WCC’s newsroom has been a breeding ground for future leaders in politics and publishing
The Voice, like Washtenaw Community College itself, had its start in the turbulent ’60s. Students across the country were protesting the costly Vietnam War, civil rights protesters were fighting for racial equality and America’s youth were rebelling against their parents’ values. Popular leaders like Martin Luther King were assassinated. A man walked on the moon.
WCC opened its doors in the Fall of 1966 and The Voice was first published on Dec. 15. It had an improbable student leader named Gary Owen, and it launched him on a career in which he would become one of the most powerful figures in Michigan politics for many years.
Owen, 67, of Scio Township recently granted an interview with The Washtenaw Voice.
In the early ’60s, Owen was a poor, illiterate high school dropout from Alabama. He served in the Army then came north to Ypsilanti looking for work. Owen recalls sleeping under a bridge for a time, but eventually he earned enough money through a construction job to pay for housing and even to accumulate some savings.
From his military experience, he recognized the value of education. He took a few classes at Willow Run High School and worked to educate himself.
“The more I learned the more I craved it,” Owen said. When he heard about the new community college opening at Willow Run, he signed up.
Although Owen still considered himself only marginally literate, Fred Wolven, an English instructor and the first student newspaper adviser, saw potential in him.
“You have the kind of leadership and charisma that can get things off the ground,” Wolven told Owen. Thus Owen, with just a few other students, began publishing The Voice. The name for the paper was selected from entries in a student contest and was based on the Village Voice, an alternative newspaper published in Greenwich Village.
The Voice took on big issues. Together with the teachers’ union and the Inter-Racial Club, The Voice called for a lasting tribute to Martin Luther King by renaming the Student Center (The Voice, April 10, 1968).
Owen wrote an editorial in May of that year decrying the absence of blacks in high-level leadership positions at the young school. A fellow student reporter wrote a counterpoint that hiring should be based only on skill sets. The school supported the paper’s editorial freedom.
“We wrote some editorials that generated controversy among the student body, but I don’t remember getting a call from the administration saying you can’t do this,” Owen said.
Owen graduated in the school’s first commencement in 1968 and was chosen to speak during the ceremony. He went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in economics at University of Michigan.
Did Owen’s experiences with The Voice affect his later career decisions? “Absolutely!” said Owen. He was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in November 1972 where he served for 16 years, including seven as Speaker of the House.
The path of journalistic freedom did not always run smoothly, however. In 1970, the Board of Trustees put restrictions on The Voice, saying that the paper did not properly differentiate between fact and advocacy and that it had a “dirty word syndrome.” This, they contended, was hurting the school’s reputation (Ann Arbor News, July 29, 1970).
One result was the establishment of a publications committee composed of five students, two faculty members, two administrators, and the faculty adviser to set publication policy for the paper. This structure persists today.
In the 1971–72 school year, WCC student Dan Kubiske was editor. Kubiske, 59, recently spoke to The Washtenaw Voice via Skype from his home in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Of course, the Vietnam War was still a big issue then. The draft lottery had been instituted and Kubiske had a low number, meaning he would be drafted as soon as his student deferment elapsed. The war ended first.
Earth Day, which had been instituted in 1970, made the environment an ever-present student concern. The Voice promoted responsible decisions in the design of the new Huron River campus where WCC now resides.
“What is the campus going to look like? What will it be in the future?” was on everyone’s minds, Kubiske said.
The Voice office occupied 1/3 of a trailer at that time. Of course, the staff had minimal resources and certainly none of the computer-based publication tools available today.
“It was all typewriter and typesetting,” Kubiske said. “The staff and I would type up the articles. I would take them over to the typesetter, and we would then take what the typesetter gave us; proof it; then, using X-Acto knives, we would lay it out, put it in the matrix we had, identify the pictures put the cropping marks on it. . .”
Clearly it was a long complex process.
The Voice staff also produced a semiweekly publication at that time, printed on a mimeograph machine, called The Little Voice. They experimented with a wall sheet design that would be posted on a bulletin board.
Kubiske recalled the staff poking fun at the Eastern Echo newspaper, regarding it as toady. They liked to say, “we are a voice, not an echo!”
In his final editorial in the spring of 1972, Kubiske expressed a concern that “the apparent priorities of the administration does not include continuation of a viable and decently financed newspaper for the students.” (The Voice, April 24, 1972). Nevertheless The Voice persisted.
Kubiske went on to be a political organizer, a broadcaster, an international journalist and a teacher of journalism.
The Voice continued to experiment with different formats and different choices of paper. Some issues saved from the 1970s are yellowed and brittle because of the low-grade paper used then.
In the spring of 1974 The Voice competed with other college newspapers in the state and won the right to boast that they were “Michigan’s No. 1 college biweekly.”
During the years 1978–1980, Karin Koek was a reporter and editor for The Voice. Koek, 52, now lives with her husband, organic farmer Doug Galbraith, in Petersburg. Koek’s
student newspaper experience launched a career in
“Everything I needed to know I learned at WCC working for The Voice,” Koek said. She was especially grateful to Pat More, an English instructor who was faculty adviser for The Voice at that time. “She was a great mentor for me,” Koek said.
Like Kubiske, she emphasized the laborious nature of producing a newspaper in those days. She spoke of hand carrying copy to and from the typesetter and driving the final text paste-ups and photos to the printer (in Plymouth).
The editor plainly did much more than editing. She was even responsible for soliciting businesses to place ads in the paper.
The paper still covered controversial issues, such as the legalization of marijuana, but there was less political turmoil at that time.
“In retrospect, we were a bit of rabble-rousers,” Koek said. “We were not the pawns of the administration.”
Still, covering an Ella Fitzgerald concert at Hill Auditorium was one of her most memorable assignments.
The Voice in the spring of 1980 was a very professional-looking, high quality publication. But then it disappeared for 14 years.
Koek had gone on to attend classes at Eastern Michigan University and had begun working part-time in publishing. She was unaware that the paper on which she had labored so hard had ceased to be.
There seems to be no simple explanation for what happened. Catherine Arcure, 71, of New York City, who was head of marketing and communications for WCC at the time, said it was a combination of factors, including difficulty finding advisers, student apathy and economic concerns.
In the interim, two newspapers were produced for students by college staff. Focus was published from December 1980 to March 1987. Time out for Students was published from November 1987 to April 1994. Some underground student publications were also in the mix.
Geoff Larcom, 54, of Ann Arbor was editor of Focus in the 1981-1982 school year. He was not a student. Producing Focus was his job, his first job.
Larcom enjoyed his year at WCC. He said he had an office just down the hall from the college president, Gunder Myran. He was given freedom to report on whatever he wanted.
“I had the run of the institution,” Larcom said. “I was young and aggressive, so I remember trying to put out a paper that was not just PR.”
His most memorable story was one called, “Bridging the education gap – how does WCC rate?” In it he discussed the sometimes-conflicting purposes of a community college to be a vocational school and to provide an academic education.
Except for the typesetter, Larcom was the entire staff for Focus. He moved on to a 25-year career at Ann Arbor News and currently is Director of Media Relations at EMU.
In 1994 The Voice was reborn, renamed The Student Voice, perhaps to emphasize student authorship. It struggled for a time to attract talented students as staff, but it persevered.
The arrival of President Larry Whitworth in 1998 provided a boost to the resurgent publication. Whitworth had been on staff with his own college newspaper, and appreciated the value of student journalism. His advocacy included increased financial support.
The Voice continues to attract some of the most enterprising (some say rabble-rousing) students on campus, many of whom have moved on to start their careers at publications like AnnArbor.com, The Ann Arbor Observer, the Port Huron Times-Herald, and at college publications like The Michigan Daily, CM (Central Michigan) Life, The (Michigan) State News and the Eastern Echo at EMU.
Today’s Washtenaw Voice is a legacy of all those early years of struggle. The Voice continues to be not only Michigan’s top college biweekly, but also one of the highest rated in the country. Today’s Voice owes much to those who went before.