street location was parking. My dad couldn't understand why I was getting so many tickets. Still, the office prepared me for the lack of luxury in the professional world. As a journalist, you're typically in the field filing a story from a spare office or your car, or in cramped corners like the Associated Press where you're at a different desk each day and only have a locker in the back to store your notebooks. As I moved up the ranks to editor-in-chief at the Jackson Street office, I eventually got my own desk!