A Fond Look Back as the UH
Daily Cougar Goes Weekly and Digital
In the early '90s while I was attending the University of Houston, I practically lived in and around the communications department on the far east side of campus. Behind a nondescript metal door in a downstairs corner of the brick two-story building was a large, tile-floored, windowless room that housed The Daily Cougar, the campus student-run newspaper. In an era when so many college papers were turning to faculty to run them, often neutering their coverage of the college in the process, the Cougar was an anomaly, full of students, many well beyond typical college age -- fairly typical for this commuter school where Houstonians got (and continue to get) a second chance at higher education -- who lived for digging up dirt and did some remarkably good journalism.
Circa 1992, I'm the second dork from the left.
In those days, there was a relatively small staff of editors and writers mixed in with journalism majors who were required to write as part of their classes, which is how I got started. I'll never forget standing in front of Debbie Housel, now an assistant district attorney in Nashville, then a tough, no bullshit editor who wasn't all that interested in dealing with the likes of me, a goofy-looking, long-haired kid who was sent to her by his professor.
She was terrifying, brutally honest and a hell of an editor. It was my first taste of what felt like honest-to-God journalism, the stuff I romanticized when I watched All the President's Men.
So, when I read that the Cougar was ditching the "Daily" part of their name and their print schedule, I immediately became nostalgic.
It's not all that surprising the Cougar is going to a weekly print. Frankly, it's remarkable they remained a daily this long, especially with technology being what it is. But, when I think that they barely had early Mac computers when I first walked in that building and they were quite literally cutting and pasting copy onto boards for print -- not using some fancy Quark or InDesign software -- it reminds me just how far technology has come in 20 years. Back then, few used e-mail and many still typed their stories on typewriters. Microsoft Word was just barely being used to format copy. Now, it's nearly all digital.
But, they're still cranking out good stories at the Cougar. Looking over the past week, there is a story about the university's failure to implement required student housing for freshmen and a nice piece on the Astrodome. There are opinions that, like back in my day, will make you chuckle and occasionally seethe with anger. So much has changed, and yet so much remains the same.
My first story assignment felt like a big scoop to me: The campus was charging for cups of water. With the weather heating up and some students living on rather meager income, it seemed unconscionable to charge for a basic necessity of life. I even got one professor to proclaim that free water, like refills of ice tea, was a god-given right for southerners.
It was a lot less hard hitting that I wanted in the end, but what did I expect for my first story, Watergate?