I was thinking of skipping The Gateway reunion.
The Gateway is the student newspaper at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where I received my degree in Journalism (with a minor in English) waaay back in 1988. I was once-upon-a-time the editor of The Gateway for a summer and fall semester, which, I suppose, makes me part of its history.
This Friday, The Gateway is celebrating its 100-year anniversary at a party at the UNO Alumni Center, and considering my past role not only as an editor but as a staff member for two or three years, I’ve been invited.
Here’s the thing: I never go to reunions. I’ve never been to a high school reunion; I don’t even know if UNO has college class reunions (considering the transitory nature of its student body, I somehow doubt it).
Who keeps track of the shadows from their past? Who stays in touch with people they knew more than two decades ago?
I certainly don’t keep in touch with anyone from The Gateway. Except, of course, for the woman I see every day who hired me at Union Pacific 26 years ago. A prior Gateway editor, it was she, along with The Gateway’s advisor (who also worked at UP), who gave me a chance at an internship that grew into a job that has lasted to this day.
But that’s it. Other than my news editor who’s a friend of mine who, years after we both graduated, introduced me to the woman who would become my wife.
And then there’s my features editor, who I had over for drinks at my house a couple months ago, He’s the person responsible for any sort of personal style I may have. And also the fellow Gateway reporter who painted the odd, amazing, clever painting that hangs in Teresa’s bathroom.
Come to think of it, I guess I do have The Gateway to thank, at least tangentially, for my wife, my job (which paid for my house) and my career as a writer. In fact, all the writing I’ve done at The Reader over the past 20 years — including this column you’re now reading — never would have happened without my time at The Gateway.
Okay, okay… I also have to credit UNO — The Gateway wouldn’t have existed without it. But despite the endless classes with their mundane assignments and the hours and hours of lectures and the pointless tests (which I still have nightmares about to this day), it was The Gateway where I learned to write.
The only reason I ended up there was Tammy Coleman, a person I barely knew from one of my classes who talked me into making the walk across campus to the shitty old house that acted as the newspaper’s offices. The idea of writing for the paper never crossed my mind. The only writing I’d done to that point was poorly written assignments for News Writing class, written so badly that the professor suggested I consider a different career choice.
In my mind, The Gateway was a private club made up of seasoned pros I’d raised to the level of celebrity. My god, columnist Dan Prescher was my personal Mike Royko. Lisa Stankus was some sort of genius. There was no way they were going to let me into their club.
God, how stupid I was.
Of course they gave me an assignment. I can’t remember what it was, probably covering student government — the worst job you could get since the meetings were boring and pointless and the student politicians were mostly Republican jerks who thought they ran the campus when in fact they were powerless other than having the authority to choose which band would play in the Pep Bowl during the spring break party that no one went to.
My first submitted story was so bad, they didn’t print it. The news editor, however, painstakingly went through every red mark on the page and explained how and where I blew it, then gave me another assignment, which I also blew.
I still remember the first time my byline appeared in print in the paper. I cut out the story and taped it to the wall in the tiny bedroom of the apartment I shared with three other guys. Every story that made it in print got cut out and taped to that wall. By the end of the semester I had quite a collection. By the end of that first year of The Gateway, I had new wall paper.
I was a junior during my second year at the paper. By then, I’d risen to news editor and the professors had begun to know who I was. They let me slide on class assignments, knowing (as one professor told me) I was never going to learn anything in the classroom that I wasn’t already learning at the paper.
Eventually I became the editor as well as a columnist (because doesn’t everyone want to be a columnist?). By then I’d learned not only how easy it was to get on The Gateway staff, but how desperate editors were for any living, breathing piece of flesh who could string a few words together in something that resembled English to come write for the paper. Most journalism students didn’t write for The Gateway — not because they couldn’t, but because they didn’t want to.
Some things never change, at least based on the number of intern candidates that show up at our offices without student newspaper experience. Little do they know there are two piles of intern applications — the ones that include clips and ones that don’t. For those without, I tell them to go back and write for their paper, that it’s the only way to learn how to write. That it’s how I learned to write.
Maybe I’ll go to that reunion after all.
Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.